My luckiest escape: Student recalls day of terror at university
She was pictured looking frightened in a light blue nightdress walking barefoot past soldiers.
Everlyne Muthoni had just walked out of Garissa University College, the scene of one of Kenya’s worst terrorist attacks.
She told the Sunday Nation that to get out of the hostel, she had to step in blood and on the bodies of her colleagues who were not so lucky.
She hid inside a wardrobe for over eight hours before police officers were able to subdue the terrorists.
Speaking a month after the attack on the college that claimed the lives of 142 of her colleagues and six security personnel, Muthoni is thankful to the soldier who led her out.
“May God continue blessing him so he can continue saving more lives,” the 21-year-old said.
She says it was a miracle that she was able to slip from a group of students the terrorists had rounded up and went on to hide in a wardrobe in a room on the ground floor.
She was lucky indeed since just as she was dashing for safety, all those she left were shot dead.
A month later, memories of the attack are still fresh in her mind. One is the sound of a terrorist who was saying a final prayer after being shot. She recalls that the man’s shouts were dotted with “Allah” as his wails gradually reduced before he went silent.
The second year education student says she was awoken by the sound of gunshots around 5.30 a.m.
SOUND OF GUNSHOT
“The first sound of a gunshot roused me and my four roommates. We dismissed it as an ordinary police operation as the Christian Union members could be heard worshipping,” she said.
“But when their singing suddenly stopped and there were more gunshots, I knew that something was wrong. Quickly, I picked my phone and left the room, not minding that it was all dark as electricity supply to the hostel had been cut off.”
Three of her roommates, who remained behind, were killed.
Her first hiding place was a men’s room on the first floor. As confusion set in over where the attackers were in the dark hostel, she decided to seek refuge under a bed. There were four other students there.
“Then one of the attackers, whose Kiswahili was dotted with some Sheng, ordered everybody to come out if they wanted to be spared. We all come out of our hiding places,” she said.
Then they were taken to the second floor where the terrorist lectured them on why President Uhuru Kenyatta was the cause of their problems for refusing to withdraw Kenyan troops from Somalia.
“Then he told us that we would be spared if we cooperated. He told us to proceed to the ground floor in one file while raising our hands up,” said Muthoni.
It was on the ground floor where the group of about 50 students met another gunman dressed in a police uniform.
“He started ordering everyone to lie down. Miraculously, I found my way into an open room and hid there,” she said.
It was around 10 a.m. when she hid in the wardrobe.
“It is a miracle that I neither sneezed nor coughed because I was nursing a terrible flu,” she said.
PRAYING FOR MIRACLE
Once inside, she sent messages to various people, including her father, asking for prayers. A Catholic, she started praying hoping for another miracle. Then her phone battery went off.
“Luckily, none of the attackers came to the room where I was hiding. It was all chaos until at around 6 p.m. when there was intense gunfire. That is when the sound of the dying terrorist rent the air. Then all went silent for about 30 minutes after which soldiers started calling students to come out.
“It is then that I learnt that there were two ladies in a wardrobe next to mine. They obeyed the call and left. I was still skeptical due to what I had witnessed earlier, so I stayed put for some time before I followed.
“After walking on my comrades’ bodies on the door, I met the soldier who led me out. But honestly I don’t know when the photos that were published in the papers were taken. I was very confused,” she said.
She borrowed a phone and called her father to tell him she had been rescued.
“He did not believe me. He had to ask whether he was really talking to his daughter.”
Two Red Cross volunteers gave her a blouse and a pair of trousers. She would stay in Garissa until April 3 when students were transported to Nairobi by bus.
“When we reached Nairobi, I don’t know whether it was the disbelief or the fatigue that made me pass out. I regained consciousness at the Kenyatta National Hospital on Sunday, where hours later my father showed me the photo that had been published in a newspaper.”
The former student of Mulango Girls in Kitui says the attack confirmed her initial fears about going to Garissa, which was a day-long journey from her home in Kitui. She also says residents living near the university never meant well for students.
“Female students would be rebuked so often because of their dressing. We would also be attacked at random, like it happened one evening when I was pelted with stones by a group of boys.”