US diplomat killed in Afghanistan wanted to help

This image made from AP video shows Afghan National Army soldiers rushing to the scene moments after a car bomb exploded in front the PRT, Provincial Reconstruction Team, in Qalat, Zabul province, southern Afghanistan, Saturday, April 6, 2013. Six American troops and civilians and an Afghan doctor were killed in attacks on Saturday in southern and eastern Afghanistan as the U.S. military's top officer began a weekend visit to the country, officials said. (AP Photo via AP video)

CHICAGO (AP) — A young U.S. diplomat killed in an attack in southern Afghanistan was an up-and-coming public servant who loved working directly with Afghan residents, those who knew her said Sunday.

Anne Smedinghoff, a 25-year-old foreign service officer, died Saturday when the group she was traveling with was struck by an explosion in southern Zabul province. They were en route to traveling to donate textbooks to students.

The Chicago-area woman is the first American diplomat to die on the job since last year's attack on the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya.

Those who knew Smedinghoff described her as a positive, hard-working and dependable young woman.

While a student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, she worked part time for Sam Hopkins, an attorney near campus. He described her as ambitious "but in a wonderfully quiet modest way."

Anne Smedinghoff's parents said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post that their daughter joined the foreign service straight out of college. But she had showed an early interest in foreign affairs and was one of the key organizers of the university's annual Foreign Affairs Symposium in 2008, a weekslong event that brings high-profile speakers to campus.

"She was an exceptional woman," said Hopkins, who kept in touch with Smedinghoff over the years. "Capable, gracious, and she would just rise up to the top."

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday at a news conference in Turkey that Smedinghoff was "vivacious, smart" and "capable." Smedinghoff had assisted Kerry during a visit to Afghanistan two weeks ago.

Kerry also described Smedinghoff as "a selfless, idealistic woman who woke up yesterday morning and set out to bring textbooks to school children, to bring them knowledge."

Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff said that their daughter died doing what she loved.

"Working as a public diplomacy officer, she particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people and was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help to make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war," they said in the statement.

Smedinghoff previously served in Venezuela.

Friends also praised her for her charity work. Smedinghoff participated in a 2009 cross-country bike ride for The 4K for Cancer — part of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults — according to Hopkins and the group's website.

"She was smiling all the time," Hopkins said.