Responding to the Terrorist Attack on Garissa University, Kenya
It was Good Friday (April 3rd), and as the morning newspaper arrived, the details of the devastation which took place in Garissa University the previous day, sent shock waves through the country. I remember just staring at the headlines “148 killed”. At first there was a call among local people to “do something”; which thegovernment responded to by air strikes (April 6th) on two of Al-Shabaab camps in Somalia just across the eastern border of Kenya.
Sr. Rosie Brooks, fmm
iiThe next day about 2,500 Christians and Muslims in the area of Garissa town responded by the public display of solidarity with the students and the refusal to allow this incident, which targeted
Christian students while releasing Muslims, to divide the country.
RThere was also the response by other Kenyan University students angrily protesting in the city of Nairobi over the delayed response to the attack after a police chief admitted that a plane, meant
to transport commandos to the scene, was instead being used to fly his family back from their
holiday in Mombassa on the coast. This revelation on Tuesday fed growing fury at the
government’s failure to intervene during the day-long slaughter.
Some of the victims had initially managed to hide from the killers after the assault began at dawn,
but were discovered and murdered in the afternoon, many hours later. The police commandos
only arrived seven hours after the attack had started, finally breaking the siege in the evening,
when the four terrorists detonated their suicide vests.
Expressing their grief, Kenyans held a vigil in
Nairobi’s “Uhuru” (Freedom) Park for Garissa
victims. A temporary shrine of crosses and candles
has been set up and photos of the 148 victims of the
group’s deadliest attack in Kenya were on show.
A Nairobi born and raised US University student, Carter Harrell, did a re-write of a song paying tribute to the students.
Meanwhile, the people from around the country had the agonizing task of identifying their sons /daughters/friends and relatives. The bodies had been airlifted from Garissa to Chiromo funeral home not far from our provincialate community of Bethany in Nairobi.
The Franciscan Family Association had sent out an appeal for religious to go to assist the family members in whatever way they could. I felt that this was my “something” I needed to do. I knew I might not be of much help but I would do my best. When I arrived I found someone I recognized and asked how I could help. She was correct in knowing that my Kiswahili was poor and that there were already many counselors on duty under the tents set up in the compound.
Family members queuing to search for their loved ones in Chiromo Funeral Parlour
I was asked if I could go “inside” because people needed to come out. I explained that I was a nurse and would be able to help in this way. There were many Red Cross volunteers inside. They and I were to accompany the family members in the hopes of finding their loved ones and to standby in case they were not able to cope. The double agony for them: the loss of their loved one and now the search among all 148 bodies, badly decomposing and unrecognizable after almost one week. Workers were busily trying to repair the broken cooling system panel. Masks did little to help tolerate the stench and formaldehyde-filled air. What agony for these families and friends. Fingerprints were being relied upon to assist in the identification and funeral vans and caskets were in line waiting for the final day of identification to be over so all the bodies could be released.
Outside, volunteers were many offering: counseling, prayerful support, providing security, cooking for the families who were camping in the compound, for the workers and other volunteers, as well. Food and drinks by the boxes were being freely given to all.
The atmosphere was filled with compassion and care, unity and respect.
Kenyans know how to respond to a crisis.
May this be the last!
Rosie Brooks, fmm