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A billionaire’s children, a D.C. fifth-grader, a celebrity chef: the victims in Sri Lanka

Australian survivor Sudesh Kolonne recounts the moments leading up to one of the bombings, which took the lives of his wife and daughter. (Video: Reuters)

Ben Nicholson and his wife, Anita, were sitting down for breakfast with their two children when the bombs went off. The British family was on holiday in Sri Lanka, and had gone to the restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. But Ben Nicholson was the only one who survived the explosion, detonated by a suicide bomber.

Anita Nicholson and their children — 14-year-old Alex and 11-year-old Annabel — “died instantly, with no pain or suffering,” Nicholson said in a heartbreaking statement.

Wounded in body and spirit, mourning Sri Lankans pull together to bury their dead

“I am deeply distressed at the loss of my wife and children,” the grieving father said. “Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children. The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita’s enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colourful life for our family, and especially our children.”

Coordinated explosions targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed at least 311 people and injured more than 500 on April 21. (Video: Joyce Lee, Drea Cornejo, JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/For The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

The Nicholsons were among eight British nationals killed in Sunday’s coordinated attacks, according to diplomats in Sri Lanka. At least a dozen nations have been touched by the bombings that left more than 300 people dead and another 500 injured — including a Danish billionaire’s children, a fifth-grader from a private school in Washington, D.C., and a Sri Lankan chef who had become a TV celebrity.

The majority of the victims were Sri Lankan, many of them Christians worshiping at churches in three cities when bomb blasts splintered pews and collapsed ceilings. On Monday, these tight communities spent hours gathered in front yards and crammed into small houses, mourning their dead.

Sri Lanka’s gantlet of grief: Home after modest home turned into makeshift funeral parlors

A State Department spokesman confirmed that four Americans had died and that “several” others were seriously injured. Reports have emerged describing victims from India, Japan, Bangladesh, Britain, Japan, Turkey and Australia as family and friends from those countries grieved.

Officials at an elite Washington-area private school, Sidwell Friends, confirmed the death of a student in an email to parents. The fifth-grade boy, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, had been on leave from Sidwell for the past year in Sri Lanka and was killed in the bomb attacks.

“Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year,” the school wrote. “We are beyond sorry not to get the opportunity to welcome Kieran to the Middle School.”

One of the American victims was Denver’s Dieter Kowalski, whose death was confirmed by his family and employer.

“It is with great [sadness] and deep regret that as Dieter’s brother that I confirm that Dieter was among the victim’s that passed away in Sri Lanka,” Derrick Kowalski wrote on Facebook. “As we know that Dieter saw his friends as family, we would like to share our grief over this tragic incident.”

He added: “We have all lost a brother.”

Dieter Kowalski, a Wisconsin native working for the education publishing company Pearson, left Friday for a business trip to Colombo. “And the fun begins,” he wrote on Facebook. “Love these work trips. 24 hours of flying. See you soon Sri Lanka!”

Kowalski had just arrived at the Cinnamon Grand hotel when a bomb detonated inside the ground-floor restaurant, where families and guests were gathered for an Easter breakfast buffet.

“We’re angry that a good man, who took simple pleasure in fixing things, has been killed, along with many others, by evil men and women who know only how to destroy,” John Fallon, the chief executive of Pearson, wrote in an email to employees Monday, TV station Fox 6 reported.

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

Kowalski was a senior leader for Pearson’s operation technical services team. He was traveling to Sri Lanka to meet with local engineering teams to “troubleshoot some difficult challenges that were important to our customers,” Fallon said in his email.

A relative of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was killed in the blast at Shangri La. Eight-year-old Zayan Chowdhury was having breakfast with this father Moshiul Haque Chowdhury Prince. Zayan was the grandson of Hasina’s first cousin Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, who was in Hasina’s cabinet from 2009-13 and is currently a member of the parliament. His son-in-law Moshiul was injured in the explosion.

Bangladesh’s Awami League spokesperson Mahmubul Alam Hanif confirmed Zyan’s death. His body is scheduled to be flown to Bangladesh on Wednesday.

Other victims included three children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, the largest private landowner in Britain and the largest single shareholder for the popular clothing brand ASOS.

Povlsen and his family were visiting Sri Lanka for the Easter holiday, the BBC reported. Three of his four children were killed in the bombing attacks, a spokesman for one of his companies, Bestseller, told the BBC.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm the reports,” the spokesman said. “We ask you to respect the privacy of the family, and we therefore have no further comments.”

At St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the largest Roman Catholic congregation in the capital, 52-year-old Delicia Fernando was sitting toward the front of the sanctuary when an explosion tore open the room. She and the children survived, but her husband, Ravi, had been standing in the back of the church. They found him crushed under debris from the collapsed roof, his body pierced with shrapnel.

St. Anthony’s is a common tourist destination, as are the three luxury hotels also attacked in Colombo. Sri Lanka officials said that 39 of the victims were foreign tourists and that another 28 were wounded.

Sri Lankan news outlet Hiru News reported that celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne and her daughter also were killed in the explosions. The women and their family were eating Easter breakfast in a restaurant in the upscale Shangri-La Hotel when the bombs detonated.

Just before the explosion, Mayadunne’s daughter, Nisanga Mayadunne, posted a photo of their family at the table and captioned it: “Easter breakfast with the family.”

Shantha Mayadunne was the first chef to have a live TV cooking show in Sri Lanka, ABC Australia reported. She published two books and taught cooking classes and workshops. She also ran the Shantha Mayadunne School of Cooking Art, reported Gulf News.

“When I heard the news, I was left numbed and shocked. I don’t know what more to say,” Radha Fonseca, a college friend of Nisanga Mayadunne, told Gulf News. “Destiny has taken away both of them. I am devastated.”

Sushma Swaraj, the Indian minister for external affairs, has used her Twitter feed to share the names of victims confirmed dead in the Sunday blasts. At least five people killed in the attacks were on vacation after working on India’s general election Thursday, ABC News reported. The group had been staying at the Shangri-La, which wrote in a Facebook post that three of its staff members, who were not named, were also killed in the bombings.

Among those who died in the Shangri-La was businessman K.G. Hanumantharayappa, of Bengaluru, who according to the New York Times was in town for just a few days when the bombs went off.

Government officials in Japan identified a Japanese woman who died in the blasts, reported NHK World-Japan. Kaori Takahashi, a Sri Lankan resident, was reportedly at Shangri-La eating breakfast with her family when a bomb exploded in the second-floor restaurant there.

Two engineers from Turkey were also killed in the blasts. Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, identified the engineers Monday as Serhan Selcuk Narici and Yigit Ali Cavus.

China, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal also lost citizens in the attack, the Associated Press reported. Most of those victims have not yet been named.

Spain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed the death of two Spanish citizens, who were identified by El Pais as Alberto Chaves Gómez, 31, and María González Vicente, 32.

Vicente, who lives in the Spanish town of Pontecesures, was visiting Gómez in Colombo for a short vacation. The couple had been staying at the Kingsbury Hotel, the third luxury hotel blasted by the bombers. Their deaths were announced by the mayor of Pontecesures, where a three-day mourning period was declared on Monday, reported El Pais.

Sudesh Kolonne, whose family moved from Melbourne, Australia to Sri Lanka in 2014, said he could see his Australian wife and 10-year-old child dead on the floor of St. Sebastian Catholic Church following the attack. The AP reports Kolonne walked outside, ahead of his family, just moments before a bomb went off.

“I don’t know what to do,” Kolonne told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We used to go to that church every Sunday. We never expected this."

Joanna Slater and Niha Masih contributed to this report.


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