Kenya is still coming to terms with the heinous attack of the recent DusitD2 complex. In the wake of all this, there are families that will continue to hurt, for their loved ones are no longer with them. Many more are still dealing with the trauma of being so close to death.
On the evening of Saturday, January 12, 2019, father and son, Mr Zachariah Amusala and Mr Dedricks Lemisi, spoke on phone about the death of Mr Lemisi’s uncle, who had died a few days earlier, and his body was in the mortuary at Mukumu hospital in Kakamega County.
The conversation ended with the two promising to reconnect later on, over the funeral arrangements.
Fast forward, two days later, the story unexpectedly took a cruel and painful turn. The two will never speak to each other again, for Mr Amusala, 75, lost his 47-year-old son in the terrorist attack at the exclusive DusitD2 Hotel in Westlands, Nairobi.
“It was, and it is still difficult to comprehend and accept the quick turn of events. It is sad how one moment we were conversing on issues about our family and the next, he is gone forever,” Senior Amusala says, regarding his son’s sudden death.
According to Mr Amusala, his son, the family’s main breadwinner, was at his work station in the CCTV control room of the ill-fated DusitD2 Hotel. He says he got to know how his son died from his work-mates.
Given the nature of his job, Mr Lemisi was among the first to realise that the complex was under siege.
His surviving colleagues say he immediately sprang into action, trying to get those around him out of danger. When he thought he had led everyone he could to safety and now ought to leave the premises, he realised that one of their managers was still missing and most probably stuck in the grenade explosions and raging gunfire inside the complex.
“That’s when he rushed back to the building to try and rescue his boss. Unfortunately, both did not make it. They were felled by the attackers’ bullets,” recounts Mr Amusala.
The family of Bernadette Akinyi, a revenue director at DusitD2 Hotel recounts a similar tale. She was felled by the assassin’s bullet while trying to rescue her workmates. Through her quick and brave actions, she managed to guide guests and colleagues to safe exit points.
She saved many, but died after a bullet pierced her face, killing her on the spot, as she tried to call her boss. The two were among some 21 others who lost their lives in the attack that captured global attention on January 15.
Lucky to be alive
Many others, like Ezra Kimondo, are thankful to be alive. It was business as usual for Mr Kimondo, the head of Customer Service at Brighter Monday on the fifth floor of Grosvenor Building in the complex.
At the office, he went about assigning duties and tasks, and organising the day’s work flow. Later in the afternoon, he went out for lunch and had embarked on the second part of his duties when around 3pm, all hell broke loose.
“No one saw it coming. First there was an uneasy calm. Then a blast, followed by three explosions. Chaos set in, with people running in every direction as shots rented the air. The gunshots coming from the exit forced us back to the building’s first floor, where everyone again scattered in different directions,” Mr Kimondo narrates.
After the gunfire became unbearable, he says, they resorted to messaging their loved ones through WhatsApp and Twitter so as not to expose their locations to the attackers.
“I first texted my father who told me to stay calm until the police come,” he recounts.
His colleague at the firm, Mr Victor Bwire, says that just before the blasts, he saw two men enter the hotel complex. One was slim and the other well-built. Both were in civilian attire, but carrying guns.
At first, Mr Bwire thought they were plainclothes policemen, but then something about them struck him as strange. They started firing at people in the building and that was when he realised they were not policemen, but terrorists.
Ms Faith Chepchirchir was visiting someone at the complex when its calm and serenity was suddenly replaced by gunshots, grenade blasts, and cries for help. She first thought it was a bank robbery, but when the chaos persisted, she realised she was in the middle of a terrorist siege.
Quick thinking led her and others to lock doors and hide under office desks, and luckily, the police reached them before the attackers.
Security consultant and head of Executive Protection Services, Mr George Musamali, says there is need for people to be trained on what to do in case of a terrorist attack.
He explains that undergoing active shooter drills, the same way fire drills are done for people to learn how to assimilate the situation, is vital.
This, he adds, will create alertness on how to react in a shoot-out. Besides that, there is need to have assembly points for different scenarios so that people can know where to gather in such instances.
There are no standard procedures when dealing with a bomb or an active shoot-out situation. His advice is that for every situation, one needs to know the mode of operation of the attackers to decide how to act, Mr Musamali further explains.
“Looking at the case of the DusitD2 attack gives the impression that many did not know what to do, as evidenced by the many short messages I received from people inside the building asking me what they were supposed to do,” he says.
Securex Agencies Limited CEO Tony Sahni says that people should take time to note the evacuation plan and emergency exits of their workplaces in case of an emergency.
“Be aware of access routes, entrance and exit points when visiting a public facility, in case you need a speedy exit,” he says, adding that should one find themselves at cross fire, they should listen to instructions from the emergency response, who could be law enforcers, fire-fighters or other authorities, and trust them, for they have the expertise, equipment and a better sense of how to deal with such situations.
