INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana aid worker beheaded by Islamic State militants in Syria was praised for his humanitarian work Sunday during a memorial service attended by hundreds that included readings from the Bible and the Quran.
Peter Kassig, who took the first name Abdul-Rahman after converting to Islam during captivity, was remembered as a good man, son, student and volunteer who dedicated himself to helping others and lived a short but full life.
"We're not here because of how he passed," said Hazem Bata, executive director Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield. "We're because of how he lived. We're here because of the type of man he chose to be. We're here because of his selflessness."
The 26-year-old Indianapolis man was captured last year in eastern Syria while delivering relief supplies to refugees of Syria's civil war. Kassig, a former U.S. Army ranger who had served in Iraq in 2007, had returned to the Mideast in 2012 and founded a relief organization to help war victims.
His parents, Ed and Paula Kassig of Indianapolis, learned of their son's capture last year, but did not disclose his c0.0aptivity while family and friends quietly worked to secure his release. In October, their son appeared in another video released by the Islamic State group that showed the beheading of a fellow aid worker, Britain's Alan Henning. The militants vowed that Kassig would be next, leading his parents to plead publicly for mercy while stressing his humanitarian work and conversion to Islam.
The Muslim community rallied around them, participating in prayer vigils and rallies urging his captors to follow the Quran's teachings that prohibit Muslims from killing other Muslims.
Speakers at Sunday's 80-minute service at Clowes Hall at Butler University, which Kassig briefly attended before moving to the Middle East, praised him for his humanitarian work and urged others to use his life as inspiration.
"Our hearts broke with the news of not only his death, but the brutal and barbaric way in which it occurred," said the Rev. Bill Hoopes, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, which the Kassig family attends. "Many of us had hoped deeply that Peter would be the exception. That he would be the one his captors would be set free."
Hoopes challenged those at the service to do more than pray that those who killed Kassig and Syrian President Bashar Assad be brought to justice.
Among those attending the service were Gov. Mike Pence, Sens. Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats, Rep. Susan Brooks and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. Donnelly said he never met Kassig, but said over recent months of meeting Kassig's parents and friends feels he got to know Kassig's spirit.
"It's the spirit of believing things can get better. That together we can make a difference," Donnelly said. "He was an extraordinary in every way."