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Family, friends mourn Anne Smedinghoff, diplomat killed in Afghanistan

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Updated: May 9, 2013 6:33AM

She rode her bicycle from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

She was once photographed with a boa constrictor around her neck in South America.

And she was planning a vacation in Italy.

But Anne Smedinghoff’s globetrotting adventures ended tragically Saturday when the 25-year-old U.S. diplomat from west suburban River Forest was killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

Smedinghoff — one of six Americans killed Saturday — was the first U.S. diplomat slain in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

“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,” said her parents, Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff.

On Sunday, the street where her parents live was lined with small flags as neighbors mourned her.

“This is a horrendous situation,” said Dr. Anabal Pepper, a neighbor who served in the Vietnam war. “We are so proud, but also very sad.”

Smedinghoff, who had a brother and two sisters, attended Fenwick High School in Oak Park and joined the foreign service after earning a degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Her first assignment was in Venezuela. Then she volunteered for the assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, and started working there in July.

She took the foreign service exam because a friend did, said Rita Carter, an aunt.

“It was serendipity,” she said.

Smedinghoff didn’t dwell on the risks of her most recent foreign posting.

“I think living in Afghanistan is dangerous 24/7,” Carter said. “Anne downplayed it because this was how she was going to save the world.”

“I used to tease her about getting her to know all the Marines that guard the embassy,” Carter said. “She laughed at me. She sent me a picture in the fall of her and several Marines in flak jackets and said, ‘See, Aunt Rita. They are taking care of me.’ ”

Smedinghoff was on the track team in high school and enjoyed running, cycling and hiking, her aunt said. After college, she rode a bicycle from Baltimore to San Francisco to raise money for cancer research. She also cycled across Australia.

“She rode her bike from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea recently,” Carter added. “She didn’t do anything halfway.”

Paul Smedinghoff, an uncle, said his family loved hearing her tales from around the world.

“I mean there are pictures of her with boa constrictors around her neck in South America,” he said.

“She was here for Christmas... She was always smiling, and it was just like, ‘Anne, where are you going next? What are you going to do? Where are you going to be? Where’s the world taking you?’ She was supposed to go to Italy in next couple of weeks. She had arranged a trip with one of her friends to meet her there and she had texted my daughter on Friday asking what to see and where to go and what to do in Italy.”

Smedinghoff recently served as a guide for Secretary of State John Kerry in Afghanistan — a task that’s considered an honor in the foreign service. Kerry lauded her zeal “to change the world.”

“She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future,” he said.

Colleagues paid tribute to Smedinghoff in online posts. One called her “a cheerleader and optimist in life’s darkest moments.”

Smedinghoff was traveling in a caravan to donate books to students in a school in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan when she was killed. A civilian Defense Department worker, three military service members and an Afghan doctor also died in the attack.

A car bomb exploded as the convoy drove past vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul Province to the same event. Then, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest caused more casualties, according to news reports.

Another American civilian was killed Saturday in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement.

It was the deadliest day for Americans in Afghanistan since Aug. 16 when seven American service members were killed in Kandahar province.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack in Zabul and said the bomber was seeking to target either a coalition convoy or the governor.

“We were waiting for one of them,” Ahmadi told The Associated Press. “It was our good luck that both appeared at the same time.”

Saturday’s attacks occurred just hours after U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan to evaluate the level of training American troops can provide to Afghan security forces after international combat forces complete their withdrawal in 2014.

Contributing: AP

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