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updated: 9/26/2013 5:14 AM

Bartlett native's Kenya roommate killed in mall attack

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  • Ravi Ramrattan

      Ravi Ramrattan

  • Toni Maraviglia

      Toni Maraviglia

  • With her innovative educational program that uses cellphones to help teach, Bartlett native Toni Maraviglia, the woman in the white blouse, earns applause from these students in the fishing village of Muhuru Bay, Kenya.

      With her innovative educational program that uses cellphones to help teach, Bartlett native Toni Maraviglia, the woman in the white blouse, earns applause from these students in the fishing village of Muhuru Bay, Kenya.
    Courtesy of Toni Maraviglia

  • People run from the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where shooting erupted Saturday when armed men staged an attack.

      People run from the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where shooting erupted Saturday when armed men staged an attack.
    AP Photo/Jason Straziuso

  • Kenyan security forces stand on the top floor of a building facing the Westgate Mall on Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya.

      Kenyan security forces stand on the top floor of a building facing the Westgate Mall on Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya.
    AP Photo/Jerome Delay

  • Video: Award-winning economist killed

 
 

Looking forward to a barbecue later that day with her old roommates and other friends in Nairobi, Bartlett native Toni Maraviglia sent out a warning as soon as she heard about the terror attack at the Westgate Mall where they shop for groceries.

"Everyone in Nairobi -- STAY AWAY from Westgate! Al-Shabaab. Grenades + lots of shooting. Is everyone ok?" Maraviglia posted on Facebook Saturday as news of the terrorist attack broke. In a personal aside, she added, "Family -- don't panic. I am far away from any danger."

Her good friend and former roommate Ravindra Ramrattan was at the mall with his girlfriend to buy groceries for the barbecue. They divvied up the list to save time.

"He was going to get the meat and she was going to get tortilla chips," Maraviglia says. The girlfriend escaped when the shooting began. Ramrattan did not.

"We were looking for him," Maraviglia says during a telephone interview Wednesday. "We were right next door. We got out of the taxi and there were gunshots every second."

Unable to find her friend, she looked for other ways to help.

"I went to donate blood at the hospital and it was crazy. There were a thousand people waiting to give blood," Maraviglia says. The 30-year-old entrepreneur and co-founder of Eneza Education, which uses cellphones to educate children in rural African villages, hunkered inside her apartment and watched the movie "Finding Nemo" while waiting for news.

"I didn't sleep for two days," she says. A friend knocked on her door Monday.

"He had just come from the morgue," says Maraviglia, who broke the news to others on her Facebook page.

"Today, we got news of a great friend, Ravindra Ramrattan, shot to death in the horrible terrorist attack at Westgate Mall. He was my roommate, a great friend, and someone who always had your back," she wrote.

A prizewinning economist who grew up in Trinidad and graduated from Cambridge University, Ramrattan shared an apartment last year with Maraviglia and two other people employed by companies tackling poverty issues in the African nation.

"We said he was 'Indian by day' and 'Caribbean by night,'" says Maraviglia, recalling how serious Ramrattan was at work and how fun he was after work. "He really knew how to get down on the dance floor and was one of the smartest people I've ever met."

Scheduled to return to the United States to speak at a business conference in Washington, Maraviglia says she thought about staying in the country she has grown to love.

"We are all deeply hurt at the insanity that has consumed our city the past 24 hours brought on by militant terrorists that do not represent the vast majority of beautiful, peaceful people -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, you name it -- across Kenya," Maraviglia wrote.

The vast majority of Kenyans are very welcoming to people of all nationalities and faiths, says Maraviglia, who hears the Islamic calls to prayer every day from her apartment.

"Kenya is a very peaceful place," she says.

Still, the places she has called home in rural tribal Kenya can be a little like the 19th-century American "Wild West" and worry her loved ones, so Maraviglia always assures them she makes an effort to be safe. Her life in Nairobi carries the stress of terrorism fears.

"We always kind of knew that this was imminent," Maravaglia says of the mall attack by the Somalia-based group linked to al-Qaida. "There have been warnings for the last two years, and we were getting used to the warnings."

Still shaken by the death of her friend and the events of last week, Maravaglia says she'll extend her business trip to spend time with her loved ones in the United States. But she vows to return to her work in Kenya.

"This event has dug up emotions of past shootings and horrible events I've been a part of, in and out of Nairobi. But I am so grateful that, unlike each of these brainwashed terrorists, I have so many people that love and care about me," Maraviglia says. "I still deeply believe that the only way to cure these worldly ills is through education and economic opportunity.

"Ravi strongly believed in these rights, and I know he'd want us all to keep fighting the good fight."

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