Survivors of the Dusit complex attack are still trying to recover from long-term effects of the horrific incident a year later.
Speaking to the Nation, the survivors said they struggle with the fear of darkness, isolated places, loud bangs, strangers and suffer constant nightmares and stress related to the traumatic incident that claimed 21 lives.
When the initial blast went off outside Secret Garden Restaurant at the Dusit Complex, about 30 LG Electronics staff were in an adjacent office working.
The day had started well and everyone was busy until they heard the blast and thought that either a gas cylinder had exploded at the hotel’s kitchen or a transformer had exploded.
Hiram Macharia, 33, a marketing executive, even grabbed a fire extinguisher ready to help put out the fire but, as he rushed downstairs, he saw two heavily armed men walking towards the office.
“Right then, I realised that we were under a terror attack. I informed my colleagues who were following me and we ran upstairs to hide,” he recalls.
Terrified and feeling helpless, the staff hid under office chairs, some in the kitchen, others in the store and one in the ceiling, right next to the air conditioner.
Keziah Bubi (29), the office administrator, hid under a seat. She told the Nation that when she confirmed that they were under a terror attack she feared that death was imminent. However, her biggest worry at the time was dying a painful death.
“I knew the first thing they would do once they got into the room was shoot us; from my sitting position, my feet would have been hit by the first bullet. I was worried that I would bleed painfully to death. I wanted to die instantly,” she recalled.
Ms Bubi made up her mind that if the attackers entered the room, she would ensure they shoot at her vital organs so she could die faster.
Charles Kivunja, 25, a staff at the service department section, said he came across the attackers while rushing downstairs to check the source of the initial explosion.
Like his colleagues, Mr Kivunja thought a fire had broken out at the Secret Garden Restaurant but, as he raced downstairs, his late colleague James Odu — who died in the attack — saw two heavily armed gunmen and warned him to go back.
“He said we were under siege. I did not believe it until I saw the gunmen on my way back. I do not know if they saw me but my concern at the time was to let everyone go first so that I could look for a secluded place to hide in,” he said.
He thought that hiding alongside the people running back with him would easily set him up. So he ran into a toilet and hid in the ceiling.
Mr Kivunja recalled that, at some point, the two attackers entered the toilet in search of people but failed to see him.
As the staff hid in different corners of the third and fourth floors of LG offices, more gunshots and blasts went off outside the building, prompting them to alert their friends and relatives of the danger they were in.
“I sent a tweet and texted my United States International University class WhatsApp group notifying them that we were under attack, then put my phone on silent mode. A phone that a colleague had dropped next to my hideout kept on ringing but we were too scared to pick it up; we were lucky it did not set us up,” recalled Ms Bubi.
After about four hours, Ms Bubi, Macharia and other staff were rescued.
“Abbas Gullet (the Kenya Red Cross Society boss) walked in accompanied by two people, one was holding a camera and the other a pistol and behind them was a Kenyan policeman holding an AK-47 rifle. They signalled us to move out in a straight line and that’s how we were rescued,” said Ms Bubi.
Mr Kivunja was among the last people to be rescued from the building. Too terrified to get out of his hideout, he defied requests by a team of police officers to come out of the ceiling where he hid for about six hours.
At the time, he said he felt there were too many gunshots outside and was too terrified to trust anyone with his life.
“When the noise settled, another team of officers came and asked if there was anyone in the toilet to which I screamed 'yes'. I agreed to climb down but I was too weak to walk, I had to be carried to the ambulance,” he recalled.
On his way out, he saw the body of his friend Macharia lying on the floor and suddenly felt his body weaken further.
Kivunja’s family caught up with him at 2 am in hospital where he had been admitted for check-ups. Today he avoids leaving the office in the afternoon. He also dreads darkness and loud sounds. “I am trying to get rid of the trauma by staying in darkrooms for some time. I am also trying to socialise more after my friends complained that I limit my interactions with them,” he said.
After the incident, the company temporarily relocated to an adjacent building.
Mr Macharia said that he has moved on but memories of that day are still fresh in his mind.
“I noticed that I am too alert nowadays. I get too startled by screeching cars and bursting tyres. I’m also too keen on the exits of any building that I enter regardless of how secure the place is. Who thought Dusit would be attacked?” asked Macharia.
Ms Bubi said she was more aware of her environment and that she hardly allows anyone to come into the office without her analysing them. “I always want to sit next to an exit. It feels safer that way. I also get startled by tyre bursts and I don’t like loud sounds because they rekindle bad memories.”