Blasted fun and games

By Ariyaratna Ranabahu
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.

On January 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 .

Although no 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.

Twelve-year-old 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.

Eight-year-old 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.

The oldest of the group of children was Ajith Lahiru Kumara (14) a year nine student and the second in a family of three.

Along with 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.


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