Al Qaeda affiliates opened fire along a West African beach on March 13, killing almost two dozen people and wounding some 33. As the terrorists moved through the resorts in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast, Charline Burton hid in a bathroom with her 1-year-old daughter and two others. She could hear the gunmen outside the door, talking and shooting. If her baby cried, she knew their hiding place would be revealed.

“She couldn’t actually make a sound because that would have alerted the people attacking us,” Burton recalls. “We could have been killed. People hiding in other bathrooms that day had been killed.” Remarkably, her baby never cried during the two hours they were hiding.

Burton is a Belgian national who has lived in Africa for a decade. She now lives in Ivory Coast with her husband and two daughters, working for a nonprofit called Search for Common Ground, which focuses on conflict resolution, interfaith dialogue and preventing violent extremism.

Charline Burton stayed at La Nouvelle Paillote on the day of the attack. Credit:
Burton stayed at La Nouvelle Paillote on the day of the attack. Credit:

On the day of the attack, Burton got separated from her husband and 3-year-old daughter, who both survived by hiding in a hotel room. The family’s story made headlines in the BBC and the New York Times.

But we wondered about all the locals who also survived the attack — the bar staff, the waitresses. Why did news outlets focus on a Western woman’s story of survival?

In this podcast, we speak speak to Burton about how she felt about receiving media attention over that of local survivors. She also tells us how she managed to keep her baby quiet during the siege, why she plans to remain in Ivory Coast, and how her near-death experience makes her even more committed to ending violent extremism.

Burton’s story in the New York Times, the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Washington Post