He wanted me to go with him upstairs. Alone! My heart was hammering so loudly I could literally feel its beat in my ears as he waved his gun in my face and ordered my husband to sit. I handed over my 8 month old to my husband and walked away. On the way upstairs, I could see the brand new, unopened iPad sitting on the table in the entrance hall. Somehow I managed to climb the stairs and into our bedroom. Closet doors were open, drawers dismantled, clothes strewn all over the place, mattress hanging half off the bed, documents and papers littered the floor, and handbags sat with their insides out. Every movie that I saw, every hostage negotiation skills I’ve ever heard of, and every communication skill I’ve never practiced came bubbling up in a confusion of thoughts in my head. I didn’t know what to say to him. They say that we should make our captors identify with us, or us with them so that at the worst of times they won’t at least kill us. I’ve never needed such skills before. My range of my negotiation skills went as far as compromising with my kids over breakfast cereal. I’ve never been in a position where I’ve pleaded for my life. I stood there in our bedroom, in the midst of all the clutter they had created and asked him if he had kids, and he said no. My brain did register at this point that it wasn’t going too well for me. He didn’t have a wife either so any connection I might have tried to build was fast crumbling.
“Where is my money?” he kept repeating, sometimes holding his head in his hands like he didn’t know what direction to take. I don’t know how many times I repeated that we’d given them everything we had. Before I knew it, the man was stomping down towards me, turning me around and shoving me against the wardrobe door. His hand sneaked into my pocket, and in that moment, I didn’t know if I should have been grateful for my intuition in the kitchen to remove that damned 20 dollar bill, or if I should just collapse from the relief of knowing I wasn’t going to be caught and be the end of my family.
He was still dissatisfied with what he had taken. He walked me to the study like he knew where it was. There he found my Kindle, the video camera we had bought when we had our first child, my camera and a few other things. Surprisingly, they had not been into any of the two other bedrooms. Hmm! Curious, is it not?
We must have been upstairs too long or my husband might have gotten concerned because soon enough he came up holding our son. Back downstairs again, somehow my husband finally convinced them all to take him to the ATM. I didn’t want him out of my sight but who was going to debate his rationale in that moment. The thugs didn’t want to leave either. It took a significant amount of persuasion for them to acquiesce. One gunman and a sidekick would stay with us, while another gunman and a sidekick would accompany my husband. Before my husband left, he’d asked me for my PIN for one of our accounts. They drove out in our Prado. The gunman sat with us at the table, gun still in hand, and started asking me how old the kids were. At this point I didn’t even feel like conversing with him. I was too exhausting trying to stay aware of every movement him and his sidekick were making.
Soon after, I realized that I had given the wrong PIN to my husband. Panic does not begin to describe the terror I felt. What if he tried the PIN 3 times and the card shut down? What were the thugs going to do to him? In near hysteria, I told the gunman sitting that I had given the wrong PIN. He was already on the phone with his team and I nearly yelled at him to tell his gang they should not use the PIN. He waved me off, and very casually told me the money had already been withdrawn. I knew that was not possible. In my mind, either they had done something to my husband, or my husband had tried to pull off some heroics and things had gone south.
1:20 am was when the gunman gave us orders not to move and walked out of the kitchen. A few minutes after both the thugs had left, the watchman pried the knots on the rope loose and started to stand up. I knew those knots were just for appearances. The fool wanted to use the backdoor to escape and alert the administration police that were mere yards from our house. I had to literally scream as softly as I could for him to sit his ass back down. My husband was still out there and who knew what would happen if this idiot tried to contact the cops.
We sat there like dummies, expecting the thugs or my husband to show up at any moment. They weren’t supposed to be taking over an hour but the clock just kept ticking. We heard a commotion outside the kitchen. We hadn’t moved in what felt like forever. I was cradling two kids in my lap with my eldest sitting surreptitiously silent. Suddenly a man in a blue raincoat literally tiptoes into the room, looking as menacing as the rest of guests we’d had. He’s carrying an AK 47 and had the hood of his raincoat covering his head. At this point I didn’t really know if he was a good guy coming for the rescue or another sidekick coming to finish the job.
