An American chemistry teacher who spent more than a year teaching at an international school in Libya, was shot and killed Thursday in Benghazi.
The U.S. State Department identified the slain teacher as Ronald Thomas Smith II. He was 33 years old.
The school’s principal, Peter Hodge, tells NBC News that Smith was “very much loved” at the school. And an 18-year-old student at the International School Benghazi says, “He was the most amazing person, more like a best friend or a family member.”
The student added that for teenagers who were coping with the turmoil that has beset Libya, Smith was a motivator, telling them that they would be fine if they focused on their studies.
Smith was a native of Austin, Texas. The Associated Press reports that he was shot by unknown assailants as he jogged “near the compound where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed by Islamic militants in September 2012.”
From Agence France-Presse:
“International School Benghazi director Adel al-Mansuri said Smith, who was married and the father of a two-year-old boy, had joined the faculty as a chemistry teacher late last year.
“Mansuri said Smith had been set to return home next week for the year-end holidays, but it was not immediately clear whether his wife and son were with him.”
A look at Smith’s Twitter feed shows his engagement with his students — his description on the account is “Libya’s best friend.” It also reveals Smith’s life as a father and husband who jokes about being sent on errands by his wife.
His death provoked an outpouring of grief from the group Libyan Youth Movement, some of whose staff members were friends with the American teacher. The group tweeted today, “It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the death of Ronnie Smith.” It also extended condolences and prayers to Smith’s family.
According to its website, the International School in Benghazi follows a British curriculum and employs many teachers with international experience. It is affiliated with the GEMS Education company, a network of schools on several continents.
Student Lujain Beruwien, 16, whose family had moved back to Libya from Scotland, tells NBC News that Smith helped her adjust to Benghazi.
“Because I’m from the U.K. and he’s from America we were always trying to outdo each other,” she says. “It’s really upsetting that he has died. The majority of Libyans want the country to develop, but the others are just trying to ruin things for everyone. We’re not going to stand for this.”
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET: University Mourns Loss
We’ve received a statement from the University of Texas which reads:
“The university community is shocked and saddened by the death of Ronnie Smith in Benghazi. Ronnie was a proud Texas Ex who earned a master’s degree in chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin in 2006. He was an enthusiastic and outgoing student. His death is a tragedy for the campus and our nation.”
And from Austin, NPR member station KUT tells us that Smith was also a teaching pastor at a church in Austin before he traveled to teach overseas.