UMass student studying abroad in Pune present during bombing of German Bakery

By Chris Shores

A bomb went off in a restaurant last month in Pune, India and University of Massachusetts sophomore Katie Mills was just a few miles away.

Mills, an individual concentration major focusing on international business, has been studying abroad this semester in India. She is living with a group of students at a hostel in the city, just miles from the German Bakery, the site of the bombing. Initial media reports, both in India and in international news outlets, suspected the incident was an act of terrorism.

“Our program contacted all of us through text message and said there was an incident,” said Mills in an interview conducted over e-mail. “At first they thought the cylinder in the kitchen went off, but they later learned … [a] bomb was placed there in a backpack under a group of students.”

“I could steadily feel the panic level rising,” she added. “We were so scared because the bomb had been in a western part of town called the German Bakery, and it was said to be intended for foreigners. In a city of close to 6 million, it’s safe to say it isn’t that diverse, and we are the largest group of Western students currently here.”

The German Bakery is a popular eating place for both locals and tourists. It is located near a Jewish Chabad house and Osho Ashram, which frequently attracts tourists. Because of this, media outlets suspected the bomb was targeting foreigners.

Initial reports announced eight dead and 30 injured. Those numbers have now risen to at least 16 confirmed dead and over 60 injured by the bomb.

“The past week has definitely felt somber [because] so many people had died, especially young students,” said Mills.

Among those who died were a group of Indian students who were seated at the table above the bomb. These students were schoolmates of one of the girls who Mills lives with, she said.

“This place is usually so vibrant and happy, but there has been a dark cloud looming over the city since the attack,” she said, “literally, as it rained [a week after the bombing] which is completely unheard of unless its monsoon season.”

Immediately following the incident, Mills called her family, friends and boyfriend. They were concerned about her safety, but Mills plans on staying in Pune unless another event occurs.

Leaders of various nations expressed swift reactions to the bomb. The Hindu newspaper reported that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a speedy investigation so that “the culprits responsible for this heinous act are identified and brought to justice at the earliest.”

The Hindu went on to report that United States Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer denounced the bombings.

“On behalf of the people of the United States, I extend heartfelt sympathy to the Government of India and the victims of this tragic terrorist blast in Pune,” said Roemer. “The US remains shoulder-to-shoulder with India in the fight against terror and will assist as needed to help bring the perpetrators of this cowardly act to justice.”

President Barack Obama called Singh to “condemn the blast that took place in Pune on Saturday and to condole the loss of lives,” according to The Hindu article, which also stated that, “the Obama administration has offered FBI help” in the investigation.

Media outlets also wondered if the incident would sour peace talks between India and Pakistan. Those talks ended last week when, according to the Telegraph, “India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said dialogue ‘holds tremendous potential’ but progress had been repeatedly ‘thwarted’ by acts of terrorism.”

Chris Shores can be reached at [email protected]