The acceptance letter broke their hearts.
Daniel Linsey had got into the university he had dreamed of studying at. Daniel had a learning disability, but it meant that he only worked harder. So at 17 he was volunteering in an Ethiopian orphanage and by 18, he was in Mongolia engaged as an English teacher for a nomadic community. His long struggle to negotiate mainstream education aside, Daniel had still found ways to thrive. And here, in the acceptance letter from the University of Manchester, was evidence that he could have realised his ambition of graduating with a degree in travel and tourism.
His brother David Linsey knows what it would have meant to Daniel. “He was never a quitter, he just kept working,” says David. Knowing that Daniel had been robbed of his future is a source of deep grief. “It was very hard for us to know this,” says David, now, “but at least he made it.”
Four months ago, life was unimaginably different for David. All that the 21-year-old had to worry about were his upcoming final exams at the University of Oxford where he is studying Economics and Management. Then the Easter Sunday attacks happened, and his family lost two of their own—his younger brother Daniel and sister Amelie were among those who died as twin explosions ripped through the Shangri- La Hotel in Colombo where patrons had gathered around for breakfast.
David’s father Mathew Linsey was there, vacationing with his children. Their mother spoke to them every day, and heard stories of market trips, cookery classes and visits to tea plantations and elephant sanctuaries. Amelie, who loved clothes, had been shopping. Daniel had bought coconuts and packed them into his suitcase—which his mother would later find. All the way back in London, 11-year-old Ethan missed his older sister; she was the glue that held them together and the person he would turn to when he could not sleep. But it was the final day of their holiday in Sri Lanka and the family was anticipating being reunited.
That morning, 15-year-old Amelie had got up to serve Mathew some breakfast. The investment banker would later tell CNN that the effect of the bomb going off was hard to describe. “It’s like a wave coming through of pressure,” he said.
He recalled seeing his children running toward him, and then the second explosion shook the building. In its aftermath, Daniel was utterly still. Amelie still seemed to be moving. Matthew let a woman help take Amelie downstairs to the ambulance. He needed help with Daniel, but was soon in an ambulance with his son rushing to the same hospital where Amelie was. In the middle of the unfolding chaos, Matthew yelled for help till he was hoarse but there was nothing to be done for either of his children.
Back in London, David woke to the sound of his mother and brother weeping and utterly distraught. His mother Angelina couldn’t speak, and it was Ethan who told him what had happened. When he got through to Matthew, his father too was struggling to find words. He had lost his voice, and there were shrapnel cuts and blood on his face. Already, Matthew was wracked with guilt, thinking of what he might have done differently.
In one of those early interviews in the aftermath of the bombing, you can see a video of David and his father on a sofa, facing the interviewer together. They are gripping each other’s hands, arms intertwined as if holding each other up.
Now David says his parents are still reeling. He himself was thinking about seeing his siblings on the day they were born, and knowing now they would not be there on the day he got married or had children of his own. “It’s very hard to imagine life without them there. In some ways this doesn’t still feel real. So I don’t know how to handle this grief. Maybe you never know, because you never plan for these kinds of things, and there is no set way of doing it,” he says.
Part of their healing has been looking around to see how they can help those who have suffered too. They have begun by setting up a foundation that they hope to register in Sri Lanka. They had initially considered naming it ‘Love is the Answer’ after Matthew and Amelie’s favourite song, says David, explaining that Amelie was very much her father’s girl. In the end however, they settled on the ‘Amelie and Daniel Linsey Foundation.’ “It has to be named after them,” says David. “Sadly, they didn’t get the chance to do all they would have for the world but this foundation celebrates their values and keeps them with us in a way.”
David himself is taking the year off to dedicate himself to the Foundation and the work they plan to do in Sri Lanka. Flying into Colombo on his first visit to the island, he admits to having felt some trepidation, but that has eased and now he is in full work gear, determined to visit every project they will be supporting. “I want to make sure that we are only funding things that I have seen in person because a lot of people have donated money, and I have a big responsibility to them to make sure it all goes to the right place,” says David.
They’ve chosen their projects with care, and will be working closely with the local charities Nest and Their Future Today to support local survivors of the attacks. There are plans to build a community centre in Batticaloa, and a women’s refuge in Colombo. There is also a separate medical programme which is being designed to help address equipment shortages in hospitals such as ventilators, FAST portable ultrasound and MRI machines which typically cost many thousands of dollars each. They are also focused on bolstering emergency response and triage capabilities through trainings with a team from McGill University in Canada which will consult in hospitals in Colombo, Batticaloa and Negombo.
“For us, it’s critically important to help families who have suffered even more than my own family and we need to help them restore their lives that way,” says David, explaining that these inputs could be used to help even victims of road traffic accidents. He is hoping to build partnerships with the government as well as the tourism industry in Sri Lanka to get the job done.
It has been nearly four months since Daniel and Amelie were taken from them but this family is determined to honour their loss by changing the narrative and turning the focus to where it really belongs. David says that in the aftermath he wished that the people responsible hadn’t received the kind of coverage they did. “I would have liked to see fewer salacious details,” he says. “Terrorists love death, but so do the media. The media should take care not to stir up discord just for a story. It’s definitely something that has happened in other places, and so I hoped it would not happen here in Sri Lanka.”
Their own commitment to helping others, and nurturing community has a lot to do with how they were all raised. Family came first, but looking out for others was something that was ingrained in them. “I was raised that way,” says David, simply. “And sometimes it is hard but you realise there is no honour in blame and in looking around for other people to blame things on…You have to consider the effects of your actions, it’s very easy to respond to hate with hate. But when you respond to hate with love, it catches people off guard and they react in a much better way.” Would Amelie and Daniel approve? “I hope so and which is why I am doing it,” says David, “but sadly I will never really know.”
Published in the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on 8 September, 2019. By Smriti Daniel. Pix by M.A Pushpakumara and courtesy David Linsey.