Sunday, December 21, 2008

A heartwarming story

Forwarded by Mary Ann

A heartwarming story of a survivor of the Taj massacre. Here goes.

To whom much is given : Surviving the massacre in Mumbai

December 7th, 2008 by Peter O'Malley ·

Last Wednesday evening around 10pm, following a relaxing supper, my
friend Eugene and I arrived at the check-out desk at the Taj Hotel in
Mumbai, as we have done together hundreds of times in our travels as
New York investment bankers currently living in Hong Kong.

As I placed my bag on the table I heard a loud gunshot, which I
recognized from my years living in South Africa to be the distinctive
snap of an AK-47 assault rifle. Hearing another shot a second later, I
looked at Eugene and said, "Run, that's AK!"

We streaked away from the gunfire toward the nearest exit as the
terrorists were entering the hotel lobby from various points. I
smashed through the doors toward the pool area and ducked into some
bushes as the gunfire grew in intensity. I realized Eugene did not
make it out of the lobby.

Five or six people had arrived in the bushes before me, all now
paralyzed in fear. From the sound of things I realized that a
Columbine-like shooting spree was taking place inside, with gunmen
walking around methodically executing people. Mind racing, I concluded
that being bunched up in the bushes in the corner of the pool area was
not safe.

Surveying the scene brought the dispiriting conclusion that we were
trapped, surrounded by dozen foot-high walls on all sides. I scanned
the walls and then scrambled for a finger or toehold, but found none.
I did, however, spy an air conditioning duct about nine feet above me.
I leaped and was able to knock a cover away. I jumped again and
grabbed onto the unit, but as I tried to pull myself up, I fell,
causing the folks in the bushes to hush me to be quiet.

A quick aspiration to the Holy Spirit — "Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the
heart of thy faithful!" — and then another leap upward. This time I
was able to grab on and pull myself up over the wall where I flipped
onto a lean-to roof of the pool shed. I laid low and quiet, partially
concealing myself with tree branches.

Breathless, I thought to email my colleagues in London and apprise
them of our plight. "Urgent: This is not a joke. At Taj Hotel in
Mumbai. Gunmen on loose. People killed. Call police." Then I turned
off my phone, thinking a ring could give away my position and bring on
a quick and violent death.

The minutes passed, while screams and sounds of gunfire continued. I
began to pray to St. Michael the Archangel: "St. Michael the
Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the
wickedness and snares of the devil." I also prayed the first of many
Rosaries to see my way through what had suddenly become the single
most shocking and desperate experience of my life. I knew that if I
was to get through this, it would be Our Lord's doing.

An hour passed atop my poolside perch. The scene below was quieter
now, but infinitely more creepy. Occasional bursts of gunfire would
rip through the dark night, indicating that the evil men were still at
their cruel business. At one stage, approaching the edge of panic, I
prayed, "Thy will be done." But then I hedged, adding, "I know your
will be done, Lord, but I'm not gonna say that now because I fear that
by doing so I will somehow be giving up. So here's the deal: I will
hand this situation over to Our Lady and let Her decide how to deal
with it."

Another hour passed. I spent the time spying the scene below,
thinking, considering my next move, praying many more St. Michael
prayers and Memorares, trying to keep my head clear. I also had to
distract myself from my increasing need to go to the bathroom. But I
wasn't ready (yet) to possibly exchange my life for that relief.

Suddenly I noticed hotel busboys down below secreting people out of
the pool area via a trap door on the deck. I decided — in hindsight
with some regret — to join them. As I crawled to the edge to jump off,
I realized the side of the shed from which I was jumping was about 25
feet off the ground. But I'd committed to the jump and only by some
miracle was able to slow my momentum and claw onto the edge by my very
fingertips. I stabilized myself but a moment later felt the shingles
of the shed roof begin to crumble. So I grabbed for a nearby water
pipe and somehow managed to in artfully shimmy my way down to the
ground unhurt.

I joined the five or six people being ushered down into the hole, and
followed them silently through a labyrinth of stairs and twists and
turns that ultimately led out into the second floor business center of
the hotel. We entered a room where about 70 other souls were huddled
together in common terror. I immediately felt that this was not a good
place to be: a very soft target with no command or control and no
security on the four ingress/egress points. We were extremely

As the terrorists' grenades, AKs and bombs periodically shook the
walls and rattled our minds, I resumed my fervent — though distracted
— prayers to Our Lady. With battery power (thankfully) remaining on my
BlackBerry, I began praying the Glorious Mysteries with a friend in
Mumbai via text, which proved a great comfort.

