Profiles Of 3 Americans Slain In Afghanistan

The International Assistance Mission has identified all 10 of its relief workers killed last week in Afghanistan. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killings. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has short profiles of three of the Americans who died.

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We're going to take a few minutes now to hear about three of the 10 aid workers killed in Afghanistan last week. They worked for the Christian aid group International Assistance Mission, providing medical and dental care in the most remote regions of the country. The group was on its way back from a trip to the Nuristan Province deep in the Hindu Kush Mountains when it was attacked by gunmen.

Here's NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

WADE GOODWYN: Sixty-one-year-old optometrist Tom Little was no stranger to Afghanistan. At the time of his death, he and his wife had worked there for more than 30 years, surviving the Soviet occupation, warlords and the Taliban. This trip, his wife, Libby, decided to remain at their residence in Delmar, New York, instead of accompanying her husband as she usually did. That likely saved her life.

LIBBY LITTLE: There was danger. There's been danger at times, you know, a long the way, but it really was what we thought God wanted us to do and we're - I felt it was a privilege and it was a joy.

GOODWYN: Libby Little spoke to CNN. The Taliban claimed they killed the medical team because they were proselytizing. But the International Assistance Mission says that while it has never hidden the fact that it was a Christian organization, it denied any of its members were trying to convert Muslims. Sixty-three-year-old Daniel Terry had been in Afghanistan even longer than Tom Little - 40 years. He and his wife, Seija, who is Finnish, raised their three daughters in Kabul.

He was fluent in multiple regional languages and was known for his abilities to teach staff how to understand and respect local Afghan cultures. Colleagues said it was almost unbelievable that he, of all people, would be murdered. Douglas Van Bronkhorst is a close friend of the Terry family.

DOUGLAS VAN BRONKHORST: He died doing the kind of thing he loved and it was just typical of his life. It was not an unusual thing for him to be involved in something like this.

GOODWYN: Van Bronkhorst says Terry knew there was danger to his medical work, especially the further out he traveled into the provinces.

VAN BRONKHORST: It wasn't always a sense of eminent danger, he was usually welcomed by the Afghan people, including the village that they were working in when he was killed. You know, he's an intelligent man. He know the risks when he went. It's a tremendous commitment. I mean, I just admire him and I feel so sorry for the Afghan people to have lost such a friend.

GOODWYN: Fifty-one-year-old Thomas Grams quit his comfortable dental practice in Durango, Colorado, four years ago to give free dental care to the poor in Afghanistan. It is not enough to be a fine doctor or dentist or nurse in Afghanistan, you also have to be able to hike or ride a horse for days on end and then give outstanding care at the end of the journey. Dylan Norton was Grams' best friend.

DYLAN NORTON: Physically, he was a strong person, very athletic. He was a great hiker. He loved the outdoors and he was able to, I think, bring his skills to people who otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to ever have the kind of care that he was able to provide.

GOODWYN: Norton says Grams had a feeling that this particular medical mission was especially dangerous.

NORTON: And the night before he left, my wife and my two little kids and I went over to his house, as we often did. And Tom went through kind of some arrangements with us if he didn't come back. And my wife and I both said, you know, if you feel like it's that dangerous, don't go this time. And he - addressing my wife specifically he said, Cathy(ph), I can't explain to you why I do this. It's too complicated, but I have to go.

GOODWYN: Norton's grief is mollified by his best friend's determination.

NORTON: It's hard for any of us as friends to understand what makes someone put themselves in this kind of danger. When - and for us, it's tragic and horrid that we've lost our friend, but we all knew that it was something Tom - something inside of him said that he had to go and do these things and put himself in places that carried with them danger. But they also carried with them great reward for him.

GOODWYN: Of the eight foreigners who died in the Taliban attack, five will be buried in Afghanistan, the country they'd come to love.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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