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Mourners gather to remember slain U.S. diplomat Anne Smedinghoff

Friends mourners leaves wake for Anne Smedinghoff Tuesday April 16 2013. Andrew Nelles~Sun-Times

Friends and mourners leaves the wake for Anne Smedinghoff, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Andrew Nelles~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 18, 2013 6:52AM

There’s no doubt Anne Smedinghoff, a diplomat, was a courageous young woman who wanted to serve and help people.

But that young woman was once a little girl.

In the first grade, Smedinghoff and her classmates got to dress up as Hawaiian girls — bathing suits, grass skirts and leis — for a Christmas show, said Nancy Greco, Smedinghoff’s music teacher for several years at St. Luke School, the River Forest school the girl attended as a child.

“They were so excited,” Greco, 56, of Forest Park, said of the kids — they thought it was wild they could wear summer clothes in winter.

Greco was among the hundreds of mourners who gathered Tuesday to pay their respects to Smedinghoff, the U.S. diplomat from River Forest who was killed while delivering textbooks in southern Afghanistan on April 6. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn visited the funeral home to honor the 25-year-old woman.

The line into the Oak Park funeral home stretched out onto the sidewalk where white ribbons tied around trees lined the street. An American flag stood at half-staff.

Inside, dozens of pictures of a smiling Smedinghoff greeted friends, family and members of their parish. In some pictures Smedinghoff is all dressed up. In others she’s casual in jeans and a T-shirt. In apparently recent photos she appears to be wearing military safety gear.

Mourners crossed themselves before Smedinghoff’s open casket — draped with an American flag and surrounded by flower arrangements, including a wreath made of red roses, white daisies and small blue flowers sent from the embassy in Kabul.

The mood was heavyhearted. Mourners were acknowledging a “tragic event, but remembering a life well lived,” said the Rev. Dennis Woerter, director of campus ministry at Fenwick High School, Smedinghoff’s alma mater.

“She was always a lovely, quiet girl who was going to save the world,” said Theresa Madl, who had been a principal at St. Luke when Smedinghoff attended.

Madl, 58, of Evanston, said Smedinghoff was “a quiet leader” who had a “broader sense of the world.”

“She was such a soft-spoken person, but really a strong person,” said Colleen Horrigan, 53, of River Forest.

And she used that strength to follow her dream, mourners said.

“She was willing to put her life on the line,” said Bridget Erfort, 56, of River Forest.

As mourners trickled out, more and more lined up to go inside.

Members of the tight-knit west suburban communities hugged each other, greeted the funeral home workers by their first names and prepared to say goodbye to their homegrown hero.

The funeral is Wednesday at St. Luke Church in River Forest.

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