He was soon joined by another man in police fatigues. You’d think by now we’d be feeling some relief but no, my husband still hadn’t returned. The cops were tiptoeing all over the house, looking for any hidden dangers or remnants of the thugs. We still sat there. Waiting. Watching for who will burst in next. Thankfully, the next body to cross into the kitchen was my husband, lips all dry and white, face ashen, and heart thumping at his throat. We held onto each other for a good long while. We were safe. We were alive. We were going to see another sunrise. Thank you God. The thugs had run off with the car leaving my husband at the shopping center withdrawing that 10k. He had then alerted the Karen police station right across the road. The damn cops would’ve caught at least one of the thugs if they’d had the balls to drive straight to our house instead of around the bend. Later, they would admit that they had seen someone at the gate running towards the drainage system and another one toward the back of the house but they didn’t want to risk being shot at since they didn’t know how well armed the thugs were. Jeez, thanks for the outstanding public service, fellas!
The procession of cops was endless hereafter. In total, we probably told the same story to about 4 different officials all congregating in our living room in mud caked boots. Some would come in like they’d been invited for coffee, linger while talking, taking yet another statement of what was taken.
3 am. We’re exhausted but we need to make a detailed list of what was taken. Call it Karma, call it divine intervention, or call it God looking down, but the iPad, my laptop, my husband’s laptop, and two bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label were sitting smack there in the entrance hall table. The TV had been fiddled with but had not been removed. They had sliced open a hopping ball my kids used to play with. I can’t even fathom the rationale for that and my daughter is still bitter about that. At the ATM, my husband had managed to get just 10k from his account. He couldn’t access my account because of the wrong PIN. The car was still missing and would be so for another 2 days when it was found somewhere in Dagoretti.
Sunday morning 6am, the watchman is picked up by the cops. They leave a note behind on the gate telling us he’s been detained for his involvement. Apparently, they found a chisel and a hammer by his room. Also, part of the outer perimeter wall had been hacked from the inside out with debris on the inside mostly. What thug would chisel at the concrete from the inside while trying to attack from the outside? There were just too many inconsistencies in how the whole thing was pulled off, and while none of the other thugs were ever captured, the watchman still remains in jail to date for his involvement.
The details that I was able to capture from the 5 hour ordeal is my own story. My husband’s is his to tell. Cleaning off fingerprint powder was a little more than annoying since it just smudges all over the place. The number of cops in and out of the house the next day was overwhelming. The thugs did in fact never search my kids’ rooms. They didn’t even check the dining room that was smack in their face where two other work laptops sat in plain sight. They focused their efforts in our bedroom and the study. Again, interesting.
My daughters are now 10 and 4 and my son 2 years. My 4-year-old will ask me from time to time where the watchman is. She mentions him by name. Thinking she would never remember him, I told her he was dead because I didn’t want to have to recall his involvement in our lives ever. While I am surprised by the kids’ resilience I also understand the scars the ordeal left on them. Some unseen.
It has been 1 year and 10 months since the process of recovery started. It has not been easy or quick. The kids have fared much better than we adults have. Today I’m suspicious of unknown people and large groups and crowds. Whenever possible, I try to keep people in my field of vision because I’m now constantly nervous by what I can’t see. In the dead of the night, sometimes I hear noises but I’m not even sure if they are real or just in my head. My husband carries different souvenirs of his own. This is not a topic we broach with any easy or comfort, mainly because the rest of the gory details that came out in the course of the investigation are just too inhumane to consider or believe as a possibility. The innocence that is stolen from is irreplaceable.
Every day is a work in progress for our lives. Given the details that we now know, it wasn’t any luck or fate that saved us but a blessedness beyond measure.
May God protect you and yours!