Mr Musamali explains that in an active shoot-out that creates a fight-or-flee response, the first action should be to get out of the scene as quickly as possible, using the safest route. But when cornered and there seems to be no way out, look for somewhere to hide.
“If you are in an office and know you cannot get out, lock the doors, stay away from windows, and use anything within the room — desks cabinets or chairs — to block the door. Attackers are always in a hurry and hardly have the time to struggle with barriers, unless you are their specific target and they know you are in there. So lie low, keep calm and wait for help,” he says.
He also warns against putting out information on where one is, especially on social media because one never knows who will get this information and use it. Same advice applies to making phone calls with Mr Musamali recommending that one should instead text or use other communication applications to inform only people they can trust. He also recommends use of emergency numbers to communicate to the right people.
He adds that if you have a child in the same room, try your best to keep the young one calm so that it does not scream, which could attract the attackers.
When outside the building under attack and you find yourself face to face with the terrorists, and there is nowhere to hide, then you have no option but to take off or fight for your life.
“However, not all situations will demand that you fight. Some terrorist groups do not take any hostag-es, so if they attack, their motive is to kill. If you can, fight by using any means available to remain alive,” he says.
Terrorists are paranoid and get afraid when they realise one is putting up some resistance, he says. “If they panic and do something absurd, disarm them if you are able to, or find an opportunity to get away. A gun fires only in a straight line and so if you are able to get hold of it and direct it elsewhere, even if it fires, it will not hit you.”
Personal safety first
However, Mr Sahni differs with Mr Musamali on confronting terrorists. He warns that this should be avoided confrontation with the terrorists as it could increase the likelihood of provoking a negative reaction from the attackers. Instead, look for a suitable place to hide. “Fight only as a last resort, if you can.”
Mr Musamali advises against going back to rescue friends or belongings once you have escaped, saying, one’s safety is paramount.
“You should overlook saving other lives as there are other experienced people, the first responders, trained for such situations who will take over and help them. Even police will keep off when they find themselves in situations where their lives are at risk and they are not able to reach you,” he says.
Emergency and disaster specialist and former communication officer and deputy director of National Disaster Management Unit (NDMU) Pius Masai says if one finds oneself in a terrorist attack, he or she should run as far away as possible for safety. If that is not possible, one should hide, lock doors and windows, switch off any lights, and prepare to fight if the attacker finds you.
“Put your phone on silent mode, communicate to an emergency number -999, 911, 112, or any other, or a police officer, colleagues, relatives or friends. Listen to their feedback, stay calm until rescued or the situation returns to normal,” he recommends.
Mr Musamali advises that if an attack happens when one is running, go down, and look away from the direction of the explosion, such that the blast comes from behind, to protect your head.
“If inside a building, we advise one to open their mouth because the blast could damage the ear-drums. The blast will usually cause a vacuum and when air rushes back in to fill that vacuum, it causes harm, such as damage to the eardrums. Opening the mouth reduces that impact.”
Mr Sahni further advises that one should lie on the ground facing downwards, cover the head with the arms, cross the legs and keep the mouth open to balance the pressure and protect the eardrums. If possible, he adds that one should crawl under a solid structure, such as a table, for protection against falling debris.
If an individual is trapped in a room, or is buried under debris, the best thing it to avoid panic. Try to breathe through a fabric, like your own clothes, even as you try to signal for help by banging on a sur-face. Screaming for help could result in inhaling harmful substances.
Seeking emotional support from experts helps in the healing process
Clinical psychologist Riziki Ahmed of Hidaya Timeless Solutions, says that incidents like the DusitD2 one can cause immense trauma to those caught in between the attackers.
“One can also get vicarious trauma through the narratives, for instance, when at home watching the scene on TV, seeing what is posted on social media and also reading the description,” she says.
She adds that trauma may cause irritating flashbacks of what they witnessed or experienced, which could lead to sadness over time and lose of interest in the day-to-day activities.
“Some become hyper-vigilant. They enter a restaurant and first thing they do before sitting, is to check the exit door. All these can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.”
She recommends debriefing and counselling sessions, if the situation persists.
Another clinical psychologist Winnie Kitetu of Aga Khan Hospital explains that traumatic events such as terrorist attacks often result in a myriad of emotions ranging from fear and anxiety, and maybe even cause anger and confusion as the victims struggle with nightmares and flashbacks in what is called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD).
Hence, priority within the first 24 hours of the event is psychological first aid, which entails listening and being physically present for the subject, but taking care not to repeat what happened to avoid re-traumatising them.
Psychological support should not be ignored, because if mental assessment is not done, then the ASD could develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).