In hiding, they listened carefully. To gunshots and explosions. To friends and strangers hiding with them.
With their lives at stake, they spoke quietly and tried to decide: When do we run for it?
Sara Head of Washington hid in a stairwell. Uche Kaigwa-Okoye's place of refuge was a stall in a ladies' restroom. Zulobia Kassam was in the back of a supermarket.
Each was lucky enough never to see any of the gunmen who killed dozens in the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday. But not seeing their attackers was itself part of the terror.
Stuck between floors
Head, along with a business colleague and a driver, fled from the parking lot after the shooting started. Her group ran into a stairwell, thinking they would go up one level and find a safe exit.
But they could hear more gunfire and backed down, winding up with a group of strangers cowering on the stairs between floors.
"We heard lots of shots at first, then none for a while -- maybe 15 minutes more -- then more," Head said.
"We didn't go want to go up or down," she said.
Head saw two people in the stairwell bleeding from minor wounds.
People talked on their cell phones -- she contacted her husband and the American embassy -- but then a stranger said the talking might attract the attackers. Those with smartphones whispered reports of hostages taken and grenades going off.
"No one really knew what was going on," she said.
Crowding in the ladies' room
Kaigwa-Okoye thought he heard a table fall over, "and then it happened repetitively, and it got really loud." Soon people started screaming and Kaigwa-Okoye joined many who ran outside.
But they heard gunfire outside, too, so Kaigwa-Okoye went back inside. Still unable to see any attackers, they thought they were backing away from danger. But when they reached a corner, shots were fired -- shots that seemed to be in their direction.
They fled to a ladies' restroom, where 20 people soon were hiding.
"We were really scared," he said. "Every sound sounded scary. We couldn't make out sounds, and they had grenades. It was really, really loud ... They must have passed our corridor several times. We heard gunshots down our corridor."
Some people ventured out but quickly returned, saying it was unsafe.
Near supermarket gunfire
Kassam had just finished coffee when she entered a supermarket in the mall.
"We entered and the lights went off," she said. She waited for the generator to kick in, but instead she heard gunshots and saw people running.
"We rushed to the back and hid ourselves," Kassam said.
"We heard random shots from everywhere -- upstairs, downstairs ... we even heard shots 30 feet from us," she said.
"People were petrified, crying, praying," she said.
'The lights came on'