Celebrity Chef and Daughter Killed in Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka

By Zachary Stieber

A celebrity chef and her daughter were among the hundreds of victims in the Easter bombings in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on April 21.

Shantha Mayadunne was well-known in Sri Lanka because of her cookbooks and culinary school along with her popular television show.

She and her daughter, Nisanga, were staying at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo, one of four luxury hotels targeted in the attacks, authorities said.

Nisanga Mayadunne, Shantha’s daughter, was believed to be in her 30s and had studied at the University of London.

Easter breakfast with family ????

Posted by Nisanga Mayadunne on Saturday, April 20, 2019

Radha Fonseca, 34, a Sri Lankan expat living in Dubai, said that she went to college with Nisanga and remained friends with her afterward.

“Nilanga was a very popular girl in college. Besides the fact that she was bright and smart, her mother Shantha Mayadume, a renowned chef, made her more popular in college. She was well respected and an inspirational chef for Sri Lankans,” Fonseca told the Gulf News. “Destiny has taken away both of them. I am devastated.”

“When I heard the news, I was left numbed and shocked. I don’t know what more to say,” Fonseca added.

Officials said that the bombings were carried out by National Thawheed Jama’ut, a radical Islamic organization, likely with international support. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said that the government would seek foreign assistance to track the overseas links.

International anti-terrorism experts said that it was likely that al Qaeda or Islamic State were involved, given the level of sophistication.

Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the Shangri-La Hotel, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels.

A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also hit, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks to media at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019. (Derana TV via Reuters TV)

Most of the attacks came during Easter services and when hotel guests were sitting down for breakfast buffets.

“Guests who had come for breakfast were lying on the floor, blood all over,” said one employee at Kingsbury Hotel.

An Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage.”

He said he and a travel partner were having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.

Sri Lankan military stand guard inside a church
Sri Lankan military stand guard inside a church after an explosion in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. (Stringer/Reuters)

“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”

There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered. Pictures showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

Dozens were killed in a blast at the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected it was a suicide attack.

Reuters contributed to this report.