Garissa terror survivors recall black Sunday
“Then we heard a loud bang which we mistook to be coming from the rooftops. When we heard the second one we decided to lie down and within no time the sounds were coming from inside the church. Everybody was wailing and crying for help. When silence returned, I stood up to find my sister bleeding profusely; she had been shot in the stomach. I tried waking her up although I was also in pain. Sadly she had passed on.”
By Stephen Astariko
07/04/2012 Kenya (The Star)-For Peninah Musyoki, last Sunday will forever remain etched in her mind, not because it was her birthday, but because of an incident that has shattered her life. On this fateful day, Peninah, a mother of two young children, was early in church. She had planned to return home immediately after the service to take her children for a family outing.
Although she is happy to be alive, she is yet to see her children as she is recovering at Garissa General Hospital with gunshot wounds. Peninah, a worshipper at the African Inland Church in Garissa, was a victim of the attack that left 17 people killed and more than 25 seriously injured after a grenade and gun attack by four hooded men.
Speaking at her hospital bed, the single mother recollects how she left her house to go and worship, only for things to turn unexpectedly ugly. “Having not attended the church for the past two weeks I was very determined to reconcile with my creator last Sunday by attending early enough to pray and ask for forgiveness for missing the church too long,” she said. “I woke up very early and prepared myself. In fact, I dressed in a new dress and my children were curiously asking me whether I was going on a journey.”
Peninah, who was among the first people in church, remembers the programme going on well before the attack. “Everyone was deep in prayers and we were preparing to give our offerings before our Pastor, Mutungu Kaleli, could deliver the word of God.” Peninah, who lost her sister in the attack, continues: “Then we heard a loud bang which we mistook to be coming from the rooftops. When we heard the second one we decided to lie down and within no time the sounds were coming from inside the church. Everybody was wailing and crying for help. When silence returned, I stood up to find my sister bleeding profusely; she had been shot in the stomach. I tried waking her up although I was also in pain. Sadly she had passed on,” said Peninah.
The 30-year-old, who resides at Windsor camp in Garissa, says she didn’t see the attackers. She says the incident has greatly affected her and she now fears going to church. “I could have been one of the people lying at the mortuary. Until the government brings the perpetrators to book I don’t think I am willing to risk my life by going to church again any time soon,” she says.
Gladys and her husband Benson Wambua were among the worshippers that dark Sunday. They left their home in Garissa Ndogo with their four children early in the morning. Benson said he has on many occasions watched the horrific attacks by terrorists on TV but never had he thought it would happen to him. “Really it was a black Sunday for me. I have never witnessed such a thing in my 40 years in this world. The least place I thought such a gruesome thing would happen was the church, I was wrong,” said Benson who was shot on the right hand.
His wife Gladys thanks God for saving her life and that of her family. “We have every reason to be grateful to God for saving us since we have lost many of our close friends and relatives who were in the same church with us with some seated a few metres behind us. Maybe God has a purpose to save us and I promise to continue serving him in the best way I can,” says Gladys on her bed at the Garissa Provincial General Hospital.
Gladys, a housewife, says her children and their colleagues were saved from the attack because they had earlier been released by the church to go and attend their service right opposite the church. “One of my sons had just collected the offering from his father and had gone to join the other children. His father wanting to ensure that he had joined his colleagues almost got killed after the attackers who were entering the church after killing the two police officers tossed a hand grenade at him which luckily did not explode.”
She added, “My husband threw himself to the ground pretending to be dead, which made the attackers to step over him and enter the church to open fire indiscriminately on the faithful.” A source who spoke to the Star but wished to remain anonymous blamed the neighbouring village for the attack. “I was driving from Masalani heading towards Garissa but on reaching Bula county, just about a kilometre from the place of the attack, a group of people shouted at me, urging me to make a U-turn since they had earlier seen some men wielding guns. No sooner had I reached the town than I heard of the attack,” said the man.
On his part, Reverend Silas Yego said Muslims and Christians have peacefully co-existed in the country and more so in Garissa town and urged the Christian faithful not to blame the attacks on Muslims in general, saying it was an act carried out by some extremist groups. The government has promised to foot the hospital bills of those injured and admitted in various hospitals. It also pledged financial support to the families of the victims of the churches’ attacks.
The attacks in Garissa are the second targeting churches since the Kenya Defence Forces incursion into Somalia in a bid to forestall attacks from al Shabaab. Garissa town, which used to pride itself as the fastest growing town in East and Central Africa, has lost its glory. More than 40 lives have been lost in several attacks which have mainly targeted crowded eateries, bars and churches.