Easter Attack : ‘Be like Kieran’ Story of a mother grieving the loss of her only child

April 21, 2020 at 11:08 PM

Eleven-year-old Kieran de Zoysa was killed in the Cinnamon Grand bomb blast on 21/4. A student at Elizabeth Moir, Kieran was to return to his school in the US in September.

Kieran Alexander Shafritz de Zoysa 
(August 7, 2007 – April 21, 2019)Kieran was born in New York City, raised in Washington, D.C., and spent summers in Southern California. He schooled at Sidwell Friends, a Quaker school from age five to 10 and looked forward to returning to Sidwell Friends School in September 2019, following 18 months of living in Colombo and attending Elizabeth Moir School.Kieran was a gifted student with a photographic memory, the diligence to natural grasp of maths and science. Teachers in Washington and Colombo loved his enthusiasm for learning and his drive to do his best always.

Kieran’s favorite activities: reading for hours, skateboarding, biking through his neighborhood in Washington DC, sleepovers with friends, drawing and painting, creative writing, all kinds of puzzles, playing basketball and the trumpet, climbing walls and ropes courses, long hikes in Washington DC and Southern California, kayaking with his father, entertaining friends with jokes and impressions, pulling off pranks on and teasing his mother.


His mother Dhulsini de Zoysa wrote the following article for the Sunday Observer Newspaper last year 

Be like Kieran.” That was the sincere plea of a grieving father to the crowd of 750 gathered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on May 1.

We gathered to honour the brief but extraordinary life of our only child, Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, killed by a terrorist on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Kieran was only 11-years-old, but he made a lasting impression on those who knew him. His tragic death is a devastating loss for those of us on whom he shone his bright light.

Optimistic, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, affectionate, loyal, funny and fun-loving Kieran charmed everyone with his humour and enthusiasm for life. His impersonations of the current U.S. President were especially popular.

Kieran had an innate curiosity and sharp intellect, the ambition to get a PhD in neuroscience, the perseverance to work towards a black belt in karate, and the diligence to study Sinhala and Chinese in Colombo.

But Kieran’s intellect is not why his death is devastating: Kieran lived the Quaker teaching, “Look for that of God in others.”

Dr. Richard Griffith, a licensed clinical psychologist and counsellor at Kieran’s school in Washington, D.C., described Kieran this way: “Kieran seemed to be able to really ‘see you’ … his recognition of you could be as simple as him noticing a quality in you that you felt went unnoticed.” Richard described this as a testament to the universality of his humanity.

Of the many stories that friends have shared, my favourites are of Kieran drawing out a lonely child. A classmate in Washington, D.C., shared that, in kindergarten, when she was new to the school and friendless, Kieran would coax her out of the bushes where she hid at recess. Five years later and 10,000 miles away, at Kieran’s school in Colombo, friends have shared similar stories, that Kieran was the first to introduce himself to and befriend new students, though he was new to Sri Lanka himself.

Kieran instinctively knew who needed a smile and a friendly hello, who was having a bad day, who was shy. He used his charm and his bright smile to draw them into the sunshine where he lived.

Travel was Kieran’s passion. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.”

This was certainly true for Kieran, who formed connections with people in all walks of life everywhere from Bethesda to Botswana, London to Johannesburg, Martha’s Vineyard to Malaysia, California to Colombo. He was a global citizen, whose life story embodied multiculturalism.

To ‘be like Kieran’ means to be open to adventure, to be optimistic, to form connections with boys and girls, men and women from every walk of life, to be an enthusiastic learner, to be generous, kind and compassionate.

Kieran represents the opposite of everything that the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday intended to accomplish – to divide us, to encourage tribal thinking, to cause chaos, and to inflict pain on strangers. For his father Alex and for me, our loss is deeply personal. Shrapnel hit Kieran but it shattered our hearts. Despite our pain, there are terrifying elements of this tragedy, implications for Sri Lanka and the world, that we cannot overlook.

The well-financed, coordinated, and multi-focal, ISIS-inspired attack on Easter Sunday puts the world on notice – extremist terrorism can come for you anywhere. It is no longer something in a faraway land. Fred Kempe, father of one of Kieran’s classmates and president of the Washington, D.C. based think tank, The Atlantic Council, wrote succinctly, “Global terrorism entered a new era with the bombing in Sri Lanka. [www.cnbc.com/2019/05/03/globalterrorism-entered-a-new-era-with-the-bombi… With the loss of a caliphate in Iraq and later in Syria, ISIS has metastasized like an advanced cancer, turning up in the most unexpected and vulnerable places.

Ten years of peace, following a protracted civil war, has left Sri Lanka vulnerable. Peace brought not only a strong push for reconstruction and growth in tourism, booming infrastructure and construction projects, business development and entrepreneurship, economic prosperity and other dividends, but also a complacency. Counterterrorism was casually dismissed even when there were multiple, detailed warnings preceding the Easter Sunday attack. That should send chills through this country.

I hear real concern in Colombo for the loss of tourism and resulting economic damage following the Easter attack. I understand the desire to share with the world this country’s beauty, rich history, multiculturalism, and welcoming people. I brought my son here for 18 months so that he could experience those things too.

I am a mother grieving the loss of her only child.

I did not know that there were threats of terrorist activity when my family sat down to breakfast on Easter morning. I did not know that public officials entrusted with the nation’s security ignored, or failed to investigate, those threats.

I did not know that, by the time we sat down, terrorist bombs had ripped through two churches. I did not know that, despite high mobile phone penetration, Sri Lanka lacks an emergency communication system that could have warned us to stay out of public places in the 30 minutes between the first blast and the one that took my son’s life.

Someone must lead: It is unconscionable that advance warnings were not investigated, inexplicable that a system that can convey New Year’s wishes to mobile phones island-wide cannot send out a public safety alert, and unforgivable that Sri Lanka’s highest elected officials will not take responsibility.

Our son was not killed because it was his fate, or God’s plan, or because he was too good for this world. My son died because of extremist terrorism, because of breakdowns in communication at the highest levels of government, because of inadequate emergency communication systems, and because of unforgivable indifference to counter terrorism efforts.

Our clever, compassionate, kind, multi-ethnic, American son felt, after just one year in Colombo, that he belongs here. Kieran felt accepted and appreciated. He felt #sosrilankan. I can’t help but wonder, though, aren’t suicide bombers #sosrilankan? As Sri Lankan as golden beaches, ancient temples, and emerald hills of tea?

What will it take for accountability and good governance to become #sosrilankan?

Courtesy – Sunday Observer, June 2019