People were dead and dying around them; and a mother caught in the chaos knew she had to keep her young children still and quiet if they wanted a chance to survive. So, even as gunshots rent the air, she began to sing. She soothed her children as they "played dead" for hours while hiding from the militant gunmen who had laid siege to the Kenyan mall they were in.
The family's terror began when a group of gunmen charged into Nairobi's Westgate Mall last September, opening fire on unsuspecting shoppers. Panicked, the mother (identified by NBC as Faith Wambua-Luedeling), who had been shopping with her young son and daughter, grabbed the children and hurried to a corner, where they lay facedown on the ground and tried not to move. “We were just lying there -- there would be shooting going on, then it would stop," she told NBC News last year of the terrifying experience. "There were times I could hear the bullet casing dropping on the floor near us. We could smell the gunpowder and we would really be scared."
New York Times photojournalist Tyler Hicks, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his coverage of the terrorist attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall, captured this now-iconic photograph of the family as they hid from the gunmen:
In an interview with NPR's "Fresh Air" this week, Hicks revealed more harrowing details of the family's fight for survival. He said Wambua-Luedeling and her kids hid for five hours before they managed to escape the mall. "The music that plays in the shopping mall -- just kind of this tranquil music -- was still playing throughout this whole thing, so amidst the gunfire and all the action that was happening, you had this kind of mall music that played throughout the entire attack," Hicks said. "[The mom] actually was singing along with those songs to her children to keep them calm and quiet -- especially the young boy who she said rarely can sit still for five minutes and she had to keep him calm and quiet for five hours."
Hicks, who says he and the mother recently chatted via Skype, said the photograph of her and her children "really sums up what happened" in the mall that day. "[The family was] just petrified," he added, per "Fresh Air." "Outside of the frame, all around them and on the floor of this mall were bodies, a man next to an ATM ... a woman still holding a shopping bag who had been killed, and they somehow managed to avoid that."
More than 60 people were killed during the Westgate Mall attack last year. Al Shabaab, a militant Islamist group based in Somalia, has taken responsibility for the killings.