Less than a week ago, the only care in Oxford undergraduate David Linsey’s young life was the revision he needed to do for his finals in economics and management. That changed at 9.30am on Easter Sunday.
‘I was woken by screaming — chaos. My bedroom is in the basement. I went upstairs. My little brother Ethan and my mother were hysterical with grief. My brother told me what had happened. My mother couldn’t speak. He said they were gone.’
‘They’ are David’s brother, 19-year-old Daniel, and sister Amelie, 15, who had been having breakfast with their father Matthew in a waterfront hotel in Sri Lanka, the Shangri-La, when one of eight terrorist bombs exploded. Both of them were kind, generous-hearted young people. Both were supposed to be flying home to Central London later that day. Both were killed.
‘I -called my father,’ David recalls. ‘He was at the hospital. He’d lost his voice. He was clearly very distressed. He had marks all over his face — blood, shrapnel, but he was thinking clearly.
‘He told us exactly what had happened and kept saying how sorry he was. It wasn’t his fault but he felt he could have done things differently. They were only going for breakfast . . .’
He stops. The sheer horror of that video call is with him still.
David with his sister Amelie on her 15th birthday in January. She died alongside her brother Daniel in the devastating bombing on Easter Sunday
Amelie, a bright, adventurous girl who, David says, ‘was beautiful from the inside out’ was with her brother, fetching their father a drink from the buffet bar, when the bomb exploded in Table One restaurant.
His father remembers ‘a wave of pressure’. His children ran towards him. They tried to flee. A second blast went off. Mr Linsey, who arrived back in the UK on Monday, doesn’t know which of the bombs killed them.
‘You don’t believe it, even when your father says it,’ says David. ‘You think they might be confused. They might be wrong. You hope.
‘I wanted to confirm it. My 11-year-old brother and mother were in hysterics. I wanted to establish what had happened.’
David, who has U.S. and UK citizenship because his father was born in America, called the American Embassy.
‘I spoke to a guy who confirmed it. It still doesn’t sink in. It still hasn’t really. Maybe it’s beginning to for me but not for my mother.’
David’s mother Angelina is truly broken. She accompanies David to this interview in Central London, a stone’s throw from their home. She hasn’t spoken to anybody, apart from her family, since that morning. Her grief is a fierce, terrible thing to behold.
‘I want to speak about Danny and Amelie,’ she says. ‘Amelie was always there for all of us. Ethan would go and talk to her about his day at school if he was worried about anything . . . ’ She is holding David’s hand. Tightly.
‘He’d sleep in her bed if he was worried,’ David explains.
The Linseys pose by the Taj Mahal in 2014. The family have been on a few holidays together, including to to India and New York
Mrs Linsey brightens at this memory. ‘She would always give him hugs. You spoke to her about whatever you were doing.’
Angelina looks at her son. ‘Dan spoke to her about what he was doing. All of us. All of us. She was always very calm and very fair. She knew inherently the right thing to do.
‘We were going to go on a trip to New York next month and then we’d planned a trip to Brazil. She wanted to go to Brazil . . . they were going to a buffet breakfast. That’s what they were doing.’
Mrs Linsey simply can’t comprehend what has happened. ‘My children are my best friends. We do everything together,’ she says.
She met her husband, an investor in emerging markets, at Heathrow Airport by chance when she was 22 years old and had recently finished a law degree.
It was a coup de foudre and, for the years that followed, she was wondrously happy, travelling the world with the children she stayed at home to raise.
They show me photographs of the family in India, New York, Amelie in Hawaii, Mr Linsey and Amelie on a jet-ski in Vietnam, where they travelled before venturing to Sri Lanka.
Amelie with her mother Angelina in 2018. Mrs Linsey accompanied her son David as he was interviewed about the tragic bombings
Mrs Linsey had decided not to join them because 11-year-old Ethan wanted to spend the Easter holiday at home in London. She spoke to her children and husband by video-call every day.
‘The idea was to take Amelie and Danny because Danny was starting university, so Matt wanted to spend that extra time with him before he started,’ says Mrs Linsey.
‘I face-timed them every day. They were going to markets and doing cookery classes. They went to an elephant sanctuary. They went to a tea plantation and there was a lot of shopping because Amelie loved clothes.
