Roshan Liyanage immediately recognized some of the bloodied sites shown in photos from the deadly Sri Lanka bombings as he read updates from his Seattle home over the weekend.
On Easter Sunday, terrorists bombed three churches and three luxury hotels, killing nearly 300 people and wounding more than 500 others. It was the deadliest attack in Sri Lanka since a civil war ended in 2009.
Liyanage had visited those same hotels — the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury, especially popular among foreign tourists — in February on a trip to the island nation.
“The bombs exploded right where I had been, just a couple months ago,” said Liyanage, who emigrated from Sri Lanka in 2003. “It’s all so close to heart. When people go to church, they focus on praying, they’re helpless, they don’t even look at who came in. All of a sudden, they’re gone.”
Liyanage is part of a small — but growing, they emphasize — community of Sri Lankans in the Seattle area. Community members estimate there are about 700 Sri Lankans in the Puget Sound region, with many living in Seattle and on the Eastside. The number has grown significantly in the past decade as more come to work at tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft.
Many in the Seattle-area community grew up in Sri Lanka during the nearly three decades of conflict, when the separatist Tamil Tigers fought to create an independent state. Suicide bombings were a constant threat.
“We were terrified all the time,” Liyanage said. “When our parents, uncles, brothers, cousins would go to Colombo, we had no idea if they would come back. That’s how we lived.”
Sathya Mallawaarachchi was in shock for about 10 minutes when he heard the news this weekend, in part because he didn’t think the violence would happen again.
“When the war ended, people could do what they want, everything was nice and prosperous again,” said Mallawaarachchi, who grew up in Ambalangoda, a southern coastal town, and now calls Everett home. “When I heard this, I couldn’t believe it.”
Also upsetting, he said, was the feeling that he and others here couldn’t do anything to help. To curb that feeling, he’s helping organize a prayer event planned this weekend at the Sarana International Buddhist Center, a Tukwila temple that serves as a popular gathering spot for the Sri Lankan community. They’re currently finalizing details for the event.
“As Sri Lankans, it doesn’t matter where you are, we stick together,” Mallawaarachchi said. “In happiness — and sadness — we help each other out.”
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