Former Lake Placid family caught up in Kenyan mall siege

LAKE PLACID – A family with local ties was affected by a terrorist attack at a Kenyan mall earlier this week.

Lyndsay and Nick Handler were at the Nairobi, Kenya, shopping center when a group of militants stormed the mall Saturday.

The siege of the mall by Somalia-based Shabab militant group, which has taken responsibility for the attacks, ended Tuesday after an explosion collapsed three of the building’s floors.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced Tuesday that at least 67 people were dead and 175 injured in the attack.

Nick and Lyndsay used to live in Lake Placid, and Lyndsay’s parents, David and Nita Holley, are still here.

Lyndsay declined to talk to the Enterprise, but Nick gave ABC News a phone interview after the attack, and ABC posted a story about their experience on its website.

Nick and his 2-year-old daughter Julia were in a mall cafe when it hit, and Lyndsay, who is eight months pregnant, was a floor below.

“All of a sudden I just heard a loud explosion followed by a few gun shots, and I just immediately just grabbed her. And luckily it was right by the door, and we were able to sprint out of the cafe and ran across the mall,” Nick told ABC News.

He hid in a storage room with Julia and about 40 other people. Lyndsay hid in a movie theater, then escaped to a roof with others and was saved after hours of waiting by police who led her down a fire escape.

About 90 minutes later, Nick and Julia were rescued by plain-clothes police, and the family reunited outside.

“Just the look on her face, the emotion and I think all of the fear and the uncertainty that had been building up, she just let it all out. It was a pretty emotional moment for all of us,” Nick told ABC.

Lyndsay shared with the Enterprise, via email, a statement she wrote up to give to friends and family about the incident. She wrote that the emails and notes she has received from them have kept up the family’s spirits and reminded them of how much good and love there is in the world.

“While I don’t have many words right now, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of the incredible Kenyan people – especially the Kenyan police and military at Westgate this weekend – who undoubtedly saved our lives and continue to make us feel safe and loved here,” Lyndsay wrote. “I will be forever grateful for the two brave and selfless Kenyans whose names I don’t know who led me to safety and to the ones who later led Nick and Julia out, as well.”

She asked friends and family to send thoughts and prayers to the entire Kenyan community, which she said will be affected by this for many years to come.

She also noted that the international media coverage of the incident hasn’t fully captured the heroism of Kenyan police, who she said risked their lives to save hundreds of people.

“The two police who rescued us were not wearing bullet-proof vests and still entered the building knowing there were heavily armed and protected terrorists,” Lyndsay wrote. “There were also countless other civilian heroes from every religious background who played a part in helping me out at every step along the way.”

She said she hopes these people, along with the broader Kenyan community which has donated blood and raised money for victims’ families, become the focus of news before the story drops out of the 24-hour news cycle.

Keela Grimmette, who has strong ties with Kenya and runs a nonprofit group that supports a Kenyan school, told Lyndsay people here are glad and relieved that she and her family are OK. She said she hopes the incident draws the attention of local people to the plight of those living in Kenya.

“May we stand united with Kenya and may peace somehow rise from the ashes,” Grimmette told her.

The Associated Press reports that five American citizens were injured in the attack, and other victims came from all over the world.

Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning for the 61 civilians who died in the attack.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or