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Red Cross volunteer expected to be tortured

The thought of turning into a celebrity had never crossed his  mind before he was arrested while assisting Westgate Mall attack victims.

Having narrowly escaped being a terror victim himself, Paul Omulokoli felt it would be right to assist those not so fortunate.

“I joined the Red Cross crew on Saturday at Visa Oshwal, which incidentally was my primary school,” says the 28-year-old civil engineer.

All went well at first as he and the other volunteers provided the injured with water.

“It was (like) a war zone. People were being brought to the centre covered in blood. Some had  fainted from shock while others died as they were being brought in,” said Paul Omulokoli.

Shortly after notifying friends and kin of his whereabouts and that his phone was almost dead, Omulokoli was accosted by a group of security officers who had just started their shift.

They insisted that all Red Cross volunteers produce their badges.  Omulokoli had neither a volunteer’s badge nor attire.

Efforts to explain that he was a walk-in fell on deaf ears as they handcuffed and escorted him to one of their vehicles without checking his name on the volunteers’ list.

“If I had known it would cause problems, I would not have been there,” he added.

He was accused of being one of the terrorists who had escaped from the mall by pretending to be a victim then hauled to Parklands Police Station where he spent three days.

The first day was the worst as it had not sunk in that he was suspected of being involved in an act that completely contradicted the values he had grown up believing.

His friend Desmond Tutu, who was with him at Visa Oshwal had to bear the burden of alerting his parents in the dead of the night.

“I had to endure the cold concrete floor all the time I was there,” said Omulokoli.

His parents arrived the following day but were told to wait for the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) officers. This meant spending another night in the cell.

On Tuesday, reality sunk in, but he refused to let the frustration consume him.

Police insisted they were still investigating, translating to another night in custody.

His father, Prof Watson Omulokoli, left the station late in the night after ensuring his son had eaten. His mother kept praying.

“I was afraid of what would happen to me, considering all the rumours doing rounds. I expected to be tortured,” he said.

Being ‘Mr Nice Guy’ to most of his friends, they set the ball rolling on social media, demanding his release.

Omulokoli had no idea that he had become an internet celebrity, and that the pressure would push his Impala RFC chairman, Oduor Gangla, to ensure Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet was involved.

Mr Gangla’s efforts saw Red Cross confirm that Omulokoli’s name was on the volunteers’ list.

He also ensured Mr Gullet made an appearance at the station to plead for his release and apologise to the family.

“As soon as I was told I could leave, I rushed out, forgetting my phone at the station.