27th May 2001
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Bridging a mystery

Why did they do it? This is the question that arises from the shocking Kalu Ganga tragedy that has promptedstories of black magic rituals and a suicide pact By Laila Nasry and Ruhanie Perera

The clock read 4.30 on the evening of May 23. The Coroner's Court at the Nagoda Hospital was in session. Garumunige Dharmapriya Wilfred sat with a vacant look on his face. Tired eyes, a day's stubble, crumpled shirt, all indications that the past 24 hours had been hell for him. 

Beside him was his son Garumunige Wimalasiri Wilfred rubbing his forehead and shifting in his chair, as if he hoped this nightmare would end. The heat and fatigue seemed to have taken their toll on the third member of the family, Garumunige Doris Cathelin. She nodded off to sleep occasionally, only to Imagewake up a minute later and look around wearily. The process continued. 

The father, son and daughter are the surviving family members of the four whose bodies were discovered in the Kalu Ganga on Sunday, May 20. It was believed that Rupa Beatrice Perera, 58, her sons Garumunige Wijendra Wilfred Perera, 31, and Garumunige Gemunu Wijesiri Wilfred Perera, 29, and daughter Nirupa Nilanthi Perera, 25, had committed suicide by jumping off the Kalutara bridge. 

The shocking multiple tragedy had made headlines, prompting stories of black magic rituals and a suicide pact. The family was there at the Coroner's Court to give evidence before the Inquirer into Sudden Deaths, N. D. S. Padmasiri, to recall any indication, even a minute detail which would enable the piecing together of a puzzle of what had caused the mystery deaths of four members of one family. 

"I saw them on my way home," said Police Sergeant Mudiyanse, who was on duty at the Kalutara bridge that Monday evening. "It was around 6.30 p.m. and I thought they had come on a trip to the Kalutara Bodhiya and had stopped to enjoy the surroundings." Being a group, the mother, her two sons and daughter raised no suspicions. 

"They were sitting on the railroad bridge eating something, bread I believe," said Nihal Ananda Cooray. A resident of the right bank of the Kalu Ganga, he has a panoramic view of the bridge and beyond from his home. "The mother in saree sat with her two sons, while the daughter wearing a red skirt and white blouse stood farther away. Maybe she didn't want to jump," he mused. They never aroused suspicion for it was a popular spot frequented by many. "Couples, who come to the Bodhiya often come onto that bridge because there is a small place where you can stand safely even when a train passes." 

However there were no witnesses to the tragic deaths. "I had to go to a dane gedara and even those upstream saw nothing because it was dark," Nihal said. However, the sound of the splashes had been heard and people in the neighbouring houses had run to the waterfront. Nobody jumped in as it was dark but many went towards the bridge to peer into the water. "When I came home there were lots of people in my garden. As I went towards the water's edge, the people on the bridge signalled to me to bring my boat," recalled Nihal. 

Then began the long search for the bodies. 

"That night with the aid of torches we spotted the first two bodies, that of the mother and daughter. The following morning we found the body of a male and that evening the other. The entire incident seemed to have been well planned but I don't know why they jumped, no," Nihal said.

"I have no way of even beginning to think of the reason behind this incident. They have no financial problems, no trouble with outsiders, no mental or psychological problems, nothing whatsoever to warrant suspicion," said Garumunige Dharmapriya Wilfred, the husband and father of the four deceased giving evidence at the inquest. 

However, he had not lived with them for the past three years having been chased out of the house owing to differences he had with the eldest of the two sons who died. "From the time I married I had no problems with my wife. It was because of my son that I left." 

"I used to visit them once a week," Wimalasiri, the eldest son recalled. "I last went there on the 12th and stayed the night, returning the following day to my place in Katunayake." Financially, the family depended on him and he supported them with his earnings, working as the supervisor in an advertising institute. "I had heard that he used to supply them with lunch daily, dropping it off by way of a three-wheeler," Dharmapriya stated. 

Ironically, it was Dharmapriya, the father who had lost contact with the family, who first found out about the deaths. "I saw a picture in the Lankadeepa of my wife with her name. I went directly to the Kalutara Hospital, identified the bodies and then made a statement at the Kalutara Police." 

Wimalasiri didn't find out until much later. "My boss told me that there was an electrical matter in Kalutara and to be ready to go there in the morning and instead brought me straight to the Kalutara Police," he stated explaining that his brother-in-law had broken the news to his boss. 

Sister Doris, a nurse at the Mahamodera Hospital, Galle, had waited for her two younger siblings that morning. They were to make their usual visit to get medicine from the hospital. "By 11.00 a.m. they still hadn't come but the knock on my door at 11.30, which I thought was them, turned out to be my husband with the sad news."

Her younger brother and sister had been ailing for a long time, she said. Though the brother stated at the inquiry that "theirs was no lifelong disease but normal ailments" and the father too denied knowledge of any maladies, Doris said her younger sister suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and her brother had severe headaches. 

"She was unable to arrange her room or wash her clothes on her own," she stated, adding though that she was not depressed. "She talked of becoming a Buddhist nun after our mother's death stating there was no one for her after mother, but never of committing suicide."

However the treatment seemed to help them and in order to speed up their recovery they had decided to do a thovilaya. Rs. 50,000 was borrowed from the sister. "I thought if I don't raise that amount for them something might happen to them," she said.

Though the family had been well known in the neighbourhood for their strong belief in such ritualistic practices and rather anti-social attitudes, Doris said only one thovilaya was performed in January in their main house at Karandeniya. She added that none of them had any mental or psychological disorder, frustration or depression. 

But they had jumped, from the middle of the bridge where the water was presumed to be deep, leaving behind a bag containing Rs.35,000 worth of jewellery, Rs.9,894 in cash, some clothes, three towels, four umbrellas, medicine bottles and a torch. 

"Maybe the daughter jumped and the mother jumped to save her and the two sons to save the two of them," Inquirer Padmasiri said. 

But offering reasons is not his brief and he added realistically, "ninety-nine percent of suicides are a mystery. There have often been no underlying reason as to why people claim their lives in such cases as there is not enough evidence or the entire truth has not been told." 

Whatever the reason, the end result remains the same. Cause of death: Drowning due to suicide. 


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