RIVER FOREST, Ill. (AP) – Family and friends of a young American diplomat killed while delivering textbooks to a school in southern Afghanistan remembered her Wednesday as a brave, selfless woman who did not let fear stop her from trying to make a difference in faraway places.
A funeral service for Anne Smedinghoff drew hundreds of people to a church in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, where she grew up.
Mourners lit small candles as they sat in the pews and some held white roses. They watched as pall bearers removed the U.S. flag draping her wooden coffin. For many blocks surrounding the church, white ribbons were tied around trees and lampposts.
The 25-year-old a foreign service officer was killed April 6 in southern Afghanistan along with four other Americans and an Afghan doctor while they were walking from a military base to a nearby school. Two explosions occurred, apparently a suicide car bombing followed by a roadside blast.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we gather here today,” said the Rev. Kenneth Fischer, speaking to the mourners as the funeral began. “We are all heartbroken with you.”
He called Smedinghoff a “bright, talented, generous young woman. … Only 25 years old, she had so much more to give.”
Speaking before the service at the church, attached to the Catholic school that Smedinghoff attended as a child, family friend Kevin Udrow talked about the tough assignment she signed up for in Afghanistan.
“Some people do not fear situations like that, feeling that they can make it a better place,” Udrow said. “She just thought that she could correct some of the evils in the world.”
Since her death, co-workers, family and former teachers have remembered her as an adventuresome traveler who volunteered for the toughest assignments because places like Paris and London, she once told her father, would be so boring.
She joined the U.S. Foreign Service straight out of college. Her first assignment for the foreign service was in Caracas, Venezuela, and she volunteered for the Afghanistan assignment after that.
While in Afghanistan, one of Smedinghoff’s favorite projects was working with the Afghan women’s soccer team and helping it gain greater acceptance inside the deeply conservative country. To ensure she would better interact with the Afghan players, Smedinghoff even practiced her own soccer skills on her days off.
Smedinghoff, the daughter of an attorney and the second of four children, grew up in River Forest, an upscale suburb about 10 miles west of Chicago.
She went to Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in international studies and became a key organizer of the university’s annual Foreign Affairs Symposium in 2008. The event draws high-profile speakers from around the world.
At a memorial last week at Fenwick High School, Smedinghoff’s former Spanish teacher, Irene Drago, said the woman had a gift for foreign languages and a quiet intelligence.
Drago said teachers are supposed to inspire their students, but sometimes students like Smedinghoff come along and inspire their teachers.
Smedinghoff continued to visit the school, most recently a few months ago.
Secretary of State John Kerry stopped in Chicago on Monday to visit Smedinghoff’s parents. Kerry praised Smedinghoff as being “full of idealism and full of hopes” in taking books to school children.
Smedinghoff had assisted Kerry during a visit to Afghanistan two weeks before she died.
The April 6 attack also killed three U.S. service members, a U.S. civilian Defense Department worker and an Afghan doctor.
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