Kenyan Mall: Girl, 4, Survives by Running to a Stranger

Readers — One of you sent in zrdkrbnyiy
this story
of a 4 year old American girl, Portia Walton, saved by running to a man at the mall massacre. This quote should give courage to us all:

Portia’s father, Philip, who was in the United States when the terrorists struck, was in disbelief when he saw the picture of his daughter darting across the mall.

“She’s not normally the kind of girl that would run to a stranger, particularly one with a gun,” the 39-year-old dad told the paper.

And  she’s not alone in terms of bravery: The guy who saved her is simply amazing. Kenyan Abdul Haji ran to the mall when he heard about the tragedy and managed to save some other Walton family members, too. The Reuters photo, which I don’t have the rights to, is stunning. – L.

19 Responses to Kenyan Mall: Girl, 4, Survives by Running to a Stranger

  1. Eileen September 30, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    I feel very odd responding to this at all (because a situation like that really has nothing to do with anything a parent can prepare a child for, in fact, if a parent DID do that, they’d end getting discussed in a negative light here).

    Anyway, the article you link to says that her mother instructed her to go toward the man in the photo.

    Another quote:
    “Haji was crouching with another rescuer when he saw women hiding under a table.

    One of those women was Katherine Walton, Portia’s mother. Haji asked Walton to encourage the girl to run toward him.”

    So this brave young girl did as she was instructed by her mother. Thank goodness.

    Again, I feel very odd even commenting on this.

  2. Papilio September 30, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Hah, I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking that!
    Of course I’m glad they’re all fine, but she simply obeyed her mother in an extreme situation that she probably did not quite understand, but she did understand it was very important to do what mom said.

    And I hate all that emphasis on US girl saved by muslim man. As if muslims are by definition less likely to save other people just because some extremist jerks from another continent are terrorists.

  3. Linda Wightman September 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Actually, I think we can take action to prepare our children for such a situation. Not with terrorism drills, but b

    (1) Teaching them to recognize and obey that particular look and tone of voice that says, “obey instantly and without question.” This is as useful for stopping a child running in front of a car as it is for escaping an attack.

    (2) Teaching them “stranger” rules that empower them rather than making them fearful. That’s more complicated than a simple “stranger = danger” equation, but also more useful.

    (3) Help them develop competence in many areas of life. The more secure his is in his own ability to cope, the braver he can be when necessary. The child who can navigate the subway system, handle a knife, use a telephone, climb a ladder, swim to safety, etc. is much more likely to do well in an emergency.

    Adults could use help with this as well. Abdul Haji is a hero not only because of his courage and his willingness to risk his life for others, but because he was fit for the job: he had a gun, knew how to use it to cover the rescue workers, and knew how to keep his head. Not all of us can or want to carry a gun, but learning when to obey an authority figure without question, when to trust a stranger, and how to be helpful and not panic in an emergency would be good for us all. The chances of getting caught in a terrorist attack my be minuscule, but the chance of being caught in some kind of emergency situation — fire, hurricane, flood, robbery, plane crash, stuck elevator, panicked crowd, auto accident, you name it — over the course of one’s lifetime is pretty high.

  4. pentamom September 30, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    I don’t think the fact that her mother told her to do it completely undermines the point. There are plenty of kids who are so brainwashed about stranger danger that they can’t even obey instructions like that when told to.

    It’s not that she specifically prepared the child for this situation, it’s that her overall way of rearing her didn’t leave her unable to respond properly in this situation. That’s the real kind of “emergency-preparedness” that kids need to be taught — for very young ones, it’s trust older people to take care of you, and as they get older, it’s keep your own wits about you. You don’t need horror scenarios to teach kids ways to cope with horrific situations if you’re teaching them to generally cope well with life.

  5. Eileen September 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Again, I feel extremely uncomfortable trying to draw ANY conclusions from a situation that is so severe, so rare, and we don’t know anything other than what’s in the brief article linked.

    However, @pentamom, the mother and father both expressed surprise that the 4 year old behaved in the way that she did. Dad specifically mentions she’s “not the kind of girl to run to a stranger” and Mom says she “doesn’t know” how she did it.

    So, they seem to be impressed with her compliance and bravery, they aren’t saying how they’d raised her not to be afraid of strangers (not that they didn’t, we have no idea).

    If people want to co-opt this experience as proof of something, I’d choose a brave man, a brave and calm mom, and a compliant and brave 4 year old.

  6. Melissa September 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    I heard an interview with the mom on NPR Sunday morning and what really struck me was how she talked not really about the men who saved them but the woman, who was a stranger to them and who assisted her with the children during the time they were hiding.

    She referred to her as a Kenyan woman but article you posted says Asian – either way she was a stranger that was near them and she grabbed one of the toddlers and held her, got them all into hiding under a table/booth and soothed the child she was holding while the mom dealt with the baby and other child. To hear the woman talk it was clear she had complete confidence in this stranger who was helping take care of her children during the crisis.

  7. Papilio September 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    “kids who are so brainwashed about stranger danger”

    I don’t think many people would go on a vacation to Kenya with three kids aged 4, 2 and 13 months, so I’m going to assume that they live in Kenya. So, how stranger-danger soaked is Kenya, and if you’re adventurous enough to go live there and raise your kids there, then how stranger-danger hysterical helicopterish can you be?
    (Not saying that ‘you’ can’t be, I’m just wondering.)

