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Suburban congregation celebrates life of men killed in Afghan attack

John Gabel (from left) his mother his father Gary Gabel Kabul University Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Mohammad Hadi Hedayati

John Gabel (from left), his mother, his father, Gary Gabel, and Kabul University Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Mohammad Hadi Hedayati are shown in his Kabul office earlier this month. | Facebook photo provided by Mohammad Hadi Hedayati

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Updated: May 29, 2014 6:30AM

Family and friends of two men with Chicago ties — a father and son — killed last week in Afghanistan packed the pews in remembrance Sunday morning at Orchard Evangelical Church in Arlington Heights.

They were among 400 people who attended the 9:30 a.m. regular Sunday service, at which Pastor Colin Smith focused on the faith and values of the slain men.

“They were willing to put themselves at a higher risk because of their faith,” Smith said during the service.

John Gabel, a guest lecturer at Kabul University, and his father, Gary Gabel, of Palatine, were killed Thursday when an Afghan government security guard opened fire on a group of Americans at Cure International Hospital in Kabul.

Dr. Jerry Umanos, of Chicago, also was killed in the attack.

Smith described the Gabel family as “devout” Christians who had been members of the church for decades. Gary Gabel had belonged to the church choir, he said.

John Gabel, 32, was a “computer genius with a perfect mind” and had opted to forgo the chance to make millions of dollars in favor of helping others, Smith said.

John Gabel’s wife, Teresa, was injured in the attack. They lived in Afghanistan with their young daughter Laila.

At least six people whom Smith identified as Gabel family members were in attendance Sunday. They were ushered out together as churchgoers prayed.

In a phone interview, Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes told the Chicago Sun-Times that he has known the Gabels since 1983 and they were “very active” within the church.

He said Gary Gabel was involved in church youth groups and leadership teams and would sometimes sing onstage with his daughter during Sunday service.

Hayes coached John Gabel in the church’s basketball league and invited him and Teresa to speak with his Sunday school class last year about Afghanistan.

“They had very strong faith and were living out that faith through John’s service in Afghanistan,” he said.

Seattle resident Beth Anderson met John Gabel at the University of Illinois in the early 2000s. They lived in the same building, and Anderson’s husband, Carl, took computer science classes with Gabel.

“He always had an encouragement for everyone, and had a great sense of humor,” she wrote in an email. “We laughed a lot. That’s what I remember most about him.”

She said John Gabel was “greatly affected” by the Sept. 11 attacks and war in Afghanistan, and “kept caring long after it seemed the rest of us lost touch with what was going on there.”

The couples went to dinner before John and Teresa left for Afghanistan, and they sent letters back and forth.

“He was the kind of person you could just pick right up where you left off,” she wrote. “John would be there to talk to or listen to my stupid jokes or have really deep conversations with about anything that was on your mind.”

The younger Gabel taught in the information technology department at Kabul University, Mohammad Hadi Hedayati, the university’s vice chancellor for administrative affairs, wrote in an email on Friday. John Gabel also helped manage the Kabul University Health Clinic, Hedayati said.

Gabel family members were guests of Umanos, who worked at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul, according to a Cure International spokesman. Umanos once worked as a pediatrician in Chicago’s Lawndale Christian Health Center on the West Side.

The attacker served in the Afghan Public Protection Force and was assigned to guard the hospital, officials said. His motive wasn’t clear.

The U.S. State Department said a statement: “We condemn in the strongest terms this abhorrent attack, which targeted humanitarian workers who were helping improve the lives of Afghans through the provision of medical assistance.”

Contributing: Maureen O’Donnell, Becky Schlikerman, AP

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