Sri Lanka held its first mass funerals on Tuesday for victims of the Easter Sunday attacks, a string of bombings at churches and hotels that has left a nation in mourning. The death toll rose to 321 people since the first blasts.
In Negombo, about 20 miles north of the capital, Sri Lankans gathered at St. Sebastian’s church after going through body checks. Security forces stood guard at the edges of the crowd, protecting men and women who sang solemn hymns through tears. Each casket was brought to a plot of land to be buried. Flowers, candles and white crosses adorned the fresh graves.
At the Cinnamon Grand hotel in the capital, Colombo, a spokesperson tells NPR that staff held a private funeral with religious leaders from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities — Sri Lanka’s main religious groups.
There were 15 guests and five staff members who died in the hotel’s restaurant. One of the employees was not working, the spokesperson says. Instead, T.A.A. Yaheya was celebrating his birthday with his family. His wife and child survived.
“We need to say our goodbyes,” the spokesperson said. “There is a sense of sadness and loss.”
Three workers at the Shangri-La hotel died in the attack along with a number of guests, the hotel said in a statement. It will close until further notice and remain protected by the military and the police, the hotel said.
At least one entire family was erased in the Negombo bombing. Rangana Fernando died with his wife, Danadiri; their 6-year-old daughter, Biola; 4-year-old daughter, Leona; and 11-month-old son, Seth. “I’m jealous my sister is not with me anymore, but she and her family died in an instant and are now in a better place,” Danadiri’s brother told the BBC.
UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac tells NPR that 45 children are among the people killed in the attacks. Of that number, 40 are Sri Lankans and five are from other countries. The youngest victim in the eastern city of Batticaloa, where Zion Church was attacked, was 18 months old, Boulierac said.
“These assessments might unfortunately change over time, as we know that some of the children who have been injured are currently fighting for their lives, particularly in the hospital of Colombo,” he added.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that as of Tuesday, 34 foreigners were killed. They came from Bangladesh, China, India, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Spain, Turkey, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. Another 14 are still missing.
The victims include a fifth grader who attended a private school in Washington, D.C., a man from Colorado, at least 10 Indian citizens and three children of a Danish fashion tycoon.
Rui Lucas was killed at the Kingsbury hotel in Colombo while on his honeymoon, according to Portuguese media. An automation and energy technician, he was about 30 years old.
Monique Allen, a Dutch woman, was on vacation with her family. She died in the restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand while eating with her son, as her husband and two other sons were upstairs in their hotel room, the BBC reported.
“My son blacked out for a few minutes, and he woke up and he saw his mother with a big head wound and lots of blood,” Lewis Allen said. “We went to the mortuary and they pulled back sheet after sheet. I was praying, let that not be Monique, let that not be Monique.” Sri Lanka was her favorite country, he added.
An Australian man told ABC News that his wife, Manik Suriaaratchi, and their 10-year-old daughter, Alexendria, died at the service at St. Sebastian’s Church. “My daughter and my wife were really excited to go to the church ceremony,” Sudesh Kolonne said. He walked out of the building before them and then a bomb detonated. “I jumped into the church and I saw that my daughter and my wife were on the floor.”
Two engineers from Turkey died, according to state news agency Anadolu. Yiğit Ali Çavuş was described as an honors graduate from the Istanbul Technical University. Serhan Selçuk Nariçi was living in Sri Lanka and had wished his father “Good morning” on WhatsApp before the day’s attacks, Anadolu reported.
Two Spaniards from a small town in Galicia were reported to be among the dead. Alberto Chaves Gómez, 31, was on vacation at the Kingsbury hotel and his girlfriend, María González Vicente, 32, was visiting. The families identified their bodies by their tattoos, El País reported.
Two Saudi Arabian Airlines crew members, Ahmed Zain Jaafari and Hani Maged Othman, were killed in Colombo, the airline said in a statement. “Our hearts are filled with pain for the indescribable loss that their families are facing,” Director General Saleh bin Nasser al-Jasser said.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena declared Tuesday a day of national mourning. The country’s flag was lowered to half-mast and a moment of silence was held as survivors, filled with grief and fear, were left to go on without their loved ones.
“After that, I won’t go to church because I’m very scared to go,” a woman named Ab Nirmala told The Guardian. She survived the St. Anthony’s Shrine explosion. “I don’t know what is going to happen to me.”
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Colombo called on the Sri Lankan government to improve its intelligence apparatus. “We were shocked to hear media reports that there had been prior information on the attacks,” Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said, according to Sri Lanka’s Daily News.
“The Prime Minister and a Cabinet Minister confirmed such reports,” he continued. “It is questionable as to why immediate action was not taken.”