Kent State student misses India terrorist attacks by minutes

Cody Francis

‘Trip of a lifetime’ takes unexpected tragic turn

When senior photo illustration major Melanie Hill was leaving for India on Nov. 21, she told her parents they could relax because she was staying at a 5-star hotel.

Little did Hill know that four days later, the hotel she was staying at would be on alert for terrorist attacks.

Hill, an Erie, Pa., native, went to India for a wedding of one of her friends from home. She and three friends flew to India and intended on staying in the country until Nov. 30.

“For me it was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime,” Hill said. “Being a photo-illustration major, I always wanted the opportunity to go there and take pictures.”

Hill thought she would get the opportunity to take pictures on the famous Colaba Street in Mumbai on the night of Nov. 26 (the day of the terrorist attacks). She and her friends were shopping on the street, but it was too dark for Hill to take any pictures.

“My friend said we could come back tomorrow and take pictures. We had no idea what was about to happen,” Hill said.

She said they decided to call it quits on shopping early to go for some pre-dinner drinks. When they got to the bar, they could not get in because Hill and another friend forgot their IDs. They then left the area to go to dinner a little earlier than expected. Just a short time later, the attacks started on the streets of Mumbai.

If she and her friends were able to get into the bar, they would have been right in the middle of the terrorist attacks.

“It was pure luck that we both forgot our IDs,” she said. “We literally missed the attacks by minutes. Even sticking around and going to just one more vendor would have been bad.”

Hill said a friend’s mom, who was dining with the group, was informed of the attacks at dinner.

“I heard they were just out shooting aimlessly in the streets,” she said. “Being American, seeing our white skin, they definitely would have targeted us.”

They immediately left and went back to her friend’s mother’s house where they spent the night and the next day. That night, she said they heard a blast outside the house.

“We didn’t know exactly what was happening, and that was the most terrifying part,” Hill said. “I didn’t sleep at all that night. We didn’t know where they were going to hit next.”

She said all they knew was they were attacking 5-star hotels and high-end establishments. She thought back to what she told her parents when she left.

“I told them I would be staying in a 5-star hotel, but they didn’t know which one,” Hill said.

Hill’s hotel was not one of those attacked. She said she maintained contact with her parents throughout the incident to make sure they knew she was fine.

The night after the attacks started, Hill and her friends decided to go back to their hotel to get their belongings. The scene in the street was somber.

“Normally the streets are just packed with people and cars,” Hill said. “When we were on our way back, they were completely empty. It was just terrifying.”

When they arrived at their hotel, police surrounded the area. She said they all felt safe enough to stay at the hotel for the remainder of their trip. However a day or two before they left, another warning was raised for 5-star hotels.

After all she and her friends went through, Hill still felt the most for the citizens of Mumbai.

“These terrorists had no mercy, they shot at anyone and anything they saw,” she said. “The people there were so nice and welcoming, it’s a shame it had to happen to them.”

She said all her and her friends can talk about now is how lucky they were. The trip is not what she was expecting, but she did get a story she will tell for years.

“I expected to come back with thousands of pictures and tons of stories about India, but now I have one hell of a story to tell,” Hill said.

Contact room and board reporter Cody Francis at [email protected].