Witness to a Massacre in a Nairobi Mall
The New York Times staff photographer Tyler Hicks was nearby when gunmen opened fire at an upscale Nairobi mall, killing at least 39 people in one of the worst terrorist attacks in Kenya’s history. He was able to go inside the mall as the attack unfolded.
His conversation with James Estrin has been edited.
Q. What happened? How were you so close?
A. I was at a framing shop in an adjacent mall picking up some photographs that had been given to me as gifts by photojournalists who attended my wedding. I was very close. I didn’t have all of my equipment, just had a small camera that I always have with me in case something happens.
I ran over to the mall and I was able to photograph until my wife [Nichole Sobecki], who is also a photojournalist and was at our house, was able to collect my Kevlar helmet and professional cameras before she came to cover the news herself.
我跑向那个商场，拍摄了一些照片，直到我妻子[妮可·索贝奇 (Nichole Sobecki) ] 送来我的克维拉防弹头盔和专业相机。她也是一名摄影记者，当时在家里，把装备给我后，她自己也对这个新闻进行了报道。
When I left the framing shop, I could see right away that there was something serious going on, because there were lots of people running away from the mall. I ran over there and within minutes I could see people who had been shot in the leg or stomach from what appeared to be small arms fire being helped by other civilians. This went on for about 30 minutes.
The mall is Nairobi’s most high-end shopping center, completely up to Western standards, with movie theaters, nice cafes, supermarkets and a casino. Pretty much anything you need. I’ve been there, so I knew the layout inside.
From the beginning I wanted to get with some security forces inside the mall.
We managed to find an entrance where people who were hiding inside the mall were coming out. We ran into that service entrance and we hooked up with some police who let us stay with them as they did security sweeps clearing different stores — very much like what you see when the military enters a village. Shop to shop and aisle to aisle, looking for the shooters who were still inside.
I had a clear view in there. I could see that there were multiple bodies lying dead in the mall, some lying together just next to where they were having lunch at a cafe. It seemed everywhere you turned there was another body.
Military forces didn’t know where the militants were, so they continued to sweep through looking for them. Of course, there was the concern of I.E.D.’s or that they would throw a grenade or shoot. In the shopping mall, there was an endless amount of places that they could hide or potentially attack from.
Q. How long were you there?
A. I was around the mall for the better part of the day. I was inside the mall for about two hours.
Q. What exactly was unfolding in front of you during those two hours?
A. We were with one group of police for most of the time. There were moments when I branched out. If you had to stop, and they continued, you would be in the mall, completely alone, without anyone knowing where these gunmen were. So it was important to make the commitment to stay with them. They moved from place to place, sometimes running, sometimes having to clear areas around corners, where they couldn’t see around the corner, and it looked very much like a military operation inside.
They had two objectives as far as I could see: one was to try to find the militants. And two, to get civilians out of the mall. There were many civilians who had barricaded themselves inside shops, inside the movie theater, inside restaurants, inside a beauty salon — it seemed like everywhere you went, there were more people who just appeared out of the woodwork.
Q. You didn’t see any of the shooters, either dead or alive?
A. No, I didn’t see any of the militants. I only saw the casualties and the fatalities. I estimate I saw between 10 and 12 people who had been killed.
Q. What are you thinking at this point? Is covering a terrorist attack where you live different than covering war in Afghanistan or Syria?
A. When something of this magnitude happens, it’s just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than being in Afghanistan or any other number of countries where there are wars going on. You have to think about where you’re standing, you have to think about where you have cover, the type of obstacles you can place between you and potential gunmen. A lot of the same rules apply when they’re sweeping through a building like that.
This is just plain and simple murder of unarmed civilians. It’s not a war. These militants went into the mall and executed people: women and children, anyone who got in their path. That’s not typical of war.