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Father Remembers 11-Year-Old Son Killed In Sri Lanka Bombing


Now to the story of a father remembering the life of his son. Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa was killed in Sri Lanka during the Easter Sunday bombings. The death toll has been revised down to 253 people. Kieran had taken leave from his school here in Washington, D.C., to live with his mom and study abroad in Sri Lanka. He was 11 years old. I talked with his father, Alexander Arrow, and I asked him how he has been able to manage the last few days.

ALEXANDER ARROW: It's a very difficult question to answer.


ARROW: It's just not something that you ever really have to contemplate how to talk about.

MARTIN: Is it helping you to talk? You have been doing interviews this week. I've wondered if this is helping you in some way.

ARROW: It has. And it just - it feels that this is the right thing to do - to tell Kieran's story because Kieran was going to do tremendous things for the world. You know, for an 11-and-a-half-year-old, he worked diligently towards all of his goals. And he was going to accomplish that. He was going to be a neuroscientist working on Alzheimer's. And he...

MARTIN: That's amazing that he had that goal at such a young age.

ARROW: Yeah, he was clear about that, and he was motivated by helping other people. You know, he - when we were playing games, he would occasionally say - OK, we got to stop now so I can study my Mandarin.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ARROW: He was learning Mandarin and Sinhala. He was learning two languages in the school in Sri Lanka where he was doing a couple semesters abroad at age 11.

MARTIN: If I may, could I ask you to walk us through the day of the attacks Easter Sunday? How did you first hear that this had happened?

ARROW: This last Saturday night - 8 p.m. I called him just because I knew it was his morning. And he couldn't pick up. And he texted me back - can't talk now because he was in the elevator with his mom and grandma, going down to have breakfast at the restaurant in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. So I thought nothing of that. And I went on just doing normal evening stuff.

And then the phone rang a few times, but I didn't pick it up. And, you know, you don't always answer your phone when you're having dinner on a Saturday night.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

ARROW: So that's when I called his mom. And her cousin picked up and said - Alex, you need to get on the next plane to Sri Lanka. There's been a bombing. And Kieran is hurt, and he's here in the hospital.

MARTIN: But he was alive at that time?

ARROW: The answer is no. He wasn't.


ARROW: The impression was - I didn't know. He was on a ventilator and - what had happened is the suicide bomber had gone into the buffet line of that restaurant. And shrapnel kind of rained out on all the people eating there, and it just depended on where you were sitting what you got hit with. Kieran's mom and his grandma did not get a lethal amount of shrapnel. They got some shrapnel wounds, but he got three pieces. And one of them went into his heart. So the doctor was asking me to - permission to remove the ventilator. And this is all happening over the phone at my dining room table in San Diego. So, you know, I don't want to dwell on the medical details. I think what the world needs to know about Kieran is that he was going to be a major contributor to society, and he was going to be famous for that. And now, you know, he's, I guess famous, as the boy who was killed on Easter Sunday 2019 in the Sri Lankan terrorist attack.

MARTIN: Well, I hope it's appropriate for me to say this, but you know that he will not be famous for his death but because of your remembrances and how you've shared them - that he will be famous for the life that he led.

ARROW: Thank you, Rachel, that's. Why I'm talking as much as I can about him because - to anyone who will listen to me because I don't want him to fade, and I want the world to know. And I feel like the diligent work that he did in his studies and the amazing grades that he got - those were going to be stepping stones on the way to his path. And now that they're not, at least I want people to know about it. You know, I feel like if we all know that then it counts for something.

MARTIN: It counts for a lot. Alexander Arrow remembering his son Kieran with us. Thank you so much.

ARROW: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLDMUND'S "TURNS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.