In an isolated spiritual community in Virginia, 13-year-old Naomi Scherr was an especially adventurous kid, dyeing her hair purple, then shades of blue and teal. She adored the music of rockers Linkin Park and My Chemical Romance and usually had headphones on.
"She loved being a teenager," her mother, Kia Scherr, said Tuesday, nearly a week after her daughter and husband were killed in attacks at a hotel in Mumbai, India. "She was fascinated with all the different ways she could look as a teenager."
Naomi shared her father's interest in cooking, and some nights would feed more than a dozen people at the Synchronicity Foundation, a meditation community in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even as she was applying to a private school in New York, she followed her father, Alan, on a spiritual pilgrimage to India.
Pair gunned down in restaurant
The two were gunned down in a restaurant of the Oberoi Hotel, later identified by their spiritual leader, Master Charles Cannon, amid pools of blood and shattered glass.
"They were on the ground, facing each other, arms outstretched," said Cannon, who founded the community in 1983.
The Scherrs were among at least six Americans killed in the attacks. Four members of Synchronicity also were injured — two Tennessee women and a man and woman from Canada.
In Delaware, two businessmen recounted Tuesday how they survived the attack on the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai. Rich Diffenderffer and his business partner, Dennis O'Brien, said they had just finished dinner when men stormed the building with machine guns and grenades.
"If we had dessert, we would have been dead," O'Brien said.
On the way to his fifth-floor room, Diffenderffer looked down into the atrium.
"There's a guy running along shooting people," he said. "It's like a James Bond movie, but it's really happening."
At one point, Diffenderffer called his son, who told him not to leave the room.
"I went to the mini-bar and had a triple," he said. "I mean, what else are you going to do?"
Rescued by firefighters
Both were rescued by firefighters who used ladders to reach their rooms.
At the meditation community, Kia Scherr and Cannon spoke without anger toward the gunmen, and instead remembered an extraordinary bond in a community that has drawn on its quiet contemplative lifestyle to weather a horrific experience.
"We choose to love, we choose compassion," Cannon said.
Kia Scherr said, "As Jesus said, they know not what they do. We must show that love is possible and that love overpowers fear. So that's my choice."
Kia and Alan Scherr were drawn to the retreat nearly 11 years ago by a shared lifelong spiritual quest. He had taught photo classes in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and she was his student.
When Cannon organized Synchronicity's first group trip to India, he invited Naomi on her first trip abroad. Kia Scherr remained at the retreat to help run a community that includes a monastery with a dozen monks and simple homes.
'Having the times of their lives'
About 25 people on the group trip visited shrines and attended classes on Cannon's musically influenced approach to meditation. Naomi got her nose pierced during the trip.
Kia Scherr last spoke to Naomi the Sunday before the shootings. She had scored extraordinarily well on application tests to the Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y.
"She was blown away by that," Kia Scherr said of her daughter, who had been home-schooled. "All she could say was, 'Oh, my God.' "
She spoke to her husband the next day. "The sights, the sounds, the colors — everything. They were having the times of their lives," she said.
Cannon said he emerged from his hotel room 45 hours after the siege began, and identified the two followers' bodies, calling it one of the most challenging things he has ever had to do.
Kia Scherr went to Florida to be with relatives and her two sons. One night, she said, they looked into the dark sky and saw two stars. Her sister said they were Alan and Naomi.
"I said, 'Yes, two bright lights and their lights will shine forever,'" she said.