It was a day of celebration for the rest of the country
but for a village in Eppawala the dawn of Thai Pongal only brought
shock and tragedy. Five young lives were blasted when a grenade
exploded at the playground of Vihara Maha Devi Vidyalaya.
The school had been closed for years but the playground was a favourite
haunt of the village children.
15, both the young and old had gathered at the school grounds for
a special event. A visitor to the village, the contractor overseeing
the Mahaweli rehabilitation work, was giving them a kiribath feed.
Most of the villagers had left the playground by noon, but five
children stayed back to play their usual game of cricket.
As it began to drizzle, the boys gave up their game of cricket and
turned to their next favourite sport- hunting pigeons .
clear evidence is yet available on what occured that afternoon,
it is believed that one of the children may have picked up the grenade
while trying to catch a pigeon.
A curious mason
who lived close to the school had also joined them.
The next moment
there was a loud explosion and the five children along with the
mason were found dead.
One of the
boys who is believed to have held the grenade had his hand blown
off, while others had sustained serious injuries and died on the
spot. All except one child were below 12 years.
Mahesh Kumara Sandanayake was a year 7 student and the eldest in
a family of three. His mother, Biso Menika had left for West Asia
just a week before the tragic incident, relatives said. Mahesh's
schoolmate, 11-year-old Ranjan Somasiri who also died in the explosion
was a year 6 student who had lost his father. His mother had also
gone to West Asia to overcome economic constraints at home. Ranjan
was left in the care of his grandmother, who was still in shock
and not having the courage convey the terrible news to his mother.
Tharaka and 11-year old Mahesh Irugal were cousins. Brought up together,
the two even attended school together and shared similar interests.
Now in a tragic turn of events they have been called to rest together.
of the group of children was Ajith Lahiru Kumara (14) a year nine
student and the second in a family of three.
the children was 52-year-old B. Francis, the mason, a father of
five who had unexpectedly arrived on the scene, only to meet his
end. Francis, had not reported to work on that fateful day having
to attend to personal matters and had apparently joined the children
while passing the school.
While a poverty
stricken village tries to come to terms with that tragic Wednesday,
what triggered the explosion, had the grenade been left in the playground
on purpose or was it an accident - all remain a mystery even to
police investigating the incident.