Victims of Sri Lanka attacks: Who they were

Mourners in Negombo, Sri Lanka, at the burial of three members of the same family who were killed in the suicide bomb attack at St Sebastian Church, on April 22, 2019.
Mourners in Negombo, Sri Lanka, at the burial of three members of the same family who were killed in the suicide bomb attack at St Sebastian Church, on April 22, 2019. PHOTO: NYTIMES

COLOMBO (NYTIMES) - The true toll of Sunday's (April 21) attacks in Sri Lanka was starting to come into focus on Monday, as family members, government officials and news reports offered the first glimpses of the people who lost their lives.

In Sri Lanka, families organised back-to-back vigils for loved ones who died in the blasts, and prepared for a national day of mourning on Tuesday.

The number of dead stood at 290 on Monday, the vast majority Sri Lankans.

But officials have confirmed that citizens from at least eight countries, including at least four people from the United States, were killed in the attacks. Some of their names have begun to emerge in the international media.

A SRI LANKAN MOTHER AT MASS

Mary Otricia Johnson was among the victims at St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo. Her eldest daughter, Sharon Silviya, said the family had attended Mass together.

Around 8.30am, Silviya's son asked to see a fish tank at the front of the church. Johnson, 47, told them to go look. That was the last time they spoke. Minutes later, an enormous blast rang out.

"People were in pieces," Silviya, 26, said. "Blood was everywhere. I closed my son's eyes, took him out, passed him off to a relative and ran back inside to look for my family."

Johnson was bleeding from her nose and eyes; family members tried to lift her off the ground. She was gasping. "I told her, 'Don't be scared, just breathe,' " Silviya recalled.

Outside, an ambulance attendant told Silviya that they were too overwhelmed to take Johnson to the hospital. The family put her in an auto-rickshaw.

Johnson died on the way. Doctors told the family a large vein had burst, causing internal bleeding.

CELEBRITY CHEF AND HER DAUGHTER

Shantha Mayadunne was a well-known figure in Sri Lanka, where she had long been a celebrity chef with a cooking show on local television. She offered classes for locals and tourists, and focused on "quick and easy" meals.

"Even if you have a stable income, and every comfort in the home, there is nothing that can bring a greater feeling between family members than a satisfying meal," she said in a 2001 interview.

She and her daughter, Nisanga Mayadunne, were among those killed at the Shangri-La Hotel, in the capital, Colombo, according to news reports.

Nisanga Mayadunne studied at the University of London and lived in Colombo, according to her Facebook page.

Minutes before the attacks, Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photo with seven wide smiles. "Easter breakfast with family," she wrote on Facebook.

A FAMILY LOST AT CHURCH

K. Pirathap, an auto-rickshaw driver from Colombo, his wife and their two daughters were also among the dead at St. Anthony's Shrine.

Pirathap's brother, K. Wimalendran, said he received a call Sunday morning from a cousin about a loud explosion.

He tried reaching Pirathap, 38, who had gone with his family to Mass in a celebratory mood: He had just bought a new vehicle.

But the call did not go through.

By 9.30am, Wimalendran was outside St. Anthony's Shrine, frantically searching for his brother, his sister-in-law, Anashdi, 35, and the couple's daughters, Antinaa, 7; and Abriyaana, 1.

Police had no answers. They had sealed off the area. Wimalendran tried a hospital, spending most of the day there.

Still, there was no news.

Later, he heard that some 40 bodies had been lined up at the church. Wimalendran waited for officials to finish their work, and then looked for himself.

He recognised four of them.

THREE CHILDREN OF A DANISH BILLIONAIRE

Three of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen's four children were among the victims killed in the Colombo attacks, the Danish media reported.

 

Povlsen, 46, is the owner of the Bestseller clothing company and the largest landowner in Scotland. He and his wife, Anne, have spoken of "rewilding" thousands of acres across Scotland, and said last week that they would pass the project on to their children in the future.

In a statement on Monday, Bestseller confirmed the deaths of three of Povlsen's four children, but did not say which of them had died.

The Povlsens are Denmark's wealthiest family, and they typically keep an extremely low public profile. The precise ages of the four children - Alma, Agnes, Astrid and Alfred - were not widely known.

A SRI LANKAN RESTAURANT ATTENDANT

Ravindran Fernando, who worked at a restaurant close to St. Anthony's Shrine, was killed while attending Mass with his family.

As the service started, Fernando took a place with his son in the back of the church. His wife, Delicia Fernando, and the couple's two daughters stood in the front.

Delicia Fernando recalled hearing a loud explosion and watching the church's ceiling collapse. "I screamed, 'My son! My husband!' " she said in an interview.

Her son came running. "Father is there! Father is there!" he yelled.

