Silent streets after dozens of children killed in Sri Lanka attacks

Peter HUTCHISON
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The blast at St Sebastian's is believed to be the single deadliest of all the Easter Sunday attacks

The blast at St Sebastian's is believed to be the single deadliest of all the Easter Sunday attacks (AFP Photo/LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI)

The streets of Sri Lanka's Katuwapitiya should be full of the sound of youngsters. But after deadly Easter attacks that killed at least 45 children, they have fallen silent.

"These streets are usually full of children playing," said Suraj Fernando, whose own 12-year-old grandson Enosh was among those killed.

"Now everybody is inside because they are sad and scared."

The community is in the town of Negombo, where a suicide bomber targeted Easter services at the St Sebastian's church, one of three churches and three hotels hit on Sunday.

But the blast at St Sebastian's is believed to be the single deadliest of all the attacks, and the toll it has taken in Katuwapitiya is clear.

Almost every street has a story of shattering sorrow.

There is 43-year-old Anusha Kumari, transformed by the attack from a mother-of-two into a grieving widow.

She lost her husband Dulip, her 13-year-old son Vimukthi and her 21-year-old daughter Sajeni.

"We were such a close family but now there is only me left," she said, sobbing and beating her chest in anguish.

Her sister-in-law lived next door with her three children aged between seven and 13. They were all killed as well.

- Shellshocked -

The United Nations' children's agency UNICEF says at least 45 children were killed in the Sunday blasts, 27 of them in Negombo.

Among them was 13-year-old Shine Fernando, who was laid to rest on Wednesday afternoon.

Before her burial, she lay in an open casket, wearing a pink dress, with rosary beads tucked into her hands clasped together over her chest.

Her father Tushara was unable to speak.

Residents went house-to-house offering condolences and trying to support parents dealing with the unimaginable pain of outliving their children.

Enosh's distraught father Ranjeewa Silva, his left ear and arm bearing bandages from the blast, sobbed as he showed off his son's drawings of animals, cars, landscapes and sunsets.

He recalled a happy-go-lucky child who was loved by everyone.

"He was very intelligent and creative. He loved football and knew all the players from around the world. His favourite was Lionel Messi."

His mother sat looking shellshocked. Family members said she hadn't eaten or spoken since her son's death. Later she lay slumped against a wall in the living room as mourners chanted prayers.

- 'My best friend' -

"Enosh was a very curious boy. He was always asking questions about Sri Lanka's history," added Silva, who also lost two other relatives in the blast.

"He was also a good artist. I'm just a small contractor but I always thought Enosh would grow up to become a great architect."

Children are also among those in mourning, including Enosh's brother Dimithra.

"We always played together. He was like my best friend," the tall 15-year-old said, speaking softly with a shy smile.

"Enosh was always performing in front of everyone and making speeches. He was the most important member of our family."

Local residents have hung white flags in the gardens of their homes along streets lined with coconut trees as a mark of respect for the community's many dead.

On the streets around St Sebastian's, banners paying tribute to the dead are hung on the gates of their former homes.

Many of them bear the faces of young, smiling children. Others depict parents who have left children behind.

Schools in Negombo are closed this week, and when lessons resume next Monday the loss will be starkly clear from the empty desks left in some classrooms.

"Our lives have collapsed," Enosh's grandfather Fernando said. "Our hearts have been cracked."