‘For me, the important thing was that they were fearless — that they were never afraid to do anything and took things as far as they wanted to. Danny actually texted me that morning. It must have been very early morning . . . ’
The sentence tails away. You can sense the what-ifs, the whys and the if-onlys shudder through her.
‘Danny told you he’d got some coconuts from the market, didn’t he?’ David gently coaxes his mother. ‘We found a couple in his suitcase when it came back on Wednesday. I don’t know how they got past customs.’
Mrs Linsey had wanted to come to this interview to speak about her ‘beautiful children’, about her pride in her son Daniel, who suffered with learning difficulties, being accepted at Leicester University to study marketing and business, about her joy at the birth of each of her children.
She tells me about the adventures that united this remarkable family — stories, you sense, that have been shared time and again around the table at mealtimes.
Stories like the time Mr Linsey and Daniel missed an internal flight while on holiday in China, so they hired a car with a ‘crazy driver doing 100mph or something’ to meet up with the family again.
‘Dan needed the bathroom and the driver didn’t speak any English. They didn’t speak any Mandarin. So my father remembers he has a picture of a statue of a guy peeing. So he gets it out, points to the statue and points to my brother. The guy pulled over.’
Daniel (pictured with his pet dog Coco) also tragically died in the Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Sunday
Mrs Linsey laughs with her son. David lightens. You know this remarkable young man is trying to ease the pain for his beloved mother in any way he can.
‘We very impressively missed a flight from Heathrow after staying at the airport hotel,’ David continues. ‘I don’t know how we missed that.’
‘I think that was you taking a shower,’ his mother teases. ‘We missed a flight in Japan . . .’
‘ . . . because I wanted a cake,’ David finishes and they laugh together. But again Mrs Linsey drifts away from the present.
‘They were supposed to be coming back that day,’ she says.
The thought overwhelms her. She has been talking about her children for half an hour.
It is the longest she has spoken since her family and her life were so cruelly torn apart. She can’t speak any more, but wants David to continue.
The Linseys are setting up a foundation to help fund medical equipment for the hospital in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, where the children’s bodies were taken.
Mr Linsey has told his son how rudimentary the hospital was. It made no difference to his siblings, but better equipment might well have saved some of the other 251 lives.
‘My dad suggested calling it ‘Love Is The Answer’ after his and my sister’s favourite song,’ says David. ‘My dad had a particularly close bond with my sister. She was always a daddy’s girl.’ He takes a sip of water and draws strength from goodness knows where to continue.
‘I think we should have their names on it. Call it the Amelie and Daniel Linsey Foundation, so they live on. We want to hear about them. It’s very important we remember the local victims as well. We hear about the eight Britons who died but we don’t even know the names of the Sri Lankans.’
He doesn’t want to dwell on the terrorists who wreaked such destruction: ‘I don’t think it’s the time to talk about the people who did this to us.’
St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka was targeted by bombers on Easter Sunday
Security forces inspect the scene after a blast targeting Shangri La hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday
Sri Lankan Police officers inspects a blast spot at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo a day after a bomb ripped through the building
On Tuesday, he and Mr Linsey are attending a conference for the private sector against extremism. The conference is being hosted by, among others, the father of one of his closest friends, who happens to be Muslim, so David was going to be there anyway. ‘Now my father’s coming too,’ he says. ‘It’s a time for loving, not hate.’
Religion, for this family, is about celebration, not discord. David and his siblings were raised in their father’s Jewish faith. His mother is a Catholic. ‘There wasn’t a war of traditions,’ he says. ‘We celebrate Hanukkah. We celebrate Christmas as well. Everyone acknowledges each other’s faith. We’d always drop my mother off at church on Christmas Day.
‘My grandmother is a very strong Catholic, so maybe she finds solace in that. She has been very strong for my mother because she’s the one who needs it — her and my brother. My sister was his best friend so he has taken it very hard. My father and I can’t afford not to be strong.
‘My father and I came up with the idea of a foundation when we were thinking about who Daniel and Amelie were as people — how much charity work they’d done.
