As the gunfire began in Nairobi's Westgate Mall, Joanne Ball-Burgess hid. The Canadian was among the shoppers targeted by Saturday's attack, and first heard the gunshots as she left the washroom.
"I started screaming, and some people ran back to the bathroom, and there was a guy who said 'close the door!'" Ms. Ball-Burgess, 32, said Monday. "So we closed the door and everyone locked themselves in stalls."
Something about the bursts of gunfire seemed off to Ms. Ball-Burgess, a mother of two who moved to Kenya two years ago. The shots didn't seem random.
"I thought the gunshots would mean they ran out of bullets at some point. But it just kept going. Lots of gunshots. And to me it sounded very strategic," she recalls. "It wasn't like they were shooting into the air. They were shooting at something."
Those holed up in the women's washroom – all women, save for one British man who ducked inside to hide – sent text messages and made phone calls to loved ones as they heard the gunfire continue. Ms. Ball-Burgess was in a stall with a cleaning worker and another shopper, and the trio began to speak. The other shopper's son and mother-in-law had been injured.
"I'm trying to calm her down a bit, but it was hard, then a little while later she got the message that they had both passed away. So she had decided that she was going to walk out into the fire. She didn't care any more," recalled Ms. Ball-Burgess, a children's book author and Canadian with family in Saint John. She has lived in Kenya for two years with her husband and two sons, age 7 and 6. "So I told her, do you have any other family? She said yes. I said we all have to make it out of here for the family that we do have. So she decided to stay."
They tried removing the ceiling panels, but there wasn't enough room to escape. So they waited as the gunfire continued. Ms. Ball-Burgess called her husband, who was coaching their sons' soccer practice that day. The attack was serious, she told him. He told her to stay put. After two phone conversations, her phone's battery ran out. She wrote his phone number on her pants, in case she didn't make it.
Meanwhile, a friend she was meeting was outside the mall when the attack began. That friend kept in touch with Ms. Ball-Burgess, telling police there were hostages holed up in the bathroom.
After just over three hours, the cleaning worker in the stall said there was a back door. They decided to make a run for it.
"So we went around to the back, and the gunshots started again so we ran into the cleaning room, and turned off the lights. And we were in there. Then five people came running out of I don't know where. They had blood on them," she recalled. "The group made the decision to just run for it, and we ran down the fire exit with our hands up. I didn't know at any moment if I was going to be shot in the back, and we just kept running. I saw the police and the ambulances about 10 feet in front of me, and at that point when I reached that area is when I collapsed.
"Every step I was taking I thought was going to be my last step."
On Sunday, she called a woman who'd been a stranger a day earlier – her stallmate, who lost two relatives. They spoke. "She just kept saying that she lost her son and mom," she said. Ms. Ball-Burgess hopes to attend the son's funeral, to support the mother.
The mall is always busy, she says, among Kenyans and ex-pats alike. It's particularly busy on Saturdays, when many make a family outing. There are kids' events, ample Internet access and a range of stores. Ms. Ball-Burgess would often schedule meetings there. Now, she's grateful to have survived, uninjured, from an attack that killed two Canadians and injured two others.
"Usually I spend a lot of time there, but Saturday I wasn't trying to be there very long," she said. "It's kind of like, how did I get out? It seems very surreal."