THE BLOG
09/19/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

Westgate, One Year On

TONY KARUMBA via Getty Images

A year after one of the most horrifying attacks on Kenyan soil, there is little around Westgate Shopping Centre to remind us of the siege last year in which 67 people died. Shortly before noon on the 21st of September last year, gunmen raided the fashionable mall that was particularly popular with expatriates.

They separated Muslims from non-Muslims before shooting people dead. The Somali-based Al Shabaab militant group claimed it was revenge for the presence of Kenyan security forces in Somalia.

When I got the call asking me to go to work that day, we didn't really know what it was. So I started looking for the details, calling my contacts and that's when I realized that this was just not a normal story; it was something much bigger.

At that point people still thought it was a robbery which is all too common. But from the information I was getting I realized there was more to it and that's why I decided to grab my personal protection equipment -- a flak jacket and helmet -- and just get into a taxi to go to work. I was screaming at the taxi driver to go faster because I wanted to break the story.

People turn to the BBC for accurate impartial news when big stories break, so I ended up reporting on the attack for BBC World News for the entire four-and-a-half days as the story gripped our worldwide audience. First I broke the story in studio, just explained what information we were getting, and then on location. We were talking to people, talking to the authorities, trying to make sense of what was happening and give our viewers some context on what they were seeing.

I recently went back to Westgate to see what, if anything, had changed.

My first impression was that people had moved on.

I stood at the spot where I first reported about the siege from the early hours of the attack last year.

The traffic was back and the car park outside the mall full. One more shopping mall -- The Oval -- has since been completed and opened to the public nearby.

Last year the street had been taken over by ambulances that sped off with the injured; the trucks that ferried the dead; and later the military armored vehicles that moved in when it became clear that the attack was something more than a robbery.

Nothing could have prepared us for the shocking, horrific and terrifying experiences.
We met survivors who were dropped off behind me by ambulance.

Some of them were shocked beyond words. For me, watching the children come out of the building was heart-rending. And yet, in their innocence, they looked oblivious to what was going on.

But the fact that some of them had witnessed the killing spree was difficult to report.
Even more difficult was telling the story of the dozens of children who were attending a cookery competition at the rooftop of the building.

Earlier in the day, I had had the unpleasant task of explaining to my three-year-old daughter that I couldn't take her to hospital as planned because 'there was a problem somewhere that I had to take care of.'

Inquisitive child that she is, she asked me what the problem was. I hesitated at the front door of my house and ducked the question: 'Your father will explain,' I replied.

What did the parents of the children who witnessed the attack tell them? How were they going to cope?

My colleague, Thomas Amter, was in touch with a friend who was hiding at the Barclays Bank branch inside the mall. She whispered when they talked on phone.

Later in the day I met a father who told me his daughter was hiding in the basement of the building, too afraid to walk out. Even though he was there outside the mall, he felt helpless and frightened.

A mother arrived at the scene wailing. She had been told her daughter had been killed.

Yet in the midst of all the tragic stories, we found some that were uplifting.

Like the story of Faith Wambua Leudning, the mother of two who lay on the floor for four-and-a-half hours waiting for help to come. When I phoned her a few days after she was rescued, I asked her how she managed to keep her toddler so calm for that long. She told me she kept him occupied by watching the insects on the floor.

These stories of mothers and their children struck a chord with me.

We had to dissect the issues, explain the context of the attacks; talk about Kenya's decision to move into Somalia to fight the militant group Al-Shabaab two years previously..

The Westgate-style attack was unprecedented in my country.

In the days that followed, the narrative changed.

We reported about the fights among different security agencies - the shooting and killing of the leader of the specialized recce squad by his own country's military officers.

We obtained pictures of empty bottles of liquor, which officers had apparently drunk during the siege.

The tone of reporting at that point changed as did the public sentiment.

An event that had united Kenyans from different tribes, races, religions and political affiliations, quickly began to draw anger.

The lives of many Kenyans changed after last September. In the weeks that followed the attack, many minimized the time they spent in the capital's many shopping malls.

But slowly, business began to pick up.

Now shoppers are subjected to many more security checks at the entrances to malls and other public places such as churches and bus termini.

The survivors, bereaved families and the authorities have had a year to reflect and recover.

However, there are questions that were posed then that remain unanswered: exactly how many gunmen were involved? What was their fate? Why did the operation to end the siege take so long?

As long as Kenyans are still waiting for satisfactory answers, their faith remains weak in the security forces and their capacity to deal with the country's ever present security concerns.

Although the siege ended a year ago, the story is ongoing, and that's why it's vital that BBC World News continues to bring stories like this to the world.