At least four U.S. citizens died in the explosions, including a fifth grader from Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. At least 45 children died in the series of attacks, UNICEF reported.
The Sunday morning scenes in Sri Lankan churches were simple and ordinary in the moments before the island nation endured the worst outbreak of violence since its civil war ended nearly a decade ago.
In St. Sebastian’s Church, some 20 miles north of Colombo, members of the Catholic congregation were tucked into wooden pews, saying a prayer of thanksgiving. Congregants in St. Anthony’s Shrine, the largest Catholic congregation in Colombo, were offering prayers of their own.
On the other side of the island, in the eastern city of Batticaloa, dozens of children at Zion Church were just leaving Sunday school classes and entering the sanctuary as a pastor at the evangelical congregation spoke with an unfamiliar visitor carrying a bag.
Moments later, as the clergyman walked toward the podium, he heard an ear-shattering explosion. When he turned around, what he saw stunned him: blood on the walls and bodies on the ground. “Twenty-eight people were killed,” he told The Times of India later in the day. Twelve of the dead were children leaving Sunday school.
Within minutes, an explosion at St. Sebastian’s blew out the church’s terra cotta roof and shattered the wooden pews: More than 100 people died in the blast, and survivors described blood, flesh, and shrapnel plastering the gold-tinged walls. At St. Anthony’s Shrine, a similar blast ripped through the building, leaving bodies and blood strewn through the landmark church.