AKRON, Pa. — A Mennonite aid group in Pennsylvania denied Monday that a member killed with nine others during a medical mission in Afghanistan had tried to convert Muslims to Christianity.
The Mennonite Central Committee joined a chorus of protests over Taliban claims the volunteers had engaged in proselytizing.
John Williamson, a representative with the Akron, Pa.-based aid group, dismissed those claims as "rubbish" after a morning news conference about the death of member Glen Lapp. Lapp, a 40-year-old nurse from Lancaster, had been in Afghanistan for nearly two years.
Lapp was a "very kind, loving, respectful person" who spoke Dari, a local language, and enjoyed sharing stories with the Afghan people, Williamson said.
Lapp was among 10 aid workers – six Americans, two Afghans, one Briton and a German – fatally shot Thursday after being accosted by gunmen following a two-week medical mission to help impoverished villagers in remote Nuristan province.
"These Afghan villages, I can assure you, are grieving deeply this loss," said Ron Flaming, the committee's international programs director.
Though trained as a nurse, Lapp managed logistics for the International Assistance Mission, a Kabul-based Christian charity that organized the trip. An official with the group said it was authorized to treat people in the Parun valley for eye diseases.
Director Dirk Frans insisted there was no attempt to preach Christianity. He said members were likely carrying personal Bibles in English and German – but not in Afghan languages, as the Taliban alleged.
Some local officials suspect common criminals carried out the attack.
The family of Brian Carderelli, a photographer among those killed, said he was documenting aid work done by the International Assistance Mission and other groups.
Carderelli, 25, of Harrisonburg, Va., worked for the International School of Kabul. He went to Afghanistan in September and also was compiling an album titled "The Beauty – It's Not All War."
"He loved people and was particularly concerned for the poor," the family said in a statement Monday.
Carderelli, a 2009 James Madison University graduate, was an Eagle Scout who enjoyed hiking, snowboarding and surfing. He was an active, lifelong member of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, said family friend J.D. Patton, an elder at the church.
"Brian was a Christian who was killed as he was fulfilling his life ambition to use his talents and training to show the love of Christ to the poor and disadvantaged," the church said in a statement.
In Tennessee, the father of a woman who was among those murdered said he hopes Afghan leaders will honor the victims by pushing for freedom in their country.
Cheryl Beckett, 32, understood the risks of working in the unstable country but had grown attached to the Afghan people after repeated visits over six years, according to her father, the Rev. Charles Beckett, a senior minister at Woodlawn Christian Church in Knoxville.
Flaming said the Mennonite Central Committee still has one relief worker in Afghanistan. He would not divulge the nature or location of the worker's assignment, but noted "at this time, she is safe."
While he said it is impossible to guarantee the security of aid workers in any given situation, the organization is taking another look at its priorities and protocols. Flaming said security plans are regularly assessed by outside analysts.
Lapp was just the third volunteer killed in the Mennonite group's 90 years of international relief work, Flaming said.
Associated Press Writers Zinie Chen Sampson in Richmond, Va., and Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.