Martin and Christine O'Brien are relieved their family in Kenya are alive after last week's attacks.
Martin and Christine O'Brien are relieved their family in Kenya are alive after last week's attacks. Blainey Woodham

Tweed woman’s escape from terror in Kenya

IT was by sheer luck that former Tweed shire resident Elizabeth Holton and her family were not at a Nairobi shopping centre when terror struck.

Terrorists shot and killed at least 67 people during the attack in Kenya last Saturday, with dozens more still missing.

For the previous two Saturdays Mrs Holton, a Mount St Patrick College graduate, had spent time sipping coffee with her husband at an upmarket coffee chain at the Westgate Shopping Centre.

Little did they know their favourite centre would soon fall victim to a four-day siege by Islamist gunmen.

"My husband was on a business trip on Saturday, so I had gone out with another Australian friend living here," she told the Daily News from her home in Kenya this week.

I have no doubt in my mind that if we had gone to Westgate we would have been having lunch there at the time these attacks took place.

"And for no particular reason we went to Village Market, which is another shopping centre about 5km away from Westgate.

"It doesn't seem clear to me why we decided to go to Village Market instead of Westgate but maybe it was because I had been to Westgate twice during the week shopping, including Friday morning."

She said she and her friend had no idea what was going on just 5km away.

"At about 1pm I was at a restaurant having lunch and I got a phone call from a neighbour who wanted to know where I was," she said.

Her neighbour told her there had been a grenade attack at Westgate.

"I have no doubt in my mind that if we had gone to Westgate we would have been having lunch there at the time these attacks took place," she said.

"And if we weren't having lunch we would still have been shopping at Nakumatt. If it had taken place one or two weeks earlier, my husband and I would have been there at the time too."

She said Kenyan media covering the attack were unclear of exactly what was going on.

Martin and Christine O'Brien are relieved their family in Kenya are alive after last week's attacks. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Daily News
Martin and Christine O'Brien are relieved their family in Kenya are alive after last week's attacks. Photo: Blainey Woodham / Daily News Blainey Woodham

"It made us anxious seeing what was going on just down the road and knowing that we had intended to go there and for some reason hadn't," she said.

It was international media that brought her up to speed before ideas and scenarios began racing through her mind.

"I didn't really think anything along the lines that they would have gone in, taken hostages and killed people randomly," she said.

As soon as she could Mrs Holton emailed friends and family to let them know she and her family were safe.

She can't understand how the attackers gained entry as security was so tight at shopping centre.

Mrs Holton said security perform entrance checks to all cars with mirrors use to search for explosive devices under vehicles.

"Your boot and back seat are searched," she said.

"Once you enter the actual centre you are swiped down with a metal detector and have your bag searched too."

The mood is sombre among the expats in the area.

Mrs Holston said most people have stories about people they know who were injured or killed.

"Young ones in my children's classes at school were there," she said.

"Good friends know people who were killed. One of my friends had both people who came to her house for dinner on Friday night killed at Westgate.

"Her husband went searching for them at hospitals when they couldn't be contacted and later found them in the morgue."

Mrs Holston and her family have been living in Kenya for more than a year.

She and her husband are scientists working to help Kenyans produce sustainable agriculture.

Her parents, devoted Catholics Martin and Christine O'Brien, who live at Mt Burrell, were relieved to find out their family was okay after the attack.

"The fact that Elizabeth didn't go there for some reason speaks to me of work by the Holy Spirit," Mrs O'Brien said.

Mr O'Brien, whose first trip overseas was to Kenya, only returned at the beginning of the month.



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