Family and friends said Anne Smedinghoff had chafed at the restrictions that American diplomats can face in Afghanistan, where the excitement and passion for foreign service are often dampened by lives circumscribed by blast walls and checkpoints and fortified compounds.
(Anne Smedinghoff, 25, died in a bomb attack Saturday while delivering donated books to a new school in Zabul Province.)
Ms. Smedinghoff joined the Foreign Service three years ago, straight out of Johns Hopkins University, and moved to Kabul in July. Being locked in the embassy compound, though it kept her largely safe from suicide bombers and rocket attacks, was not for her, her family and friends said. She longed to be out among Afghans, helping to ease the tumult of their lives.
On Saturday, Ms. Smedinghoff, 25, got her chance. She joined a delegation accompanying the governor of Zabul Province to inaugurate a new school in Qalat, the provincial capital. She was to help deliver donated books.
At 11 a.m., a suicide car bomber detonated explosives that ripped into the convoy, killing Ms. Smedinghoff and four other Americans — a civilian and three soldiers — in the deadliest day for Americans in Afghanistan this year. The names of the other four victims had not been released Sunday night.
The attack reverberated from Afghanistan to Ms. Smedinghoff’s family home in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, Ill. In her honor, friends and relatives this weekend replaced their profile photos on Facebook with a picture of a black ribbon embossed with the State Department seal.
For Ms. Smedinghoff, the Foreign Service was a calling, her parents, Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff, said in a statement. Afghanistan was her second deployment, an assignment for which she had volunteered after a tour in Caracas, Venezuela. She died, her parents said, doing a job she thought must be done.
“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. “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.”
Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois issued a statement on Sunday praising Ms. Smedinghoff for having lived a “purposeful life.”
“Only 25 years old, this brave young woman knew social justice was her calling, and selflessly lost her life while serving others in a war-torn country,” the governor said. “She was devoted to protecting America and improving the lives of others.”
Ms. Smedinghoff was the first American diplomat to be killed on the job since Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed last Sept. 11 in an attack on a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Sam Hopkins, a lawyer and a friend of Ms. Smedinghoff’s from her college days, described her as a “very focused very disciplined and very calm” woman who had breezed through a panoply of examinations to enter the Foreign Service at an unusually young age. On her first posting to Caracas, he said, she expressed strong desire to leave the embassy compound and plunge into the city’s gritty, often dangerous streets.
“She said she wanted to get a car and drive around,” Mr. Hopkins said. “She had no fear.”
As a public diplomacy officer, Ms. Smedinghoff was on the front lines of an effort to move Afghanistan beyond its decades-long struggle with war and oppression to a place where women might walk openly in the streets and where children, including young girls, might go to school.
It is a job fraught with dangers and frustrations that have been compounded as the United States, along with its NATO allies, has shrunk its military footprint. Bases have been scaled back and ground and air transports reduced, meaning less security for development work.
With most American and NATO troops preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the prospects for continued civilian aid of the kind Ms. Smedinghoff was helping to provide are now in doubt.
Yet in an emotional homage on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry held up Ms. Smedinghoff’s work as an example of the importance of the continued American effort in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the face of “cowardice” and “nihilism.”
“A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of the students that she had never met, but whom she felt compelled to help,” Mr. Kerry said in Istanbul, where he is on a diplomatic trip. “And she was met by cowardly terrorists determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers.”
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ, Published: April 7, 2013
Correction: April 9, 2013
An article on Monday about the death of Anne Smedinghoff, a young American diplomat in Afghanistan, misstated the number of diplomats killed along with Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Three others died, not four.