We extend, in Utah, our love to you, our heartfelt grief, and best wishes that your beautiful country may heal. —Lt. Gov. Greg Bell
SALT LAKE CITY — As a golden sunset washed over the state Capitol, Amram Musungu recalled being home in Kenya and walking through the Nairobi mall, calling it a beautiful place to spend time with friends and family.
When he saw photos and videos after the mass shooting and hostage situation in Kenya, he no longer recognized it.
"I saw so many bodies lying in the street, as if it was in a war zone somewhere," Musungu told a group of about 20 people, mostly Kenyans, who gathered Monday to pray together and comfort one another as tragedy unfolds an ocean away.
Others who came included a Utah couple who recently returned from a photography trip to Kenya, stopping at the Nairobi mall on the final day of their visit, and a man who served in Kenya as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At least 69 people have been reported dead since an organized contingent of gunmen stormed the Westgate Mall on Saturday, shooting down some and taking others hostage. The Somalian al-Shabab militia, which is linked to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
As of Monday, authorities said most of the hostages had been freed from the five-story mall that has become a battleground.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell spoke to the group Monday, saying terrorist attacks like the Nairobi mall shooting are slowly whittling away at civilized life.
"Acts like this are attacks on civilization," Bell said. "These people would take us back to where we hate each other and beat each other together with sticks. We extend, in Utah, our love to you, our heartfelt grief, and best wishes that your beautiful country may heal."
Bell asked the group if any of them had family in Kenya. Quietly, every hand in the group rose.
Amaitsa Livoyochi offered a prayer for the group, followed by a moment of silence. Livoyochi prayed that the families of the victims and all those impacted by the shooting would be blessed with comfort and hope, and that communication will be opened for those in Utah who are trying to communicate with loved ones in Kenya.
Since the attack, contacting loved ones in Kenya has been nearly impossible.
"It's been agonizing that you try to make a phone call and all you get is a busy signal," said Ben Kavila, who leads the Association of Kenyans in Utah.
So far, Kavila said he has been able to slowly make contact with several family members, all of whom are safe. A friend of his wife, however, is among the dead.
"It's especially tough for me to think of the little kids, who have nothing to do with the fights, they have no idea who is disagreeing with who," Kavila told the group after he learned that children competing in a cooking contest had been killed. "Then they get shot, and they get killed. That's plain wrong. There's nothing right about that."
Three Utah State students drove from Logan to participate in the event, including Jawahir Ahmed, the reining Miss Africa Utah. Ahmed's parents are from Somalia and they have family in Kenya.
"We're here to show that, Somalia as a nation, we're on Kenya's side and we don't condone what al-Shabab has done to Kenya," she said. "We want to show our gratitude because you guys are our brothers and sisters and we love you all, and we're really sorry about what happened."
By standing together, Ahmed said the group demonstrated their opposition to the bloodshed in Kenya, as well as rejecting al-Shabab's claims that the attack was founded in Islamic beliefs.
Several others echoed Ahmed, asserting that Islam remains a peaceful religion despite efforts by some to distort it.
As members of the group spoke one by one and shared in each other's grief, a message of hope emerged.
"This doesn't mean that we should stop doing good. We should actually continue doing good, and even doing more, and that's how we'll drive out evil and these kind of barbaric and inhumane acts," Mary Karanu said.
For now, Kenyans and the world must strive for unity, education and acceptance in hopes of eradicating terrorism, Musungu said, as well as remaining involved, active and vigilant in communities around the world.
"We have a lot to do as a family, a human family," he said.