SA journalist Tom Kirkwood rescues a woman injured in the shootout at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

Johannesburg -

South African journalist Tom Kirkwood was shopping at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi just a few hours before the attack that transformed it into a war zone.

He remembers passing a beautiful, perfectly groomed Asian woman and noted two other women wearing space suits as part of a product promotion.

Hours later he was outside the mall reporting on the story that has shocked the world.

Kirkwood entered the fray when he saw a young woman, wounded in a leg, outside one of the mall’s entrances.

Police had surrounded the mall and the question on everyone’s lips was whether the terrorist attackers would leave the mall and spray bullets in a bid to escape.

The bleeding woman had a look of shock on her face that Kirkwood could not ignore.

“I was worried she’d pass out… or die of shock,” said the journalist. The woman had collapsed after another person helped her limp out of the mall.

While shots could be heard inside the building, Kirkwood’s experiences of reporting in Iraq suggested that the shots were not coming in their direction.

The few ambulances at the scene were packed with wounded shoppers. But Kirkwood knew he couldn’t leave the woman in an area where a shoot-out could erupt.

Picking her up, he noticed she remained in severe shock and was barely able to speak.

He had carried her more than 100m when a car drove up, and the driver shouted to him to put the woman in the back of the car, where he had placed three other badly injured people.

Several civilians were trying to gather wounded victims into their cars before ambulances arrived.

The journalist bundled the woman into the car.

Before he could find out her name, she was driven off to hospital.

Kirkwood said that his act of heroism was minor, as other civilians had leapt at the chance to help survivors of the chaotic event.

“I haven’t seen that side of people in a while, just opening their hearts, going out of their way to help,” he said.

“Getting involved to the extent of picking up wounded people may go against a journalist’s instincts, but I would not be the first journalist to do this.

“I’ve seen colleagues commit far braver acts, it’s just that this time it was caught on camera.”

Kirkwood said that what was unusual about this attack was how it had affected all sectors of society.

The mall is frequented by foreigners and Kenyans alike, and this may have been the reason the attackers decided to target it.

On Sunday afternoon, it was reported that at least 30 people remained in the centre, hiding or being held as hostages.

In a televised speech on Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta – a relative of whom was among the victims – vowed to hunt down the perpetrators.

“We shall get them, and we shall punish them for this heinous crime,” the Kenyan president vowed.

The Star