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Originally published September 23, 2013 at 9:23 PM | Page modified September 24, 2013 at 12:26 PM

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Grief, resolve bind locals from Kenya

About 100 people attended a vigil at Westlake Park in Seattle Monday evening to stand in solidarity with their countrymen who had been attacked in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It was 3 a.m. on Sunday when Millie Ajuang heard the news.

Her uncle, Harum Oyieke, 65, was among the scores of people killed in the attack at the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Ajuang had moved to Kirkland three years ago, and she hadn’t seen Oyieke in five years.

“I disconnected the phone, because it didn’t make sense to me,” Ajuang said. She spent the rest of the night crying. She didn’t know what else to do.

Her friend Esther Wangumo dried Ajuang’s tears with a handkerchief and held her hands as Ajuang told her story at a candlelight vigil in Westlake Park on Monday evening.

About 100 people attended the vigil, holding candles, wearing their country’s colors and waving Kenyan flags. Standing in a circle and holding hands, the attendees mourned the tragedy and prayed for peace. But they also emphasized their support for their country, singing African songs and dancing.

No relatives of Maryanne Mirie were affected by the attack. But she made the drive from Des Moines to join the group and show her support for her homeland.

“Everybody’s family when something like this happens,” she said. “When something like this happens, we are all shaken.”

The group huddled quietly at first, avoiding the drizzling rain by standing under the trees.

But as more arrived, they lit their candles, offered prayers to God for “Peace upon Kenya; peace upon Nairobi” and proclaimed that “Kenya is a nation of love.”

The group placed their candles on the ground and stood around them as Elizabeth and Ephantus Itegi, pastors at the Tabernacle Temple of Praise in Federal Way, led prayers.

“May our cry be heard all around the world,” shouted Ephantus Itegi, to cries of “Amen.”

“May our cry be heard in heaven,” he said.

Then, the circle expanded as the group began singing cultural songs and dancing. John Njeru, a youth pastor, who moved to Seattle in 2011 after serving in the U.S. Army, led chants of “Pamoja,” which translated means “togetherness” or “unity.”

Njeru stressed the importance of the Kenyan spirit and said the country would continue to stand against evil.

“We lost a number of our people,” he said. “We can’t be there with them, but we can show our solidarity with them and condemn this heinous attack.”

“They cannot break us. We are strong and we will continue to be strong.”

Colin Campbell: 206-464-2033 or ccampbell@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @cmcampbell6

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