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Fifth-grader on leave from Sidwell school in D.C. killed in Sri Lanka bombing

Sidwell Friends School in Northwest Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

The mother of a classmate remembered him as “an extremely artistic, sensitive, brilliant and thoughtful child.” A neighbor on his street in Northwest Washington said he expected the boy “to grow up and cure cancer or become secretary general of the United Nations.” And at Sidwell Friends School, which he attended from prekindergarten through fourth grade and where he planned to return for sixth grade, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa was described as someone who was “passionate about learning” and adoring of his friends.

Kieran, who was on a leave of absence from the prestigious school while living in Sri Lanka, was among the victims of the bombings there on Easter Sunday. Rachel Kane, middle school principal at the private K-12 school in the District, confirmed the death in an email Sunday to families of students.

“This is obviously an unexpected tragedy for his family and for his greater community, including Sidwell Friends and the class of 2026,” Kane wrote. “Kieran . . . was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year. We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School.”

The school did not provide information about where in Sri Lanka Kieran was killed or how the school learned of his death. At least 311 people died and more than 500 were injured following explosions at churches and hotels. The Sri Lankan government has accused a local Islamist extremist group, the National Thowheed Jamaath, of plotting and carrying out the bombing campaign.

In her letter to families, Kane said counselors and faculty members would be available to students and offered suggestions to parents on helping their children process grief.

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“This is very upsetting news, and it may be the first time that your children have experienced the loss of someone with whom they are close,” Kane wrote. “Everyone processes grief differently. Please know that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve, and your children may react in various ways.”

Before leaving for Sri Lanka, Kieran, whose age was not immediately available, lived with his mother, Dhulsini de Zoysa, in Northwest Washington. Dhulsini de Zoysa graduated from Sidwell in 1985, according to the school’s annual philanthropy report.

“He was her world,” said the mother of a classmate, who, like others familiar with the child, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Another parent at the school remembered that when Kieran moved to Sri Lanka in fourth grade, the entire class Facetimed him to say good night as he headed to bed.

On the Northwest Washington block where Kieran lived with his mother, the loss was almost unbearable.

“He was just a wonderful child,” a neighbor said. “He was very smart, very inquisitive and gentle and kind.”

Another neighbor described Kieran as having lots of friends and being “vivacious, kind and exceedingly polite. He almost had an old soul.”

Phyllis Fagell, a school counselor at Sheridan School in Northwest Washington, said she and other parents of Kieran’s classmates were in “complete and utter shock” when they heard he had died in the bombing. Fagell’s son had been in the same class as Kieran at Sidwell since prekindergarten.

“We are all accustomed to talking to our kids and reassuring them that while these acts of terrorism are scary and upsetting, we have been able to reassure them that they happen far away,” Fagell said. “This happened geographically far away, but it couldn’t have hit closer to home emotionally for these kids. For the vast majority of them, it’s the first time they’ve dealt with the loss of a friend.”

Fagell struggled with the best way to share such difficult news with her son.

“It’s hard for adults to explain something that they can’t understand themselves,” she said.

In her letter to parents, Kane, the Sidwell middle school principal, thanked them for their support of the family.

“I know that we will all be holding Kieran and his family in the Light,” she wrote.

Katie Mettler contributed to this report.

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