Anne Smedinghoff wanted to help the people of Afghanistan, those who knew her say. The 25-year-old Johns Hopkins University graduate was attempting to deliver textbooks to school children there when she and four other Americans were killed in a car bomb blast Saturday.
She was "always trying to get out and do things for the population," her father, Tom Smedinghoff, said from his home in Illinois. "She really felt she was making a difference. ... She was doing what she loved and she was doing great things."
Smedinghoff, who worked in the public diplomacy section of the State Department, was killed along with three U.S. soldiers and a civilian employee of the Defense Department, according to U.S. authorities. She is believed to be the first U.S. diplomat killed in Afghanistan since the war began.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who recalled meeting Smedinghoff two weeks ago, said the group was in a convoy of vehicles in Zabul province when the blast occurred. A sixth American was killed in a separate attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday.
Smedinghoff graduated in 2009 from Hopkins with a degree in international studies. Tom Smedinghoff said his daughter went into the foreign service right after graduation. Her first post was in Venezuela, and from there she volunteered to go to Afghanistan, where she'd been since last July.
In a statement, Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels praised her work in Afghanistan.
"What work could possibly be more important?" Daniels wrote. "What more could we possibly ask of a Johns Hopkins graduate than to risk everything to help those who have next to nothing?"
Hopkins officials said Smedinghoff was involved with several sororities while in college, and she helped organize a foreign affairs symposium in 2008. Daniels noted that she was elected to the Order of Omega, a national leadership honor society.
Chris Louie, a friend of Smedinghoff's since college and a Hopkins trustee, said her passion for helping others inspired him to do the same.
"I've never met anyone else who was so intelligent, driven and fun to be around, all at the same time," said Louie, 26. In 2009 the two were part of a large group that participated in 4K for Cancer, a cross-country biking fundraiser organized by Hopkins students and alumni.
Just weeks ago, Louie said, he met up with Smedinghoff in Jordan for another bike ride from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. Smedinghoff got caught in a sandstorm in that ride, he said, but instead of being upset or angry when the group picked her up, she was laughing.
"She was just one of those people that never complained," he said.
In remarks in front of an audience of consulate employees Sunday at the Consulate General in Istanbul, Kerry recalled her as "vivacious, smart, capable."
He called Smedinghoff a "selfless, idealistic young woman" who was "met by cowardly terrorists determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers."
Tom Smedinghoff said his daughter met Kerry during the secretary's recent trip to Afghanistan; she was one of the people who was helping to coordinate his visit.
"He spoke glowingly of the work she's been doing," he said of Kerry's comments about his daughter. "He spoke very highly of her. It was very good to hear."
Among other things, she was working for equality for women.
Smedinghoff's father said he only knew a few details of the last moments of her life.
"She was in a convoy. … Somebody with a car or a truck laden with explosives rammed into her vehicle or somebody close and detonated and killed everybody," he said.
Anne Smedinghoff grew up in River Forest in Cook County, Ill., and had one brother and two younger sisters, her father said. Growing up, she was always a "very self confident and very intelligent young woman."
She came home for a Christmas holiday visit, and her father said he last spoke with her on Easter Sunday. "She sounded so upbeat and so positive and so excited about all the work she'd been doing," he said.
The last time a U.S. diplomat was killed in the line of duty was Sept. 11, when Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others were killed in an attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Zachary Turner of Florida, who also participated in the 2009 cross-country bike ride, said he was "utterly devastated" when he learned of his friend's death.
"She was always trying to help people any way she could," Turner said. "She'd always want to help the person next to her. You know that this was always a risk but you never really expect it to happen.
"The thing about her that was completely unforgettable was her smile," Turner said. "We had a scavenger hunt to find a picture of her not smiling. No joke, I have about 100 photos and she's smiling in all of them."
Turner recalled some of the problems the group encountered as it traveled thousands of miles: In Colorado, they were met by day after day of hailstorms.
"We just all huddled under this tiny little shelter, waiting for it to end," Turner said, chuckling. "Still, she was so positive and helped us get through it."
Chicago Tribune reporters Rosemary Regina Sobol and Dawn Rhodes contributed to this story.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun