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Va. mother and wife of Mumbai victims seeks to help children in conflict areas

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 12:59 AM

MUMBAI - Virginia resident Kia Scherr walked quietly through the jasmine-scented halls of Mumbai's Oberoi Trident high-rise hotel as Indian staff members gently smiled.

On Nov. 26, 2008, her husband, Alan Scherr, 58, and their 13-year-old daughter Naomi were killed when gunmen opened fire in the hotel's oceanfront restaurant. The Scherrs were among six Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead and more than 230 wounded.

Now Kia Scherr has come to India to meet President Obama during his three-day visit to Mumbai and New Delhi. She said she wants to thank him in person for the condolence letter he wrote her after the attacks, which were carried out by 10 gunmen from Pakistan.

She also wants to talk to him about her new foundation, One Life Alliance, which she hopes will allow young people who live in conflict areas - such as Pakistan and Afghanistan- to come together at camps that "will counteract terrorist training camps and promote leadership skills, peace and conflict resolution."

"When I visited the restaurant where they were killed, I couldn't stay long. There were people there, eating and talking and music was playing," Scherr said. "But coming back, it somehow connects me to this place. It's comforting to do some of those things that they did."

Her family is part of the Synchronicity Foundation, a meditation and spiritual group located in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, with a headquarters in Faber, Va. Her husband, a former art professor at the University of Maryland, and their daughter were in India for a meditation retreat.

Scherr had spoken with her daughter a few days before the attack.

"Like any teenager, she was begging for piercings and tattoos," she said, laughing. "We let her get a nose ring, thinking okay, this is India, it's a cultural thing. And she sent me such a beautiful picture."

On Saturday, Obama will meet Scherr and survivors of the three-day-long attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, another five-star hotel that was attacked and where guests were held hostage for more than 60 hours. Many of the victims - a woman who survived several gunshots to the stomach and employees of the Taj who helped rush guests to safety - are working with Scherr to plan a two-year anniversary event Nov. 26, with leaders from the Muslim, Hindu and Christian faiths.

"When I meet the president, I plan on wearing a bright pink and fuchsia-colored jacket," Scherr said, beaming. "That way he will remember us and our message: that sometimes, if you struggle, good things can come out of such devastating events."

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