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Woman left childless and a widow after blast at Sri Lanka church

Anusha Kumari, who was injured in the atrocity, said she had lost ‘the perfect family’.

Anusha Kumari, with bandages on her left eye, participates in the burial of relatives (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)
Anusha Kumari, with bandages on her left eye, participates in the burial of relatives (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

A 43-year-old woman was left childless and a widow when suicide bombers launched a coordinated attack on churches and luxury hotels in and near Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo.

Anusha Kumari pulled herself away from her sisters and flung herself on the three coffins carrying the remains of her loved ones.

The toll was highest at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo.

Of the more than 350 people killed by the suicide bombings that the government blamed on Muslim extremists, about a third of them died at the church in the seaside fishing town while attending Easter Mass.

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Anusha Kumari holds portraits of her daughter Sajini Venura Dulakshi and son Vimukthi Tharidu Appuhami (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

And perhaps no one lost more relatives than Mrs Kumari, whose daughter, son, husband, sister-in-law and two nieces were killed.

They were buried three days later near the church on some vacant land that has quickly become a cemetery for the victims.

Mrs Kumari, who is still injured from the blast, left the hospital to bury her family.

Afterwards, she reclined in a cane chair at her home, hooked up to an IV dangling from an open window.

Gauze bandages covered the bridge of her nose and her right eye and there was still shrapnel in her face.

In 24 years of marriage, my husband and I never argued. All four of us slept in the same room. Now I have lost everything Anusha Kumari

A photo of her children was on the wall, while on the shelf were small statues of Jesus, Mary and St Sebastian, an early Christian martyr riddled with wounds from Roman arrows.

She could see her son’s drum kit on the upstairs landing, a gift from his father after doing well on exams, and a school portrait of her daughter.

All day, relatives, neighbours and nuns wandered in and out of the large house, offering food, consolation and prayer.

“You won’t believe it, but I had the perfect family,” Mrs Kumari said.

“In 24 years of marriage, my husband and I never argued. All four of us slept in the same room. Now I have lost everything.”

Tears mixed with blood from her bandaged right eye.

“All these people, they have their own families. They’ll go home and I’ll be alone,” she said.

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St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo (Chamila Karunarathne/AP)

A brother-in-law, Jude Prasad Appuhami, said his extended family, one of the oldest and most prominent in Catholic-majority Negombo, marked all the religious holidays and rituals at St Sebastian’s, a Gothic-style church patterned after Reims Cathedral in France.

On Easter, though, he was not in church with his 15 relatives because he had to drive a vehicle carrying a statue of Christ for a parade after Mass.

Mr Appuhami arrived midway through the service and heard the blast from the car park.

He rushed in and was overwhelmed by the sight of so much blood.

One of his sisters-in-law, who survived, shouted for him to help their niece.

He found her with her eyes open, picked her up and rushed to the hospital, only to realise she was dead.

Mr Appuhami’s wife and 10-year-old daughter, sitting in an alcove to the left of the altar, escaped with minor injuries.

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Anusha Kumari, centre bottom, with bandages on her left eye touches coffins during a mass burial for her husband, two children and other family members (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

His 17-year-old daughter, Rusiri, who was sitting at the front of the church because she was going to do a reading from scripture, also survived, but she was left with nerve damage that makes eating painful.

On Wednesday, she struggled to grasp what she has seen.

“I don’t know how to think of it. It’s like a dream,” she said.

During the funeral at the makeshift cemetery near St Sebastian’s, where mourners had to pass through security checks, a military drone buzzed overhead as Father Niroshan Perera led prayers for the dead.

Mr Perera, who grew up with Mrs Kumari’s husband, Dulip Appuhami, and his siblings, recalled going as a boy with his friends and family to the church’s well, where the faithful believed the water could cure them of diseases.

When the funeral ended, Mr Perera encouraged everyone to go home quickly, fearing another attack.

Mr Perera, who lost 16 relatives and friends in the blast, said he no longer trusted the Sri Lankan government to protect his flock.

PA

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