The first thing you notice when you meet Peter Gichangi is a highly visible scar on his lower right side jaw. It took hours for doctors to remove a carjacker’s bullet lodged in his jaw. This human rights defender extended his bravery a bit too far in the foreign territory of carjackers on the night of August 8, 2011 when they demanded his car at gunpoint in Dagoretti area. Peter instinctively thought the carjackers knew him because he is a public figure in the area.
He figured out they would definitely kill him after taking his car to ensure he went to his grave with the secret of their identity. His reaction was to resist their demands to save himself and his car, forgetting one cardinal rule about carjackers – they are ready, willing and able to commit violent crime. The sharpshooter among the five carjackers pulled the trigger and the near-fatal bullet hit the target.
Rather than die in their hands, Peter stepped on the accelerator of his automatic car. Numb and paralysed, he steered on, his attackers hard on his heels, as the bleeding slowly drained his body of energy and life… Today, Peter, who operates a car hire business besides his human rights activities, can afford a wide grin as he narrates his hair-raising experience that left him indisposed for months, nursing pain and trauma. He tells his story:
“I picked a vehicle I had hired to a client in Dagoretti Corner at around 9pm on the fateful night. On my way home to Dagoretti Centre, I offered a lift to four neighbours at Kawangware bus terminus. All was well until I branched off Dagoretti road into a 300-metre murram road behind Chandaria Health Centre to drop the last passenger. I noticed from a distance five men walking slowly by the roadside. I passed them without giving it much thought and stopped at the gate to the lady’s compound.
The gate was locked from inside and as we waited for someone to open, I noticed through the side mirror the five men were some metres away from the car. The possibility that they could be carjackers never crossed my mind. They walked a few steps ahead and disappeared into another small path off the murram road.
I mistakenly assumed I had seen the last of them.
As I drove towards the main road, there was a huge depression cutting across the road near the point where the men had branched off into the darkness. I slowed down the car to negotiate the gulley. At that instant the five men emerged from the shadows and one of them wearing dark clothes stepped forward. I had rolled down my window and saw he had a gun pointed to my head. He ordered me to stop the car while attempting to open the driver’s door. I had three options: to fight, flee or surrender.
Quick thinking told me flight was the right option. I figured out these guys knew me because of my human rights work in the area and would definitely kill me if I recognised them. It was do or die. I stepped on the accelerator pedal to flee but the gunman beat me to it.
He instantly released the bullet and as I raised my hand to shield my head, it cut through my right arm.
I recall a deafening sound, the loudest I have ever experienced in my entire life, and suddenly my right hand and shoulder went numb with pain. I wasn’t going to die in their hands, I promised myself. I drove off towards the main road hoping against hope that help would come before they caught up with me.
It was a painstakingly difficult drive. I could feel the bullet lodged in my body, and the smell of blood and the pain I was experiencing was numbing. Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready to die, not just yet. I said a silent prayer as I drove at full speed the 300-metre stretch to the main road.
I have revisited the scene several times since and still wonder how I managed escape with my life.
My body weak and feeling dizzy from the bleeding to the point of collapsing, I reached the main road and slowed down the car, careful to avoid several eventualities including the carjackers catching up with me and finishing their job, or collapsing on the wheel.
Miraculously, I managed to drive to the junction of Shell BP petrol station on Dagoretti road. One thing I knew was that I needed urgent medical help. All this time, I was alert enough to evaluate my options carefully: I could do three things – deliberately crash my car against one of the matatus or the boda boda motorbikes at the petrol station to attract attention; continue driving to the Dagoretti Police Station opposite the petrol station; or drive to my home next to Githima PCEA Church.
Almost in a daze, I steered the car into the police station. I struggled out of the car crying to the duty officer to help, as I had been shot. It was obvious he didn’t at first understand what I was talking about, but when he saw the blood he acted quickly to get me help while asking what had happened. I also called my family to let them know what had happened, although they found it difficult to understand what I was saying because I was already slipping into unconsciousness. The police rushed me to PCEA Kikuyu Mission Hospital.
An emergency operation to control the bleeding was done. An operation to remove the bullet was done a day later. X-rays showed the bullet went through the shoulder and by sheer luck didn’t touch the spinal cord. Instead it was lodged in the jaw area. I later learnt I was not the first victim of these sadists. They had earlier tried to carjack another motorist who also escaped with bullet wounds. I remained in hospital for nine days. I attended physiotherapy for two months and today, save for numbness on the right shoulder, I feel fine. I continue with my daily activities, thanks to counseling I went through to remove the fear I constantly felt.
As part of the healing process, my psychologist made me visit the scene severally to retrace the whole incident and make sense of it. Though I wanted to forget the incident as soon as possible, the psychologist advised that it was not the best way to heal, as I needed to face reality to understand how lucky I was to be alive.
While I have forgiven my attackers and moved on, I feel sad that they were not arrested and could be out there wrecking the lives of innocent motorists.”