By Anna Lothson
Anne Smedinghoff was killed trying to do what she loved — helping others.
Just 25 years old, the River Forest native and U.S. diplomat in southern Afghanistan had her dreams cut short Saturday when her group's vehicle was struck by a bomb while traveling to deliver books to a local school.
Smedinghoff, a U.S. Foreign Service officer serving in Zabul Province, was among five Americans killed in a roadside bomb that the U.S. State Department described as a Taliban attack.
The remains of the young diplomat arrived back in the U.S. Monday. A special ceremony was held at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, according to multiple media reports. The service was private and the family was expected to be in attendance.
According to her parents, Tom and Mary Beth, Anne was a person who embraced life and worked for others.
"The world lost a truly beautiful soul today," her parents said in a written statement. They said the diplomatic profession was a perfect fit for their daughter and she loved what she did.
"Working as a public diplomacy officer, she particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people and was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help to make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war," the statement read. "We are consoled knowing that she was doing what she loved, and that she was serving her country by helping to make a positive difference in the world. She was such a wonderful woman — strong, intelligent, independent, and loving. Annie, you left us too soon; we love you and we're going to miss you so much."
Smedinghoff was a 2005 Fenwick High School graduate who went on to study at Johns Hopkins University before joining the Foreign Service right out of college. Afghanistan was her second assignment; her first was in Caracas, Venezuela.
Richard Borsch, associate principal for student services at Fenwick, took time Monday to look back at a recommendation letter to Johns Hopkins. The letter referenced her desire to engage in public service at a young age.
"She wound up doing that, not only in high school but in her life," Borsch said. "She was an exceptional young woman."
He said Smedinghoff was a wonderful student who graduated with honors while being involved in many activities, including service clubs and the International Relations Club. She even took time last year to come back to her old stomping grounds to speak to students in classes and clubs about careers in public service.
In the parents' most recent conversation with their daughter, on Easter Sunday, Mary Beth said they spoke about their daughter's interaction with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whom Smedinghoff assisted during his recent visit to the country.
In a State Department news release, Kerry offered his condolences on Smedinghoff's death. He called the family Saturday morning to inform them of the news.
"Our State Department family is grieving over the loss of one of our own, an exceptional young Foreign Service officer, killed today in an IED attack in Zabul Province, along with service members, a Department of Defense civilian and Afghan civilians," Kerry wrote in the release. "Just last week in Kabul, I met our fallen officer when she was selected to support me during my visit to Afghanistan. She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future."
Kerry also spoke over the weekend about the tragedy.
"A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of students she had never met but whom she felt compelled to help," Kerry said, according to a State Department transcript of his remarks. "She was met by cowardly terrorists determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers."
Outside Smedinghoff's River Forest home and throughout the neighborhood, there are American flags and white ribbons tied to trees to honor her service and life. Grace Episcopal Church of Oak Park has also organized people via Facebook to remind them to place white ribbons to honor her and all killed in acts of violence.