Families and religious leaders came together for a candlelight vigil on Monday night at Pasadena City Hall for comfort and to mourn victims killed in a coordinated attack on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
For Priyanthi Gnanapragasam and her husband, who are Sri Lankan American, it was important to bring their three children to witness how the Sri Lankan community unites in a time of grief half a world away from the island.
"My eldest daughter understands what's going on and it's hard to explain but she also understands the world is not very kind," said Gnanapragasam, a senior research technician at the California Institute of Technology.
About 100 mourners from the tight-knit Sri Lankan community gathered to grieve the more than 350 people killed in the bombings across churches and hotels near Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
On a family emergency visit to Sri Lanka, Tharake Vidanagama helped his sister organize a musical show for community members on Easter Sunday. They heard the news and turned on the television newscast.
"I can't actually explain how I feel or how I felt at that moment," Vidanagama said. "It's just devastation." Vidanagama flew back to the U.S. the same night.
Sri Lankans living in the U.S. scrambled after hearing the news to reach out to family members, and process what just happened on the island. The Sri Lankan government imposed a curfew and shut down access to major social media sites.
Reshini Premaratne, a sophomore studying economics at Harvard University, contacted her aunt and uncle who live on the island. "My uncle almost sounds, to a certain extent, a little bit desensitized," Premaratne said in a phone interview.
The attacks reminded her uncle of his childhood and the extreme violence he saw during the Sri Lankan civil war, Premaratne said. "Whereas for me and my sisters, this country has been such a paradise,"she said.
The suicide attack is particularly devastating given the country's bloody civil war that lasted nearly three decades and killed as many as 100,000 people, according to Al Jazeera.
"I was very traumatized to hear these things," said Lakpathy Wijesekara, a Los Angeles-based videographer for the Sri Lanka Foundation. "It's troubling news coming from Sri Lanka because we had a very peaceful country for the past 10 years."
Although the bombings occurred in three churches and are seen as an attack on the Christian community, it's an attack on Sri Lankans as a whole, said Sharika Thiranagama, professor at Stanford University whose research is focused on the Sri Lankan civil war.
"[It's] really important to talk about how the consequences of [the attack] will play out against history, but that's not to attribute some sort of straight line from our history to what happened this weekend," Thiranagama said.
USC's Office of Religious Life is holding a vigil in memory of the victims on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. on their courtyard.
Fiona Pestana, Diana Postolache and Mia Speier contributed to the reporting.