Mumbai Massacre Survivors Forgive Attackers on Anniversary

Linda Ragsdale describes attack as "hell," but says she's found forgiveness.

Nov. 25, 2009 — -- When terrorists opened fire in a hotel café last November in Mumbai, India, Linda Ragsdale says she expected to find herself face-to-face with a "monster."

But what Ragsdale saw was shocking: a young boy not much older than her own son back in America, with a gun he struggled to carry and the look of fear on his face.

What came next was "hell," Ragsdale told in an interview from her home in Nashville, Tenn.

On the eve of the one year anniversary of the attacks by 10 Islamic militants that left more than 170 dead – including six Americans – the grim details of the massacre are still fresh in Ragsdale's mind.

Ragsdale, a mother of three, had traveled to Mumbai with members from the Synchronicity Foundation, a Virginia-based meditation group. After a long day of site-seeing, six members of the group decided to eat at the restaurant at the Oberoi Trident, the hotel where they were staying.

"We were eating and then we just heard shots," said Ragsdale. "I don't know how to describe the amount of sound that came after us. It was continuous and nonstop. And just everything exploded."

Diving under the table with the others for protection, Ragsdale said the shooting seemed to be never-ending.

"When it was all finally subsiding then we saw gunman coming through the restaurant and shooting table by table," she said. "I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm going to remember this forever.'"

"He was this little 20-something boy -- the same age as my oldest son -- and was wearing khaki pants just like my kids in their school uniforms," she said. "His posture looked as if he were petrified. He was walking through this restaurant of unarmed, innocent diners expecting war."

In addition to the details about the gunman, Ragsdale remembers other vivid details from the bloody attack.

She can still see the bodies of 58-year-old Alan and 13-year-old Naomi Scherr lying dead next to her on the floor of the Oberoi Hotel just before a bullet slammed into her back and ricocheted through her body.

Ragsdale dragged herself by her arms through the chaos of the dining room, at one point pulling herself over the body of a dead man to safety in the kitchen. She remembers the maître d'hotel helping her take her pants off because they were so weighed down with her blood they were slowing down their escape.

"He looked at me and said I was moving too slowly and I told him to go on without me. And he just said, 'No, you're surviving this,'" she said.

Linda Ragsdale Was Shot in the Back By Mumbai Gunman

Ragsdale, who is a children's book author and illustrator, said that much of her thought process during the attack was related to art.

"I was looking down and I realized that there was this huge pool of blood growing all around me, and I could think was how it was the most spectacular color I had ever seen," recalls Ragsdale.

The bullet she was hit with had entered her back right above her heart, traveled all the way down her spine and through her stomach before exciting the top of her thigh. The bullet's path through her body spanned three feet.

But her injury was not at the forefront of Ragsdale's mind, who says it was with "divine help" that she made it out of the hotel and into the street to find a taxi to take her to the hospital.

"Here you are in the depths of hell and I opened the doors to the outside and it was a beautiful night," said Ragsdale. "I remember looking up at the sky and just thinking, 'This is beautiful.'"

Ragsdale spent two weeks in a hospital in India before being transferred back to the U.S., where she required medical care for several weeks. Today, Ragsdale says she spends at least one day a week in therapy to treat her injuries but that her quality of life, overall, has only improved since the attack.

"I'm doing great. I'm better than I have ever felt prior to this," she said.

Ragsdale plans on getting the large scar on her thigh tattooed with a dragon, a symbol she had been teaching slain teen Naomi to draw before the attack.

"The hardest part of the entire recovery was that I thought Naomi was safe under the table," said Ragsdale, beginning to cry.

Asked whether she suffers from flashbacks or survivor's guilt, Ragsdale says she has not, instead deciding to look at the attack, her wound and her friends' murders as a choice.

"Everything in your life can become blessings if you choose to look at it in that light," said Ragsdale, who travels around the country speaking at schools about the attack.

"It's part of my job now to make sure that children don't think guns are the answer," said Ragsdale. "I forgave [the boy who shot me] almost automatically."

Mumbai Massacre Survivors Forgive Shooters

Charles Cannon, who as the spiritual master of the Synchronicity Foundation, was also in Mumbai during the attack, has a similar outlook to Ragsdale's. Cannon, along with Kia Scherr, the wife and mother of Alan and Naomi Scherr, created the One Life Alliance in response to the shootings.

The alliance will kick off the anniversary -- Thanksgiving Day -- with a webcast to inspire and encourage conversation about the sacredness of life, according to Cannon.

Cannon spent the hours during the two-day siege barricaded in his hotel room silently, afraid of attracting the attention of terrorists.

"In those moments you don't know if the next moment everything is going to blow up or if gunmen are going to break down the door and kill you," said Cannon. "I was just hoping as best I could and using what I know about meditation to keep still."

Scherr had not gone on the trip and was in Florida when she got the call that her husband of 15 years and her daughter were in the hotel that was under attack.

"I was in shock, I think I dropped the phone and fell to the floor," said Scherr. "We created so many hopeful scenarios. We thought that they must be in their rooms or that perhaps they escaped, crawled out. We didn't know."

While the rest of America celebrates Thanksgiving, Scherr and Cannon will attend a memorial service for her husband and daughter Thursday. Scherr says that the forgiveness she has for the terrorists has helped her heal.

"Forgiveness allows me to go on and allow me to have peace within myself," she said.

As for Ragsdale, she plans on spending Thanksgiving with her family, but not in the home where her three children and husband first learned of the attacks in India.

"I will spend the day remembering the blessings of all the special people who are no longer here," said Ragsdale. "I will raise a glass –we already got champagne – to them.

"Of course there is a hole, but I'll fill that hole with love," she said.