4 Years On, Injuries Plague Young Victims of Indonesian Church Attack

Balikpapan, Indonesia
id-children1000 Trinity Hutahean works on her lessons as her mother Sarina Gultom helps her at their home in Samarinda, Indonesia, Oct. 11, 2020.

Trinity Hutahean enjoys going to Sunday service although she limps because of burns and other injuries she sustained in a terrorist attack at her church in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province four years ago.

She was 3 years old when she was wounded by a blast from a Molotov cocktail during an attack by an Islamic State (IS) sympathizer outside the Samarinda Ecumenical Church. As a result, some of her limbs have not been able to develop properly.

“She walks haltingly, but she never gives up and keeps on walking, even though she falls sometimes,” Sarina Gultom says of her daughter who is now 7 years old.

Despite that, “going to church is fun for her.”

Sarina spends all her time looking after Trinity.

“I advise Trinity to compensate for her physical injuries by exceling academically,” Sarina said.

“My own feelings don’t matter, now is the time to give 100 percent to Trinity.”

Trinity was among the children playing outside the church on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, when Juhanda, a member of IS-affiliated Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) militant group, tossed a fire bomb at the building.

Four children, including Trinity, were seriously injured. One toddler, 2½-year-old Intan Olivia Banjarnahor died from severe burns a day after the attacks.

The other victims were Alvaro Aurelius Tristan Sinaga, who was then 4 years old, and Anita Kristobel, who was 2.

In September 2017, Juhanda, or Jo bin Muhammad Aceng Kurnia, was sentenced to life in prison.

During his sentencing, Surung Simanjuntak, presiding judge of the East Jakarta District Court, emphasized the defendant’s lack of remorse.

“The defendant deliberately attacked the church, although he knew there were many children in the churchyard,” the judge said.

Medical expenses

Trinity spent three months in intensive care after the attacks, but there was no improvement in her condition.

Her parents decided to fly her to China to look for more advanced treatment. Doctors there recommended skin grafting.

“Doctors put a balloon on Trinity’s back to grow skin tissue. This skin tissue was then grafted over the surface of the burn,” Trinity’s mother Sarina said.

The family has since made several trips to China.

“I had to take my child to get better medical treatment,” Sarina said.

The fingers on Trinity’s left hand are more flexible and the appearance of her skin tissue has improved, Sarina said.

The partial recovery didn’t come cheap.

“I spent 2 billion rupiah (U.S. $135,000) for medical treatment in China,” Sarina said.

The family is prepared to spend more.

“It’s going to cost a lot more money as she grows up,” Trinity’s mother said.

Victim Alvaro suffered burns to his head, hands and right thigh, said his mother, Martina Piur Novita Tagala.

Like Trinity, he, too, was healing slowly even months after the attack.

Novita decided to take him to Kuala Lumpur for treatment.

“Doctors put balloons inside his scalp to accelerate the growth of the skin,” Novita said.

Alvaro spent six months in a hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

Since then, Novita regularly takes Alvaro to consult with a psychologist because the attack affected his mental health.

“Alvaro lacks self-confidence. He has experienced bullying at school. He is afraid when he sees fire and hears loud noise. Slowly the fear can be eliminated,” Novita said.

“As a mother, it hurts me deeply. But I have to be strong, so that Alvaro can be strong too.”

Novita has spent 1 billion rupiah ($67,000) in medical expenses for her son.

Alvaro is slowly returning to his old cheerful self and enjoys playing the drums.

Alvaro plays the drums at his home in Samarinda, Oct. 11, 2020.
Alvaro plays the drums at his home in Samarinda, Oct. 11, 2020.


In 2017, a court ordered the government to compensate the victims’ families – the first time terror attack victims were compensated. It ruled they would receive 237 million rupiah ($16,000) as compensation to be split among seven victims.

The judge said the amount of compensation was decided after assessing that the calculation of losses to the families. The award was much less than the prosecutor’s request of 1.4 billion rupiah (U.S. $95,000).

And Sarina and Novita have spent far more than the government compensation.

The Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK), a government agency that distributed the compensation, acknowledged to BenarNews that some of the victims’ families have a lifetime of medical expenses ahead of them.

“We understand that the majority of terrorism victims must receive serious treatment, some of them have to be treated for life,” Edwin Partogi Pasaribu, LPSK deputy chairman, told BenarNews.

Still, the amount of compensation for terrorism survivors is decided by the courts, said Brig. Gen. Herwan Chaidir, director of protection at the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).

“Judges determine the amount of medical aid and it is not necessarily what the victims want,” Herwan told BenarNews.

“The government is providing assistance in accordance with its capacity. We certainly cannot help all the victims, all the time. We always make it clear to them.”

LPSK’s Edwin said the East Kalimantan provincial government should have played a greater role in assisting the victims’ families.

“[Local government involvement] is provided for in the LPSK law. It’s only a matter of commitment,” he said.

LPSK has invited state institutions – government ministries, state-owned enterprises and local governments – to contribute funds the medical treatment of the victims.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.