Chicago native killed in Taliban terrorist attack was always ‘trying to help people out’
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters January 18, 2014 4:14PM
Updated: February 20, 2014 6:54AM
A Chicago native who attended the Latin School of Chicago and Knox College was one of 21 people killed Friday in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan on Friday.
Lexie Kamerman, 27, was killed when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated explosives at the gate of a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul.
Kamerman worked in Kabul at the American University of Afghanistan, where she was a student development specialist.
Kamerman visited her family in Chicago over Christmas and New Year’s and had been back in Kabul for just a week at the time of the explosion, according to a friend, Sherrille Lamb.
Kamerman’s family described her as “an amazing young woman — smart, strong, beautiful, funny, stubborn and kind. And fearless.”
“She took the job at the American University of Afghanistan to help the young women of Afghanistan get an education and take their rightful place as leaders in Afghan society,” the family said in a written statement provided by Kamerman’s aunt, Julie Pfeffer. “Her death is a shock to us all, and we can’t imagine a moment going forward when she won’t be desperately missed.”
Kamerman had worked at the university in Kabul since June, according to the Collegiate Water Polo Association in Bridgeport, Penn., where Kamerman worked as director of membership services from 2008 to 2010 before leaving to get a master’s degree in higher education from the University of Arizona.
Kamerman was a 2004 graduate of the Latin School, which she attended for 14 years, according to Randall Dunn, Latin’s head of school, who called her “a talented student and athlete. She will be greatly missed by all those who knew and loved her in our community.”
At Knox, in downstate Galesburg, Kamerman majored in environmental studies and anthropology/sociology, according to the college, graduating in 2008. She swam for Knox and played water polo, earning all-conference honors in water polo in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority.
Before going to work for American University, Kamerman worked during the 2012-2013 school year at Elon University in Elon, N.C., where was an assistant director of residence life.
“She had many friends at Elon and was a very engaging and positive-minded professional who championed the ideals of inclusion and respect,” said Smith Jackson, Elon’s vice president for student life and dean of students.
Lamb met Kamerman in North Carolina when she worked at Elon, and they bonded over their love for Chicago.
“She grew up in Wrigleyville, and she loved that city,” Lamb said.
Lamb said Kamerman’s friends in North Carolina were worried when she decided to go to Afghanistan but knew she could make a difference there.
“She had been in Africa,” Lamb said, doing volunteer work. “She was all into public social service. That was her spirit, and I know that, in a sense, she felt a responsibility to help other people. She was a very strong-willed person. When she told me she was going to Afghanistan, I warned her that it could be dangerous. She just said, ‘I’m going to do it anyway.’ ”
“When she told us that this is what she was doing, we were all definitely concerned about her safety,” said Carmen Knight, 28, of Milwaukee, a friend who was a sorority sister of Kamerman’s at Knox. “She knew this had to be done and that she could do it. She kept reassuring us it was something she was meant to do.”
Ed Haas, director of communications for the Collegiate Water Polo Association, had been in touch with Kamerman in the fall.
“She wasn’t scared at all about going to Afghanistan and working there,” Haas said. “She wasn’t worried at all. She could deal with anything. She could go anywhere. She was great at coping and just dealing with stuff.
“She was excited about what she was going to do in Afghanistan and excited about making a difference in people’s lives,” Haas said. “She was exceptional. Her life got cut short, but I hope she impacted enough people’s lives in that short period of time.”
Haas said Kamerman loved to travel and had studied abroad in 2006 in Tanzania at the University of Dar es Salaam, studying human evolution, ecology and Kiswahili and conducting research on tourism.
He said she was out to dinner with one of the university’s political science teachers when the attack occurred. The New York Times reported that Alexandros Petersen, a U.S. citizen who recently joined the political science faculty at American University, also was killed.
“Such senseless violence flies in the face of the sentiments of our students and the Afghan people, who share our grief,” said C. Michael Smith, president of American University of Afghanistan
Kamerman first arrived in Afghanistan over the summer and had a three-year commitment with the university in Kabul, according to Knight and Haas.
“She loved the work she was doing there,” Knight said, but it took some getting used to for someone from the United States who was used to things like the apple-scented DKNY perfume she loved.
“it was definitely a culture shock,” Knight said. “She was living in a different world than she knew. But she was adjusting.”
Her goal in Afghanistan was to help inspire young women to continue their education, according to Lamb, who said Kamerman was a liaison between students and faculty.
“She was very hands-on at Elon, and she carried that with her in Kabul,” Lamb said. “Every time they need someone to be diplomatic, or they needed someone to relate to something, they always looked to her. People felt comfortable with her.”
Laura Coffman, a friend who was Kamerman’s water polo coach at Latin, said Kamerman was “enjoying and thriving in the work she was doing there. She truly believed to her core that women had a right to an education and that women had a right to be an active part of society.
“She wasn’t just one to have an opinion — she acted on it and lived it.”
In water polo and in life, Kamerman “just dove right into it and took the bumps and bruises as they came and just kept smiling,” said Coffman’s husband, Nat Coffman, a longtime family friend and former dean of students at Latin. “From when she was a little girl all the way to adulthood,” Coffman said, she was always “trying to help people out.”
During and after college, Kamerman was active in community service, according to Haas, who said she worked at a soup kitchen and an animal shelter and went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help with post-hurricane relief work.
Lamb said her friend’s work on social issues was remarkable for someone in her late 20s.
“It’s rare to see that in someone that young these days,” Lamb said. “A lot of people talk about what they’re going to do . . . The things she talked about, she actually did. And that just shows a wonderful sense of humility and just something that’s going to be so missed in this world.”
Nat Coffman said Kamerman would want the work she was doing to continue.
“I think she would want people to keep working for the right thing,” he said. “To make sure women have an education. To make sure people like the Taliban didn’t win.”
Knight echoed that.
“She would want other people to continue the work and just make the world a better place,” she said.
“She’s going to be extremely missed. But she deeply touched the lives of so many people, and she has inspired us to be better people and to be global citizens and really push ourselves to do something.”