As a woman who had traveled to India to further her spirituality, and instead found herself locked inside a hotel under terrorist siege, Peggi Sturm is returning to her West LA home with conflicted emotions. Her gratitude for her rescue is tempered by sadness.
Sturm and other adherents of the meditation group known as Synchronicity were staying in Mumbai's Oberoi Hotel when it came under siege during the wave of coordinated terror attacks Wednesday night. She survived with her roommate behind the locked and bolted door of their 15th floor room, breathing the smoke-filled air through dampened towels, and using her iPhone to text message and email for information.
"You'd hear machine gun fire and bombs going off," Sturm said. Because their room was located next to the hotel's central atrium that echoed sound, they were never sure where the violence was occuring, whether it was on the ground floor, the 19th floor (where they later learned some hostages had been taken), or in the hallway outside their room. "We prayed and meditated." Sturm paused, then added: "all silently, of course."
Sturm spoke to NBC Los Angeles by telephone hours after her Friday rescue. "Some people had it worse than us. We were terrified, but relatively safe."
Sturm had chosen the Synchronicity retreat to Mumbai to celebrate her 64th birthday. Other members of the group were still in the Oberoi's restaurant at 10pm Wednesday when the militant terrorists burst in, guns blazing, killing Alan Scherr, 57, and his daughter Naomi, 13. Sturm had just left the restaurant and was walking to the business center to use a computer when she heard the gunfire. A companion yelled for them to get to the elevator, and on reaching the 15th floor, she ran to her room, where she and her roommate could only wait out the ordeal.
For most of the next two days, the phone in the room was not working. But then Friday afternoon it rang. Sturm learned from hotel staff that Indian commandos had subdued the terrorists and were going room to room to rescue the hotel guests. Sturm recalled being taken aback when she looked through the peephole and saw three men all in black with machine guns and their faces covered. "They said, 'relax!'" It was the commandos, who gathered the shaken guests together, and walked them down the 15 flights of stairs. Leaving the hotel, they had to go through the restaurant, where Sturm recoiled in horror. There were still bodies on the ground.
Through it all, Sturm said, she remained grateful to the Indian people who showed her kindness both before and after the ordeal. "They were there for us," she said, adding that she felt their sadness over what had befallen their city and their nation. "There's still this wonderful feeling of the love of the people of India...nothing can take that away."
After her rescue, authorities found accommodations for Sturm in another hotel. She was expecting to fly home Sunday night. And though eager to visit with friends, before then Sturm figured she needs a day in seclusion and meditation.