Kieran was killed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, when a group of terrorists detonated explosives at hotels and churches across the country, leaving more than 200 people dead on Easter Sunday. Kieran was visiting one of those hotels with his mother and grandmother. He had just sat down for breakfast when a suicide bomber entered the buffet line nearby. Kieran’s mother and grandmother survived the attack, but he was hit with three pieces of shrapnel. One pierced his heart.
“That piece of shrapnel struck down our sweet, articulate, thoughtful, handsome boy,” Kieran’s father, Alex Arrow, told the more than 250 people who came to honor his son.
Kieran had been living in Sri Lanka and attending an international school during an 18-month leave from Sidwell Friends in Northwest Washington. The private school, known for educating the children of presidents and dignitaries, is accustomed to having students depart for international journeys; soon after Kieran left in the fourth grade, his class FaceTimed him to say good night before he went to sleep.
He returned to the United States often to visit his father in San Diego, and he planned to return to the District with his mother, Dhulsini de Zoysa, this fall.
Kieran was ready for the challenges middle school would bring. He’d long had a knack for math and science, telling his father at age 5: “Daddy, I have a hypothesis.” With his top-of-the-class grades, Kieran had planned to become a neuroscientist. His father said he had wanted to be the one to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease — and after a few minutes of meeting him, most adults agreed he had the drive and intelligence to actually do so.
The precocious boy’s love for science extended to animals, particularly his pet ball pythons, Fromage and Escargot, for whom he built elaborate wooden mazes. He created films about their adventures, complete with David Attenborough-style voice-overs, his father told the congregation.
Kieran snacked on kettle corn and preferred breakfasts of egg sandwiches. He had a tendency to lose things and took showers that were far too long. He did karate, climbed trees, rode a skateboard and was just starting to have his first crushes. He hadn’t yet had his first kiss.
All that Kieran would miss tormented his mother as doctors in Sri Lanka prepared to remove his ventilator. He had wanted to become a better kayaker. He had wanted to retake his IQ test to prove that he was smarter than his dad.
The senselessness of his death and the deaths of hundreds of others at the hands of terrorists was at the forefront of mourners’ minds Wednesday. Sri Lankan and American authorities have yet to determine how such a large-scale attack was coordinated, and who was behind it — a faction of a local extremist group, the Islamic State or both.
“How did this happen? Why did this happen? These are the questions that haunt us,” the Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, acknowledged during his sermon. “Why God allows such tragic events to take place, I do not know.”
In many of the pews, Kieran’s classmates were tucked into their parents’ embraces, listening. Ever since they’d heard the news, their school, their parents, the adults in their lives kept trying to explain. All they knew for sure was that their friend would not be sitting beside them in the sixth grade.
In one row was a freckled 11-year-old boy with blue braces, named William. He was dressed in his gray suit, one not too different from the suits he demanded to wear to school when he first enrolled at Sidwell.
“I was kind of that weirdo kid, and nobody was really that great to me,” William said in an interview before the ceremony. The one exception: Kieran. “He was a really nice friend, and then, he kind of introduced me to other friends. He made me feel welcome.”
Beneath the towering columns and stained-glass windows, William listened as the pastor said that Kieran’s welcoming attitude was the opposite of how the terrorists viewed the world.
“The perpetrators of these terrible events and others like them in places like California and New Zealand are people filled with hate. They want to spread hate, and they win only if we allow ourselves to hate in return,” he said. “We have to push back against the evil that would divide us, the evil that seeks to create fear, hatred and destruction. We have to push back, not with violence, but with a renewed commitment to reach out to one another, to be like Kieran and seek to build new relationships, new understandings, to live with love and hope and courage. This is Kieran’s example to us.”
When the speeches were done, and the Sidwell students’ choir finished singing “This Little Light of Mine,” William and his classmates watched as the casket, now draped in a white cloth, was rolled to the back of the church. Then they quietly followed him out, clutching the programs against their chests. Inside was a quote from Kieran himself, something he had written in the third grade.
“I always like looking on the bright side of things. I also tell funny jokes to cheer people up. I am hilarious (in my humble opinion), artistic, truthful, awesome, diligent and intelligent. But the most important thing about me,” he said, “is that I am optimistic.”