Image: A resident of Mumbai
David Guttenfelder  /  AP
A resident of Mumbai on Sunday attends a candle light ceremony and a protest after attacks on the city killed more than 174.
updated 11/30/2008 3:55:43 PM ET 2008-11-30T20:55:43

After the gunmen left, a waiter whispered, "If you can move, follow me."

So Michael Rudder, Helen Connolly, Andy Baragon and Linda Ronsdale crawled, bleeding, through the kitchen of a restaurant at the luxury Oberoi hotel.

The four had traveled to India on a spiritual pilgrimage with their Nellysford, Virginia-based meditation group but got caught up in a series of attacks on Mumbai that lasted nearly three days and left at least 174 dead.

In the same hotel, Charles Cannon, the group's spiritual leader, spent the first night curled on his bed with two of his employees.

Cannon barricaded himself into his hotel room with his two personal assistants from Synchronicity Foundation, stacking furniture against the door.

The three listened to grenade explosions and heavy gunfire outside, "not knowing if in the next moment the door would be blown away and your life would be ended," said Cannon.

They watched as the battery power slowly drained from their only cell phone, the charger stuck in another room. Still, they traded a flurry of text messages with people outside the hotel, the reassurances of an imminent rescue alternating with fresh volleys of gunfire.

Room filled with smoke
At one point, a fire broke out in the hallway, and the room filled with smoke.

"We covered our faces with wet towels so we could breathe, but it just got thicker and thicker," Cannon said.

They broke a window and huddled atop the broken glass, sucking in the fresh air.

"By the time the smoke cleared from the room, we were black, covered with soot and smoke," he said.

They curled up in bed together.

"We just wanted to be close," Cannon recalled. "We stayed there and tried to be as meditative as we could be."

Then the water and electricity went off.

Cannon and his employees rationed drinking water and picked their way slowly through minibar snacks, but by the morning of the second day, they lay in bed, drifting and disoriented.

On Saturday afternoon — nearly 60 hours after the attacks began — there was a knock at the door: 10 Indian commandos were waiting in the hall.

'Like a war zone'
They escorted Cannon and his colleagues down the stairs, through the flooded and charred hotel.

"The place was like a war zone," Cannon said. "There was blood everywhere."

He made his way to Tiffin restaurant, where a week earlier Mumbai's top businessmen had shared power lunches, and picked his way around more than a dozen dead bodies.

Finally, he found who he was looking for: Alan Scherr, 58, of Faber, Virginia, and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi.

"They were lying under the table with their arms outstretched and overlapping and their heads together," he said.

The Scherrs were two of at least six American killed in the siege against the city.

Of those who survived, Rudder of Montreal was shot three times, and Connolly of Toronto was grazed by a bullet. Baragon and Ronsdale, both from Nashville, Tennessee, were shot and are hospitalized in stable condition.

Cannon, however, said he plans to return to India, though it's too early to say whether he will organize another group retreat.

"We choose life, and we forgive," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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