One year after tragedy struck
St. Sebastian's Church Katuwapitiya
It was around 8.44am on April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday. Some were immersed in prayer, some children were having their breakfast after the morning service and some were singing their favourite hymns. But it all ended as the clock struck. By 8.45am, a series of blasts have occurred around the country that lasted for a span of around 20 minutes. By 9.05am, everything was done. Or that’s what people thought. But two other explosions happened later in the day.
Irrespective of their economic status, family backgrounds, race and religion, the suicide attacks took away the lives of at least 279 people, both local as well as foreigners, while injuring over 500 others. Three churches and three five star hotels were targeted. Mass graves were dug, making family members go numb as their loved ones, both young and old were being buried in front of them. Then there are those who escaped the tragedy, by instinct or otherwise. “If only I went there a minute early, if only I accompanied my children to the service, if only I didn’t have to change the flat tyre on the way, life would have been different,” they say. But they also feel that God has other plans for them. A year has gone by, but life stands still for most of them. Some families are trying to cope with the loss, some are trying their best to move on with life while some survivors have fully recovered and are looking forward to new beginnings.
Need to move on with life
Indika Fernando lost his younger daughter during the attack and his wife is undergoing treatment. “My wife doesn’t have that motivation in life anymore,” he said. “Her liver is damaged and she cannot do heavy work. The injury has caused deafness in one ear. She was prescribed four vaccines and we managed to administer them prior to the curfew. There’s an injury in her spinal cord as well. After we lost our daughter and with her injuries, she’s psychologically affected. Life won’t be the same again. She used to be a strong lady but not anymore because she used to be very close to my younger daughter. But now we need to look after our elder daughter. We are still in shock but we need to move on with life.”
Sneha with her family members photographed during our visit last July
When the tragedy occurred at the St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya 93 people attending the Easter Sunday service were killed and that included 27 children. Sneha Mindani Milroy was one of the survivors. However, she was lying unconscious on the church premises when another child had rushed home to give her family the news of the incident. A surgery was performed on her head to remove shrapnel and the surgery went to the extent of grafting tissues. Following the surgery she was advised to stay inside an air conditioned room and avoid dusty spaces to avoid possible infections. Sneha was missing school when we visited her last July. But today, her story is different. “She’s fully recovered and awaiting to go back to school,” said Kalyani, Sneha’s mother.
Sneha's study table and some creative handwork done by her
Partly constructed Zion Church, Batticaloa
Living with hope
When the Daily Mirror visited six year old Elisa at her home in Batticaloa last December, her father was having hopes to send her abroad for further treatments. But things have changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. “Due to curfew restrictions I cannot even take her to the clinic,” said Verl Arseratnam while speaking to Daily Mirror Life. “Everything was arranged to take her overseas but with the global lockdown we don’t know when it will be possible. This time we celebrated Easter from home. It won’t be the same again but we have hopes on our faith,” he said. Elisa is a survivor of the blast that happened at Zion Church, Batticaloa. Having had three surgeries to her head, Elisa has permanently lost her eyesight but her father has hope on further treatment. Rebecca, another family member who experienced serious burns on her face and left arm, also continues to
Forgiven but not forgotten
Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said that he had forgiven the suicide bombers behind the deadly Easter Sunday attack that happened a year ago. “We offered love to the enemies who tried to destroy us. We forgave them,” he said in a televised message on April 12. However he requested the government to find out the people who provided logistical support and those who provided funds to carry out the deadly attacks and bring them before the law. While calling off all services and special masses scheduled for today, he invited religious leaders and people of all religions and faiths in the country to join hands at 8.45 am to commemorate one year remembrance in memory of those who were lost in the tragedy.