Just minutes after expressing their willingness to die for Christ, half the children from one Sunday School class at Zion Church in Batticaloa were reportedly killed in the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka.
“Today was an Easter Sunday school at the church and we asked the children how many of you willing to die for Christ? Everyone raised their hands," Caroline Mahendran, a Sunday School teacher at the church, said, according to Israeli public figure Hananya Naftali. "Minutes later, they came down to the main service and the blast happened. Half of the children died on the spot.”
The report comes as the death toll from the bomb attacks on several churches and luxury hotels in the island nation, where Christians make up less than 10 percent of the 20 million population, rose to nearly 300 Monday with at least 500 wounded.
Fr. Kumaran, a pastor at Zion Church, told Times of India that he witnessed the death of many of the children shortly after arguing with the suicide bombing suspect he did not recognize.
It was about 8:30 a.m., Kumaran said, when he saw the suicide bombing suspect carrying a bag at the steps of the church already filled with worshipers.
"I asked him who he was and his name. He said he was a Muslim and wanted to visit the church," Kumaran said.
Kumaran said he was ushered away from the encounter by other priests because it was getting late for Mass. As he walked toward the podium he heard an explosion. When he turned around, the blood of his congregants, including many from the children’s Sunday School class, was splattered on the church walls.
"Twenty-eight people were killed, among them 12 children. Two are critical," a distressed Kumaran told the publication.
Arasaratnam Verl, 41, said his 13-year-old son, V. Jackson, who is also his only child, was standing near the church entrance after attending the Sunday School class. Jackson was killed instantly.
"My elder sister was killed too. My two younger sisters and my brother-in-law are critical," Verl, a taxi driver, told Times of India.
Verl said his friend, Ramesh, who had also questioned the suicide bombing suspect and “pushed the man outside the church door," also died too as the man blew himself up shortly after that.
“I have never heard the sound of a bomb explosion before. We initially thought it was the burst of a tire,” S. Vikash, 21, a medical representative who lives near the church, said. "When we realized it was an explosion, we followed the sound of fire engines and ambulances. The scene was terrifying. There was blood and body parts strewn all over. It was heart-rending to see the bodies of children."
Outside Zion Church, the bombings in Sri Lanka on Sunday also targeted St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, the capital; St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo; as well as high-end hotels in Colombo, including the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
Fr. Kanapathipillai Deivendiran, who was scheduled to deliver the Easter Day message at Zion Church on Sunday, told The Hindu had he not been running late, he may have been killed too.
“I went a little after 9 a.m. I was a few minutes late or you will not be speaking to me now,” he said. “I didn’t know that there had been a blast a few minutes before that, I just walked into the premises. As I entered, I was shaken by the sight — walls had collapsed completely, there were bodies all over the floor,” he said.