EXCLUSIVE: The killers and the killed. Six months later, some of Sri Lanka’s bomb survivors say their loved ones did not die in vain.8 October 2019
Near the entrance to Saint Sebastian church, visitors and worshippers also huddle around a large pinboard with photographs of people were carrying out bodies.
Also displayed are photos of a ceremony attended by the island’s Catholic Cardinal three months later. By then, the church had been totally restored by army units – who still check all worshippers as they come through new iron gates.
On the church floor at the exact place where the suicide bomber ran in and detonated his explosive belt, a glass panel has been placed over craters carved by his bomb blast.
October 21 was six months since Islamist extremist suicide bombers attacked three tourist hotels and three churches, killing 259 people. Many more have been left with horrific injuries – and deep psychological damage.
The local Catholic priests say a number of survivors, especially mothers who have lost their children, have expressed a desire to end their lives.
But several told correspondent.world they have found meaning in a belief that they must have survived for a purpose, to show other people how even the worst pain cannot destroy the human spirit.
Correspondent.world also visited a woman whose eight-month-old baby boy Dinuja Mathew was killed, along with her own mother. Another daughter was injured. The woman has four pieces of shrapnel still lodged in her body – surgeons say it is safer to leave them there.
Bereaved woman shows photo of her dead son Dinjula Mathew, alongside her two other children who survived. The dead boy’s grandmother was also killed in the Easter bomb explosions.
At the St Sebastian Church correspondent.world encountered an 11-year-old girl who had been rushed to hospital on the day of terror, with two bits of shrapnel lodged in her brain. Though she now says very little and never smiles, she has been making daily improvements.
Correspondent.world went back to her home, where she still clutches teddies given to her in hospital as she recuperated – and proudly sits alongside papier-mâché flowers she used to make as her hobby. She is due to have another brain operation within days. A section of her skull, removed to allow her swollen brain to subside, has already been sewn back.
Her father later took correspondent.world to see the graveyard where, among scores of other victims, four of his nieces and nephews lie buried. Their photos adorn marble gravestones.
One family deeply scarred by the bombings is British. On a deeply emotional visit to Sri Lanka, David Linsey looks wistfully over the tranquil Sri Lankan coast, just a stones’ throw from the hotel where his 15-year-old sister Amelie and his 19-year-old brother Daniel were killed on April 21 this year.
Linsey, 21, politely declined free accommodation offered by the manager of the luxurious Hotel Shangri La. Instead, he chose to stay nearby.
“I’m not really ready to go inside that hotel at this moment,” he tells corrrespondent.world during an exclusive interview on the seafront. . “My sister and brother’s lives are not defined by where it all happened. They are defined by the human beings they were.”
He tries to avoid talking about the horrifying details of their deaths. Linsey’s teenage brother and sister were collecting some extra breakfast when a suicide bomber’s explosives ripped into them. Their father Matthew, sitting nearby, was virtually unharmed.
David had been at home in west London, preparing a university assignment. Twelve other people died in that breakfast room alone.
There is literally nothing left inside. The Shangri La hotel’s manager Tim Wright tells correspondent.world that he ordered all the damage from the double explosion to be removed and plans to construct and equip a completely new room – without any plaque to remind new tourists of its gruesome recent past.
In any case, Linsey is not keen on plaques or memorials. “In my mind Amelie and Daniel will never die. Daniel was the most selfless person – he would never do anything purely for himself. Amelie was the glue that brought the entire family together.
“I want them to be remembered – at least through the name and work of the foundation I’ve set up.
“But I now have a new focus: not on death but on life. I really feel driven to unite everyone in our pain, and move forward – to channel our pain into a productive mission.
“There is no point in being caught in a cycle of violence, so that every attack leads to a retaliatory attack and things get worse and worse. At some point things have to change, and to be part of that change is something very special.”
He is quick to point out that he himself is also benefiting. “All this is absolutely reducing my pain – though I am not sure I will ever fully recover.”
He has collected an astonishing a total so far of 250,000 UK pounds by creating the Amelie and Daniel Linsey Foundation – and asking for donations. By the time he had completed his Sri Lanka trip, Linsey had garnered £114,000 from people contributing on the Justgiving website and app. The rest came from direct donations to the charity.
None of it is ‘easy money’: he has chosen not to take donations from his parents, even though his father is a wealthy investment banker.
Now he is starting to put the money into real difference-making projects. His most moving moment, he says, was coming face-to face, or chair-to-chair, with very young survivors of the blasts.
David Linsey at a play therapy group run by a charity in Colombo
“We met children in Colombo affected by the bombings. What makes me emotional is seeing these families. It reinforced in me why I am doing this and why I’m here.
“My family in London is relatively so fortunate, with a house to live in, employment, and education for my [surviving 11-year-old] younger brother. But here in Sri Lanka, so many have lost their only breadwinner. And also communities that depend on tourism have lost everything.”
Linsey is determined not to let any of the money he’s collected be squandered, so he is allocating it very carefully to specific private charities. One of them, Nest, is dealing with the physical and psychological trauma that children and their parents are undergoing. Linsey has allocated £5,000 towards their costs.
He had been told that on the day his siblings were rushed to hospital there were chaotic scenes as the injured and dying were brought in. Linsey wants to help fix that – just in case, in this strife-torn country, there is a next-time.
So a larger chunk of his Justgiving money, he says, is going toward improving the trauma system in Sri Lanka. “People are often well-trained on individual level,” he says, “but they may not work together as a team, and the hospitals may not communicate with each other.”
He’s also looking at other constructive projects. During his visit he sought the advice of top trauma doctors and brought out a specialist from Canada.
He also had face-to-face encounters with the country’s president Maithripala Sirisena and with the Catholic cardinal, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, who later told correspondent.world that he is deeply impressed by Linsey’s projects. Two of the three churches bombed were Catholic.
“I was very pleased when the Cardinal blessed me and blessed our mission,” says Linsey.
With a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Linsey says he has paid little attention to religion in his formative years. But he is now finding considerable comfort in it.
“You never really know where to turn in times like these. Both religions emphasise family and keeping family close to you. And depending on those bonds and whatever else there might be helps get you through this.”
Flying home after his ten-day trip exhausted but elated, Linsey says this is only the start. “I do plan to keep coming back. I should probably sit my exams next year so I graduate [at Oxford University]. But after that I will – if this goes well enough – do this to the level that I can really grow this into something large, scalable and substantial.
“As for my personal healing, it’s important to make things as good as they can possibly be. It may never be as good as before, but it’s important to try.”