MADISON (WKOW) -- The violence in Kenya is hitting home for several current and past Madison residents.
"It became clear that the situation was very grave, numerous people had died, dozens," Freelance Journalist Jacob Kushner told 27 News via Skype on Monday.
Kushner, a 2010 UW-Madison graduate, arrived in Nairobi just two weeks ago. He suddenly found himself in the middle of the chaos caused by the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall that has left at least 62 people dead.
"The mall is surrounded, has been surrounded by Kenyan authorities, and they are working to make sure that there are no more gunmen left in the building," Kushner reported on Monday afternoon.
As of late Monday night in Nairobi, Kenyan officials said their forces were "in control" of the mall and were combing it floor by floor looking for anyone left behind. They said they believed all hostages had been freed.
"I spent the whole weekend tracking people down, friends," said Sara Jerving, another journalist and UW-Madison graduate who just left the region in July after working for Bloomberg News there.
Now in New York, Jerving says she used to work on stories at that mall often, because of its reliable internet service.
"For years it's had high levels of security," said Jerving. "Every door, there's always security guards checking your bags and I believe every person that goes into the mall is scanned as well."
"I've been to that mall, I've sat in that coffee shop and drank coffee," said Susan Dillon Gold, a UW Health Nurse specializing in HIV care.
Gold travels to Nairobi every year with about 10 UW-Madison students to teach HIV-positive adolescents about reproductive health.
"I see the positive interaction between UW students and Kenyan students as they learn how much they are the same and how much they can learn from each other," said Gold.
Now, both Gold and Jerving wonder if and when they will ever be able to go back.
"Its very difficult to not be there at a time like this," said Jerving.
"If the situation in Kenya becomes so unstable that people like me can't go and do our work, we all suffer," said Gold.
Gold, Jerving and Kushner all say the Westgate Mall is unlike anywhere else in Kenya. They say it is very upscale and feels like a mall you would find in New York or Paris.
As journalists, Jerving and Kushner say there were concerns in Kenya that the mall could be a high priority target for terrorists.
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