Birmingham man says helping Kenyan mall attack victims changed his life
Scott Gilpin. Source: WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -
The images are hard to forget of the Sept. 21, 2013 terror attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Masked gunmen killed 67 civilians and Kenyan soldiers and as many as 200 people were wounded.
A man from Birmingham says he was just outside the mall in Kenya when the terrorists attacked, and now he's talking about his harrowing experience.
"There are days, in the beginning I always teared up whenever anyone said something nice to me. I don't know what that was about, but that was the initial reaction for the first couple of weeks," said Scott Gilpin, Executive Director for Fund Development of the United Methodist Foundation.
It's not easy for Gilpin to talk about what happened that day at the Westgate Mall. That Saturday started out like any other day. Scott, who was in Kenya working with the United Methodist Foundation, was headed to the mall to meet a friend for lunch at his favorite restaurant. He was running late, and that probably saved his life.
"I was within 100 yards of mall entrance when the attack started," said Gilpin.
Gilpin could see the gunmen. He says he could hear the screams and grenades going off.
"To walk into something like that, it's shocking," said Gilpin. "Quickly brought back into reality though, a young woman carrying a child whose legs were so short she couldn't keep up."
Gilpin grabbed the child and they all ducked behind a car.
"There's also three Hindu men crouched behind another car, one of them crying. He has his cell phone in his hand. I ask him are you ok? Do you need help? And he says no, my cell phone just rang. My daughter and my niece are in the mall. It was her number but it wasn't her. It was a man's voice and the man saying this is not my phone, I'm calling for help, and in mid sentence the phone went dead," said Gilpin.
As Gilpin sat there with the man the shooting continued.
"You could still hear the grenades and shooting in the parking garage, where I learned later they were killing children and others who were participating in a cooking demonstration contest. I could hear that going on," he said.
That night Gilpin was supposed to head back to the U.S. but he decided stay and work alongside the Kenyan Red Cross.
"The Kenyans rose to the occasion. They were determined and they were proud to be there. They were angry, they were loving, they were all those things," said Gilpin.
And that's where his healing began. He says it was a blessing to work beside, Muslims, Hindus and Christians. He says his life is forever changed.
"If I had been there 30 seconds earlier, the time it would take to walk 100 yards, if I'd been there much quicker, I would have been at entrance when the attack happened," said Gilpin.
Gilpin plans on returning to Kenya to continue with his work there.