NAIROBI, Kenya — Karen Wambui walked slowly through the Nairobi city morgue’s gates, still trying to process what she had seen inside.
She had just confirmed that the last body still there from the Westgate Mall attack nearly a week earlier was that of her son, Calan Munyaka.
The 27-year-old was one of 37 victims of the al-Shabab terrorist assault whose bodies were brought to the morgue in the Kenyan capital. Other bodies were taken to city hospitals and elsewhere.
For nearly a week, Munyaka lay in the morgue, identified only as “Kenyan male, adult.” On Friday afternoon, the pathologists pulled Munyaka’s corpse from a refrigerated chamber and showed Wambui.
“I’ve just seen a gunshot,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Here,” she added, pointing to the left side of her neck.
Officials say at least 61 civilians and six security troops were killed in the four-day takeover of the mall by the al-Qaida-linked militant group. With the Kenyan Red Cross reporting 59 more people still missing, the toll is expected to rise, although the government says it has no reports of anyone unaccounted for.
The Westgate Mall was packed with midday Saturday shoppers on Sept. 21 when the teams of al-Shabab gunmen stormed the building and opened fire. Authorities say as many as 15 attackers were involved, but only six of their bodies have been identified so far; five who were said to have been killed by security forces’ gunfire and one who died in the rubble of the building’s collapsed roof.
The Nairobi mall was patronized by the Kenyan elite and wealthy foreigners, but Munyaka was neither of those. The 27-year-old sold clothes for a living but didn’t work at the mall, his mother said.
Her last conversation with him was by telephone two weeks earlier — and he was excited, introducing her to his new fiancée and announcing she was a month pregnant. He worked out plans with his mother for the three of them to meet in person next month.
Wambui watched the mall attack drama unfold on television from her home in the city of Kisumu, hundreds of miles away. She had no idea her son was at the mall and still has no idea why he was there. But she knows he was one of the first to die.
Munyaka’s body was among the first brought to the city morgue on the first two days of the siege.
During the week at the morgue, autopsies were completed, with experts from Canada, Germany, the international police agency Interpol, the FBI and elsewhere aiding Kenyan pathologists. Relatives were notified, and one by one, the bodies were picked up and buried.
Not long after Wambui left, a long convoy carrying President Uhuru Kenyatta whisked through the busy intersection next to the morgue. It was taking him to his hometown of Gatundu, about 45 minutes outside of the city. He was on his way to bury his nephew, Mbugua Mwangi, and his nephew’s fiancée, Rosemary Wahito — two other victims of the Westgate Mall attack.
But for Munyaka there was no fanfare. Wambui returned later Friday and took her son’s body away.