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US mom, five kids survive Kenya mall attack

world Updated: Sep 28, 2013 11:29 IST

A blast. Gunfire. American Katherine Walton grabbed her three young daughters and dove to the mall's tiled floor. Later, a terrorist gunmen skinny, small, with a huge gun looked into Walton's eyes but didn't shoot.

She and the girls, as Walton put it, were hiding in plain view, yet they weren't seen.

It was likely the gunmen knew the family's location: The 13-month-old frequently cried. But after four hours on the floor a period long enough that the four and two-year-old broke the tedium by playing with their mom's phone Walton and her daughters were saved by a group of responders that included a Muslim man who is the son of a former Kenyan government security minister.

The terrorists must have seen the three girls, Walton said.

"I don't know how they couldn't have heard," she said.

"My 13-month-old, every time the bullets started going, she screamed and screamed and screamed, and the sound echoed and echoed and echoed. Two women hiding with them were saying- make her be quiet."

Walton whose two sons were elsewhere in the mall during the attack, and also escaped, credits her God for protecting her family.

"I know that he did, because how could we have been so in plain view and not to have been seen?" Walton said.

"One of the more intense thoughts was this voice inside my head: 'They're not here to hurt you.'"

Looking for a weekend escape, Walton took her five children Blaise, 14; Ian, 10; Portia, 4; Gigi, 2; and Petra 13 months to Westgate Mall, which hosts a toy store and was holding a kids cooking competition when armed gunmen burst in just after noon last Saturday, the start of a four-day attack that killed more than 60 shoppers.

Walton saw three attackers. They had scarves around their necks and were wearing tan or grey khaki clothing. None was large, but all were carrying enormous guns, a "comical" juxtaposition, she said.

Their skin wasn't dark, as one might associate with most Kenyans, but she wasn't sure if they were Somali. They spoke English with heavy accents not Kenyan English, but not an accent she could place. In her mind, they were not local.

As the 38-year-old lay on the floor, bullets whizzed overhead. Two attackers walked into the Nakumatt department store near where the family was hiding, but didn't walk far enough to see them behind the temporary sales display where they had taken cover.

Later, one terrorist on a higher floor looked down over the mall's open atrium and locked eyes with Walton.