Group's Leader Recalls Days of Terror

Kia Scherr struggles to keep her composure during a news conference in Faber, Va. Her husband and daughter died in the Indian terrorist attacks.
Kia Scherr struggles to keep her composure during a news conference in Faber, Va. Her husband and daughter died in the Indian terrorist attacks. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

FABER, Va., Dec. 2 -- It is easy to appreciate the peaceful quietude that drew Alan Scherr and his wife, Kia, to settle in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains at the Synchronicity Foundation 11 years ago. It is a place where cellphone service disappears and where one can follow gravel paths to find wooden pews against a backdrop of towering poplars, oaks and cedars.

But on Tuesday, that rural tranquillity was interrupted by memories of distant terror and the reality that Alan Scherr, 58, and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, were gone, killed far from this community near Charlottesville. They were among six Americans slain in the Mumbai terrorist attacks that left 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded.

Master Charles, as the group's founder is known, spoke from the property for the first time, detailing a peaceful pilgrimage to India that ended in terror. Master Charles, whose real name is Charles Cannon, said his group of 25 members had just split up for dinner, with he and two others deciding to eat in his room. The room number -- 1259 -- is one he said he will never forget.

"Shortly thereafter, still sitting in the room, we heard loud gunshots," he said, adding that one of the men left the room long enough to see two armed men in the hotel. "We immediately barricaded the door of the room with furniture and wondered what was happening."

Explosions shook the building. Then smoke seeped into the room, growing so thick that the men couldn't see beyond two feet.

With wet towels to their mouths, Cannon said he and the others looked out a window and could see rescuers motioning for them to break the glass. They did, and then huddled by the opening, gasping for air until the fire was put out. Over the next two days, updates would come from the television and phone calls that could be made from room to room, but Cannon said there was constant fear that the door would be broken down at any moment.

"We continued in that way for the next 45 hours," he said. "There were constant explosions and gunfire."

It would take 24 hours for the group to realize through the room-to-room phone calls that two of its members -- Alan and Naomi -- were unaccounted for. But it wasn't until Cannon was released by Indian commandos that he found the bodies of the father and daughter on the floor of the Oberoi Hotel cafe.

"They were lying under the table, heads facing each other, their arms outstretched," he said, adding that the task of identifying "two people I loved like family" was the hardest he ever faced.

As he spoke, Alan's wife and Naomi's mother, Kia Scherr, sat next to him. She closed her eyes as he described the blood, bodies and broken glass he had to walk over in the hotel cafe.

She spoke not of anger, but of forgiveness, for the terrorists.

"We must send our love, forgiveness and compassion," she said. "They are completely shrouded and clouded by fear."

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