‘My brother spent some time last year helping in a village in Ethiopia. His passion is people and places. He was much more vocational than me. He worked harder than any of us, I think. He tried. Given what we were told to expect from him [he is referring to his brother’s learning difficulties], he was by far the most impressive of any of us.
‘I remember the day he was born, going to the hospital and seeing my brother’s cot. It’s probably my earliest memory. I was only two years old. I remember the cot was navy blue.
‘I remember the day my sister was born, coming into my parents’ room and finding my grandmother there. Thinking “what’s going on?” and going to the hospital, seeing my sister in a cot that looked like a tray.
‘We say people live on within us but you have to fight every day to make sure they do. What really struck me is, when my friends flew back to support me — three from America, one from Italy, five or six people flying back within a couple of days — I realised I’d only made a few of these friends recently.
‘I cried when I thought Amelie hadn’t got to the age I had when I met these people, because she really deserved it.
‘When I think of the things she’ll never do. She won’t be at my wedding. She won’t be there along the way through my life and I won’t see the people she and my brother would have become. It’s cruel to have that taken away.’
In truth, if David is a measure of his brother and sister, it is a loss for all of us. He is an exceptional young man who shows a strength of character far beyond his years.
Ask him where he finds this strength and he says: ‘From my father, my mother and a lot from my friends, who allow me to be strong for my family. I can be as emotional as I want with them. Get it out, so I can be here for my family to be emotional to me. I’m very lucky with the support I’ve got.’
Sri Lankan soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony’s Shrine after a blast in Colombo on Easter Sunday
Burials for the dead began earlier this week in Negombo, pictured. The attacks have sparked local and international outrage, and have been condemned by Sri Lankan Muslim groups
David’s first friend arrived at the family home within hours of his conversation with his father.
‘It’s something you expect to hear about on the news, not on the other end of the phone,’ he says. ‘I tried to stop my mother becoming completely, completely hysterical but there was nothing I could do.
‘I just sat down with her. My aunt came and I phoned my best friend. She waited outside for a while until we could console my mother for a bit, then came inside. Of course, you wonder why them and not us, but we don’t need to wonder why. We know why. We just didn’t go. There’s no reason beyond that.
‘I had exams. My brother didn’t want to go, so we know exactly what happened. It was bad luck. Nothing more.
‘I manage to sleep. Not extremely well. Someone has slept on my bed every night. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night most nights. You think it’s a dream — definitely for the first two nights. Now it’s just reality.’
When Mr Linsey returned home to his family, David met him at the airport. ‘He’s being remarkably strong,’ he says. ‘I think he’s doing as well as one can in these circumstances. His bond with my siblings was so close. I can’t imagine what he’s feeling.
‘We worry about Daddy, mainly for his heart because he’s had a few heart problems, but the love that my father has given us…’ David swallows. His voice is barely above a whisper.
‘Every time someone needs him, he’s there. He always knows the answers. He always tells the truth. Every time he walks in a room you feel safe. He’s so generous. He’s so unpretentious. He doesn’t have a bad side.
‘My dad has survivor’s guilt 100 per cent. The rest of us to a lesser extent but really my dad because he was right behind them.’
On Wednesday, Mr Linsey spoke of the family’s wish to have the bodies home ‘as a matter of absolute urgency’.
Sri Lanka held a three-minute nationwide silence at 8.30am earlier this week – the same time the first of six bombs detonated on Sunday morning
The government has said the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), a little-known Islamist group, was behind the violence, but said they believed the organisation had international help
David agrees. ‘We’d love to have the bodies back. We’re terribly disappointed with all that. I understand there’s a criminal investigation but, I don’t know . . . particularly for my mother — it will give a sense of closure at least. You’ve seen her. She’s inconsolable.
‘My mother has always been there for us. My father has always been there for us. They’ve never brushed us off, always answered our questions. Always helped us achieve what we want to achieve. Always . . . ’ He stops, his eyes full of intolerable pain.
‘Of course, now everything seems so trivial. Like trying to focus on an equation after this has happened. You think, “How can I possibly be thinking about this?” All that matters is making sure my brother and my sister are remembered.’
Which they will be now. Grieved for and remembered by us all.