María Paz Criado spent her childhood and teen years living in France. She had wanted to study to be a teacher in France but was disqualified from doing so because she was not a French citizen, and instead moved to Madrid in search of a job. After thirty years working with Michelin, she was beginning to plan for her retirement. Her husband, Andrés, said that she always looked after the little details, like giving him a rose with his breakfast. She had a piece of paper with a list of tips for life, one of which was: “Smiling is serenity and serenity is an excellent habit”.
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.