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Canadian Helen Connolly, 49, and American Naomi Scherr, 13, are seen here during a 2008 meditation retreat to Mumbai. Terrorist gunmen attacked the Oberoi Hotel where they were staying. Ms. Connolly survived the onslaught but the teenager was killed.
Canadian Helen Connolly, 49, and American Naomi Scherr, 13, are seen here during a 2008 meditation retreat to Mumbai. Terrorist gunmen attacked the Oberoi Hotel where they were staying. Ms. Connolly survived the onslaught but the teenager was killed.

Eyewitness: As trial begins, Canadian recalls surviving 2008 Mumbai massacre Add to ...

Prosecutors in Chicago are presenting opening arguments on Monday in the trial of Tahawwur Rana, a Canadian citizen accused of helping plan the 2008 Mumbai Massacre.

The 10 gunmen who participated in the horrific attack had been directed to seek out Westerners to shoot.

Their bullets grazed Helen Connolly of Markham, Ont., a yoga teacher who survived by hiding under a table. Two of her American travelling companions - Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi - were slain right beside her.

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In an interview with The Globe and Mail on the eve of the Rana trial, Ms. Connolly vividly recalls the shootings at the Oberoi Hotel.

I went on a meditation retreat. I was about to turn 50. It was a gift from my husband, to celebrate life.

The Oberoi Hotel was like an oasis in the city: Afternoon tea in the lounge, pinstriped butlers, sari-clad female staff, polished granite, polished brass. On every floor they had aromatic oil, with a candle burning underneath. Mumbai was as chaotic as the Oberoi was peaceful.

Colin Freeze

Alan and Naomi Scherr were my closest companions. I knew her from when she was about seven.

We walked back from the meditation hall that night. It was very warm. We ordered ginger-lime drinks. Naomi ordered sushi. That's why we went - Naomi said she loved sushi.

We heard a loud crash. It sounded to me like somebody dropped a silver platter of crystal or maybe a chandelier fell down.

Alan turned his head to look over my shoulder. He just yelled for all of us to get under the table. As we dived under, Alan took hold of my hand with one hand, and Naomi's with the other.

I went into a yoga pose, child's pose - buttocks on your heels, your head down and your arms beside your body, palms up. It's a very compact pose. The stiller I was, the more I would appear dead. If I moved, there was a greater chance I'd be shot.

I never saw the terrorist. He had made his way around the restaurant. We heard him shoot up all the other tables before he got to ours.

I could sense he was basically standing in front of my head. I got the image of a teenager, a young man trying to earn a perfect score at a video game.

I heard each person as they were shot. Except Alan - Alan never made a sound.

Alan was instant because they shot him through the back of the head.

I got grazed by a bullet in my thigh.

Afterward, when there was a pause. One of the hotel staff called out that, if anybody could move, to come this way.

I lifted my head. I saw that Alan and Naomi were still. I shook Naomi's arm. She was lifeless; it just flopped. She was partly covered by other people.

How come them and not me? Why didn't I go instead of Naomi?

Then the shooting started up again. Then the hotel staff, who had broken down a fire door, came in and got [the survivors]

I got into a taxi with the hotel staff and we all went to Bombay hospital. Everyone was taken into a triage room. We had no idea what was going on. I could see they were bringing more and more people in. …

The Oberoi hotel staff stayed with us overnight. A bunch of reception staff came and checked on everybody and prayed for us. They were wonderful.

Initially I had a little PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] If a door slammed, I would jump. I used to want to sit with my back to a wall.

People act from the level of awareness they are experiencing in the moment. I have my level of awareness. If I was to revert to their level because of what they did to me, that would be a very backwards step.

People choose their thoughts based on their enculturation. If I had their enculturation, what would my thoughts be?

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Follow on Twitter: @colinfreeze

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