  8. Eileen September 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    And the reality in this situation is that a kid raised NON free range may just as equipped (being used to taking direction from parents in most situations) to do as they are instructed.

    Or maybe humans are just wired to know when things are gravely important and that cooperation and calm are of utmost importance. I’m as impressed, or maybe more, that the children were so quiet and still for all those hours.

  9. hineata September 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    @Papilio – I think it possibly depends on the reasons the couple were living in Kenya. Among the expats I got to know while living in Malaysia, some were adventurous people who tried to get to know the local population (not always that easy in countries where you look totally different) and some were there specifically because it was the husband’s job, they were making crap loads of money, their children could go to better schools than back home, they got to live in apartments with pools etc. Those lived the high life and seldom worried about integrating. Neither way of looking at it is a problem, just the way things are. Whichever type this family was, thank goodness everyone in the situation, including this child, kept their heads.

    I think kids do sense when things are not right, and act accordingly. My husband’s grandmother had three small children, two under five, one of them only two I believe, when the Japanese occupied Malaya and then Singapore. The Japanese were particularly brutal to the Chinese, and she spent many days having to run into the jungle around their plantation with all the kids in tow to hide. Even the toddler in those circumstances was very, very quiet. Am sure similar stories would come out of any war, and many other dangerous situations.

    Kudos to all concerned here, especially the wee lass – and isn’t it great that the media for a change seems to be focussing on the good stories to come out of this appalling situation, rather than the usual attention given to the terrorists?

  10. pentamom September 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    “So, they seem to be impressed with her compliance and bravery, they aren’t saying how they’d raised her not to be afraid of strangers (not that they didn’t, we have no idea).”

    They aren’t saying they raised her that way, but it is evident that they DID, as opposed to raising her to be so terrified she wouldn’t do it. We certainly DO have an idea that they did not raise her to be afraid of strangers in every situation, even if it wasn’t a conscious effort. Not being the type to go to strangers, and being too brainwashed to go to a stranger in a crisis, are not the same thing.

  11. pentamom September 30, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    Papillo — I’m not sure how noting that they probably aren’t the type to brainwash their kids to be afraid of stranger danger takes away from the idea that they didn’t brainwash their kid to be afraid of stranger danger, while some people do.

  12. Eileen September 30, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    @pentamom, there is nothing “evident” about the raising of this family. The only thing that is evident is that the 4 year old did what the mother told her to do. There is no way to know anything beyond that (especially when the Dad acknowledged that was out of character).

    Does free range also train kids to be silent for four hours? Of course not, but the small children did it.

    None of us really know how we’d react in a situation so insanely rare and life threatening. Let alone that we’d somehow prepared a 4 year old to deal with it.

    It’s silly to suggest a free range 4 year old would somehow deal with this better than a non free range 4 year old. The key was “listen to your me and do as I say”. She did it. That’s it. After 4 hours huddled under a table, perhaps it’s not so crazy to think most 4 year olds would. Again, not taking a single thing away from this family, but we can all project onto them whatever we’d like…because none of us have any idea about any of it.

  13. pentamom September 30, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    I never said she was the product of effective free range training.

    I simply said she was evidently *not* taught to fear strangers so much that she couldn’t turn to them in a life-threatening situation. You do know there have been cases of that actually happening, right? Based on the existence of those cases, it apparently IS possible to so mistrain a kid that she can’t respond properly in a situation like this. And this was not one of them. That’s all I’m saying.

  14. Tsu Dho Nimh October 1, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    @Linda Wrightman said, “(1) Teaching them to recognize and obey that particular look and tone of voice that says, “obey instantly and without question.””

    This is only going to work if the parent issues very few orders to a child, and restricts those orders to critical matters.

    If a constant string of trivial requests and commands and pleas is landing on the child, they will tune you out.

  15. Eileen October 1, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    @pentamom, I get it. You’re right. Otherwise this just goes on and on.

    I’m not going to judge anyone (adult or child) in how they respond in this situation (for example, other people in the Mall stayed put longer because they weren’t sure the people came by were “the good guys”). I’m also not going to co-opt their behavior to support or reject any parenting technique. But go for it.

  16. Papilio October 1, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    @pentamom: Eh… I just read what you wrote and wondered about how likely US-style helicopterism is in a Kenya context. It was just a question (sort of) (and thanks Hineata for your answer!).
    I wrote I was wondering, not ‘I’m wondering and pentamom is a total idiot for writing that’ 😀 But sorry for the confusion.

  17. Katie October 1, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    It think it’s different when your talking about Kenya vs talking about the United States and the odds of something violent happening. Prior to this Kenya had been going downhill. The US had a travel warning about Kenya for a little while prior to this and travel warnings aren’t given out lightly-out of 196 countries only I’d say about 30-40 have one issued.

  18. pentamom October 2, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Thanks Papillo, sorry if I came back too strong. All I thought I was doing was making a simple observation (not trying to judge on the one hand or be triumphal on the other) and I got a lot of pushback on it from one person, so I guess I was a little oversensitive.

  19. Papilio October 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    @pentamom: Misunderstandings happen 🙂