At the back of the church, Ravindran Fernando was covered in dust and debris. The family carried him outside and loaded him into an ambulance. He died in the hospital.

On Monday, Fernando's body - dressed in white gloves, a suit and a veil - was brought to his mother's house near the church. His daughters and wife wailed.

"Why did you go?" one of his daughters cried. "Why did you leave us like this? Wake up! You bought us everything we asked for. You never said no." His son, Franklin, stood next to them, silently holding a picture of his father.

AN AMERICAN FIFTH GRADER

On Monday morning, parents and students at Sidwell Friends School in Washington learned that a fifth grader there, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, was also among the victims of the attacks.

He had been on a leave of absence from the school this year and living in Sri Lanka, Rachel Kane, the middle school principal, wrote in a letter sent to the students' families.

"Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends," Kane wrote. "We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School." Sidwell Friends is an elite, 136-year-old Quaker private school with campuses in Washington and Bethesda, Maryland.

Former President Barack Obama's daughters, Malia and Sasha, both attended, as did Chelsea Clinton.

In the letter, Kane said that school leaders would be speaking to the fifth-grade class about what happened, but she also encouraged parents to talk about it with their children beforehand.

Counselors were being made available at school, she wrote, but "if your child seems to need a day home with you, we will understand that, as well."

VISITORS AT THE SHANGRI-LA HOTEL

The identities of two more people who died in the bombings at the Shangri-La Hotel emerged on Monday.

One of them, K.G. Hanumantharayappa, was a businessman from the southern Indian city of Bangalore who had only been in Sri Lanka for a few days, his nephew, Rajath, said by telephone. Hanumantharayappa was among five Indian victims of the attacks who had been identified as of Monday afternoon by Indian officials.

 

Another victim, Kaori Takahashi, was a Japanese woman who had been eating breakfast at the Shangri-La Hotel with her family, according to NHK, Japan's national broadcaster. Her husband was wounded but survived the attack.

Takahashi had been in charge of public relations for the women's chapter of a volunteer support group for Japanese expatriates and their families in Sri Lanka, according to the group's website. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that she was in her 30s.

The hotel also said on Facebook that three employees, whom it did not identify, had been killed in the attack.

A TECHNICAL SERVICES LEADER FROM DENVER

Sunday was a day of ever-increasing dread for friends and family of Dieter Kowalski, a 40-year-old Denver resident who was killed in the attack.

Kowalski was a senior leader of technical services for Pearson, an educational media company. He was on a business trip to Sri Lanka, where he worked with several engineering teams, according to his LinkedIn profile. It was his second visit to the country in three years, and he was planning to work alongside colleagues with whom he had become friends, said his mother, Inge Kowalski, who lives in Milwaukee.

"He was really happy to go there," she said. "He was looking forward to the food."

Arriving in Sri Lanka on a flight that landed several hours late, Kowalski checked into his hotel, the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, around 5am, she said.

After the bombs went off, "it was a nightmare," she said, describing a panicked effort to find him that was reflected in the string of fearful comments beneath his last, cheerful Facebook post.

"We spent the whole day yesterday looking for him." His family and friends hoped that he had been sleeping, rather than in line at breakfast, when the bomb went off, but no one in the United States or Sri Lanka could track him down.

They discovered that police had his cellphone, Inge Kowalski said, and had little luck contacting hospitals. Finally, around 10pm, the US Embassy called with the news they feared most.

Dieter Kowalski went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison but moved to Denver over a decade ago, "for the skiing."

His mother said he was single and close to his family - Inge Kowalski said she had just spent 10 days skiing with him in Colorado, and they had recently bought tickets for a family trip to Mallorca, Spain.

"He was a happy guy," his mother said. "We are all in shock."

TWO TURKISH ENGINEERS

Two of the victims were Turkish engineers who had been working on a project in Sri Lanka, English-language Daily Sabah newspaper reported, citing the state-owned Anadolu Agency. The report did not say where they had been killed.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, confirmed the victims' names as Serhan Selcuk Narici and Yigit Ali Cavus. A Facebook page that appeared to be Narici's said he had moved to Colombo in March 2017.

A BANGLADESHI POLITICIAN'S YOUNG RELATIVE

Zayan Chowdhury, an 8-year-old relative of a prominent Bangladeshi politician, was among those killed in one of the hotel blasts, the Bangladeshi media reported. The Dhaka Tribune newspaper said that he had been in Colombo on vacation with his family.

Zayan was the grandson of Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, who is the leader of Bangladesh's governing Awami League political party and a cousin of the country's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

When the blast hit, Zayan was having breakfast on the ground floor of a hotel with his father, Mashiul Haque Chowdhury, online newspaper bdnews24.com reported. The boy's mother and younger brother were in their hotel room.

The Dhaka Tribune reported that Zayan's father was injured in the blast and admitted to a hospital.