The scene around me was surreal. Some folks were drinking tea, seeming
to ignore our plight. Others were crying and simmering just below the
level of panic. My resolve was to keep my senses and continue praying
for inner strength. It was possible this siege could last several
days, so keeping my wits about me was imperative.

My eyes darted from one ingress point to another as I prayed. I
recalled my high school football days when we'd doggedly practice
vigilance in awaiting the snap, and quick response time in deciding
which "hole to hit" in the activated offensive line. I readied myself
thinking, "OK, if they enter through staircase A, I will head for Door
B. If they enter through Door C, I will jump out Window D, etc."

Thankfully, there was a bathroom in the business center. The one time
I used it I found several men hiding in the stalls. I learned later
through news articles that a number of them spent the entire 8-9 hours
locked inside in those stalls.

As the hours passed, the mood inside the room remained tense but
controlled. At one point the tiny red corner light on my Blackberry
began to flutter. It was a colleague in my firm's corporate security
operation informing me that I should leave the premises immediately,
as the terrorists were searching the hotel floor-by-floor looking for
Americans and Brits to kill. I'm 6′4″ and an obvious Yank,
particularly in a place like Bombay. Once spotted, I'd be a dead man
for sure.

Just then a very loud bomb detonated and small arms fire rang out in
one of the stairwells. I assumed the end was near.

I hurried off an email to my Mom and Dad, thanking them for my life
and everything else they'd given me. Then I emailed my dear wife and
sons: "Thank you, Celeste, for being my best friend and soul-mate. I
love you!" I wracked my mind and heart for a few pearls of wisdom to
leave my three small boys that would edify and sustain them in a life
without their father. Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, I explained
to them that life was a gift, and that they should do their best to
enjoy that gift. I urged them to take care of their mother, each
other, and their community — and not to be afraid to discern their
vocations. I counseled them to keep a daily prayer life and live the
norms of piety we'd taught them. "Live life to the fullest, boys, and
stay in a state of grace."

My heartache (and heart-rate) increased as the AK fire drew closer. I
approached the headwaiter and quietly asked him if I might slip out
the back stairs, as my corporate security indicated I should leave the
building immediately. The man assured me that we were secure, but the
look on his face betrayed his fear and uncertainty. He then huddled
with his two busboys while I positioned myself by the back stairs.

A moment later, the busboys announced that they would begin allowing
some folks to slip out. This instantly created a mad rush toward the
stairs. Though I was positioned near the doorway, a lovely
Indian-accented chorus arose, saying, "Women and children first!" Ah,
but of course! I gulped and stepped aside.

The women and children began exiting in groups of eight. After about a
minute, men began cutting the line. After some dozen men had cut in
front of me, at a point when most of the women had gotten out, I
joined the outflow and was able to escape.

I am obviously very lucky — and very blessed. I learned later from our
corporate security, who were monitoring my emails, that the business
center was attacked by gunmen some five minutes after I was able to
escape. I also learned that my friend Eugene had been shot in the
lobby, but thankfully will make a full recovery. (Eugene told me the
next day that I'd sprinted right past the terrorist who leveled his
gun and shot him in the hip. Fortunately he was dragged into a
security room, from which point he was able to escape the hotel a few
minutes later.)

Colleagues and friends have asked how I feel after experiencing such a
trauma. I tell them I am fine — shaken but fine. At the end of the
day, I am convinced that "bona omnia fecit" (all works for the good).
I will forever be inspired by the staff of The Taj, who were polite,
courteous and courageous throughout the ordeal. They saved hundreds of
lives, many sacrificing their own in doing so.

Agnostic and atheist friends have told me that they'd be a wreck if
such a thing had happened to them. But my feeling is that the Lord,
for some reason, put His protective hands around me. I had little to
do with my deliverance; He was and is in control, and that is fine
with me.

What good can come out of this dreadful experience? Hopefully a more
widespread recognition that the power of prayer and an unshakeable
faith in God's loving plan can get us through anything. That is why I
am offering this account to Catholic Exchange. I want others to pray
and draw closer to Christ and His Mother, especially in these
uncertain times.

Why God has allowed me to live on? I have no idea. But at this point,
the thought that will not leave my mind is, "From him to whom much is
given, much is expected."

I pray that I can live up to His expectations.

Copyright 2008 Catholic Exchange

Peter O'Malley is a managing director with Deutsche Bank. He worked
with the principals of Catholic Exchange on the "Champions of Faith:
The Bases of Life" project. He currently lives with his family in Hong

What is religion at the end of it all. ? To me I guess, it's One World... One God...!!!
God Bless you all in this season of Peace...


1 comment:

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