by Jeffrey Gettleman and Dharisha Bastians, The New York Times, April 22, 2019
NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka — The little room, like much of Sri Lanka, could not hold any more grief.
All day Monday, through the steamy heat, mourners quietly stepped inside and paused in front of a sealed coffin containing what was left of Sneha Savindi Fernando.
Sneha was 11 years old and standing in line for communion at Easter Mass on Sunday when she was blown apart.
“Why did you leave me?” her grandmother cried, sitting in front of the coffin and rubbing its sides, the anguish tight in her hands. “There are so many bad people in the world. Why kill the innocents?”
It was a question all of Sri Lanka was asking.
The day after suicide bombers carried out coordinated attacks on half a dozen hotels and churches across this island nation, Sri Lanka remained in shock. The death toll continued to climb, with the authorities saying the attacks had killed at least 290 people.
[Follow our live updates on the Sri Lanka bombings.]
Sri Lankan officials said on Monday that the bombings had been carried out by a local Islamist group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath, possibly with help from an international network. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested, though the government has not identified them.
In a letter 10 days before the attacks, a top police official warned the security services that Thowheeth Jama’ath was planning suicide attacks against churches. No action was taken against the group, though it was unclear why not.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that neither he nor his cabinet ministers had been informed of the warning, highlighting the power struggle between him and President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the defense minister. Late last year, the feud led, for a time, to two officials claiming to be the rightful prime minister.
Rauff Hakeem, the minister of city planning, called the government’s lack of action before the bombings a “colossal failure on the part of the intelligence services.”
[National Thowheeth Jama’ath is a little-known radical Islamist group.]
But politics was subsumed by the sobbing and the shuffling of feet in Maha Hunupitiya, a Roman Catholic neighborhood near St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a city about 20 miles north of Colombo, the capital.
The suicide bomber’s blast was so powerful that it blew off much of the church’s roof. Heavy clay tiles rained down on worshipers, and dozens were killed. Maha Hunupitiya is now a neighborhood of the dead.
The bomb blast at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo was so powerful that it blew off much of the roof.Adam Dean for The New York Times
White funeral flags fluttered everywhere. Mourners flowed down roads barely wide enough for one car, lined by profusions of pink and white bougainvillea. Their blank faces were a mirror of what so much of this country is feeling.
In a small house near the Negombo church, Chandrani Fernando sat by an open window. Her husband’s body lay in a coffin a few feet away.
Diluk Fernando was a carpenter and the father of a little girl.
“We were so happy,” said Ms. Fernando, who is unrelated to Sneha.
Her husband loved the beach, even though he couldn’t swim. Her eyes welled up with some memory, and as she wiped them she said, “Now, I am alone.”
Also left alone is Kevin Goulding, a 17-year-old who watched his parents walk off for church on Sunday morning. His father was wearing a purple shirt and black trousers, his mother a smart orange blouse. That was the last time he ever saw them.
Blood-stained gurneys outside a hospital in Negombo where many bombing victims were taken on Sunday.Adam Dean for The New York Times
Near the Gouldings’ home, just out of earshot of Kevin, a group of men from the neighborhood stood in a knot around one man’s phone, watching a video made moments after the bomber struck. It showed the bodies of Kevin’s parents heaped on the floor, along with many others.
Investigators continued to collect evidence at the church, where flesh and burned hair were stuck to the walls and sunlight streamed through holes in the roof.
Sri Lanka is nothing if not resilient. A relatively small, poor country, it endured a decades-long civil war that killed tens of thousands of civilians before it ended in 2009. Five years earlier, 30,000 Sri Lankans died in the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Shaped over the centuries by waves of immigration and trade, Sri Lankan society is a tapestry of different ethnicities and faiths. It has struggled with sectarian divisions among its Buddhist majority and Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities that have occasionally erupted into violence.
People are hopeful that the universal grief from these attacks will stitch those groups more tightly together.
Sneha had been standing in line for communion at Easter Mass when the bombing occurred.Adam Dean for The New York Times
“For many years, we have lived in peace,” said Sanjeewa Samarasinghe, one of the few shopkeepers open on Monday.
But trouble is beginning to brew. Monday afternoon, a band of young Christian men prowled through Negombo carrying long sticks. They said they were looking for Muslims.
“I’m worried,” said Sithy Suwadha Kudhoos, one of the few Muslims in Negombo. “Everyone here is feeling so terrible. You never know.”
At Sneha’s house, no one mentioned anything even close to revenge. Anger still seemed many phases of grief away. People stood quietly in front of the coffin. Most said nothing.
A picture of Sneha sat next to the door. A faint smell of jasmine hung in the air. Her family said she loved to cook and eat cake. For her next birthday, she was hoping to get a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.
The heavy silence in the room was occasionally punctured by the sobs of her grandmother, Lalitha Hettiarachchi, who never left her seat next to the coffin. She was inconsolable, and her utterings seemed to capture what the other mourners were quietly thinking.
“Everyone has come to see you, my daughter,” she said, rubbing the coffin. “We will wait for you. We will wait for you. Please, get up and talk.”