The carnage began early in the afternoon on Saturday at Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall, with gunshots shattering the calm of a popular weekend meeting spot where Kenyans and expatriates shop for groceries, grab a coffee or catch a movie.
Before long, bodies littered the floor.
More than a day later, as Kenyan authorities worked to bring an end to a hostage standoff that has left dozens of people dead and hundreds more wounded, the stories of those who escaped paint a terrifying picture of how the attack unfolded:
Ben Mulwa: Caught in parking lot
It was about 12:50 p.m. when Ben Mulwa, a Nairobi County politician, and a friend pulled into the multilevel parking garage attached to the five-story mall.
Mulwa, who was at Westgate for a lunch meeting at the Java House, was parking the car when he heard a gunshot, he told the NTV television channel.
His first thought: It's a robbery. Then came the rapid gunfire.
He said he got out of the car and hid near the main entrance of the parking lot.
That's when he saw some of the attackers -- four men wearing checked head scarves and carrying "very long rifles." They didn't cover their faces, he said.
He could hear them but couldn't understand them. "It sounded like a variation of Swahili," he said.
Then they turned their guns in Mulwa's direction, taking aim at a security guard hiding near him.
"He was shot in the head, and he died instantly," he said.
Then they fired at him, aiming for his head. A bullet grazed him in the head, he said. He also suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.
The gunmen then calmly turned and walked into the mall, Mulwa said.
By all accounts, more gunmen were making their way into the mall through other entrances.
Bendita Malakia: Refuge in a store
It was shortly after noon when Bendita Malakia of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, made her way into the mall to have lunch with a friend when the attack began, she told CNN affiliate WAVY via Skype.
Malakia, who moved to Nairobi in July to work with a financial company, was in the middle of lunch on the mall's terrace when the gunmen stormed the area, throwing what she believes were hand grenades and firing assault rifles.
"We stood up and started to turn, and we heard machine guns. Then, we started to run and there was a second explosion, which knocked us on the ground," Malakia told WAVY.
Malakia and her friend got up and ran to a store where dozens of people had taken refuge. Once inside, the store manager pulled down a metal gate at the store's entrance to try to prevent the gunmen from coming in, she said.
But it didn't block out the sounds of the gunmen.
"While we were back there, you could hear them methodically going from store to store, talking to people and asking questions," Malakia said.
"They were shooting, screaming. Then it would stop for a while and they would go to another store."
Four hours later, Malakia and her friend were rescued by security forces.
Malakia believes she was "completely lucky" because she was on the ground floor when the assault began and where she was hiding was easily accessible to her rescuers.