María Fernández was in her fifth year of a degree in Industrial Engineering and hoped to study in Paris for a year on an Erasmus exchange. She loved all things French and had already started planning for her time there, asking her teachers for letters of recommendation. On the night of 10 March, she wrote several emails to her friends proposing that they meet up to celebrate the 17th, which was the day of the patron saint of their university. She also wrote another message to her best friend, Maria, suggesting that they should take a couple of hours off the next day (11 March) to have some pancakes and cream — her favourite dessert.
11 March 2004 fell on a Thursday. Early that morning, a number of terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda planted thirteen bombs on four suburban trains covering routes running through Madrid. Ten of the bombs exploded between 7.37 and 7.39 am, when the trains were at Atocha, El Pozo and Santa Eugenia stations and alongside Calle Téllez. 191 people were killed in the attack and around 1,500 were wounded. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Spanish history. On 3 April 2004, agents from the Special Operations Group (GEO) were about to enter an apartment in Leganés where the perpetrators of the attacks were believed to be hiding when the terrorists detonated twenty kilograms of explosives in an act of collective suicide. The ensuing blast killed one of the officers, bringing the total number of people killed by the 11 March bombers to 192.