Slain aid worker Brian Carderelli found beauty in daily Afghan life

The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, as the U.S. military launched an operation in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. The war continues today.
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When videographer Brian Carderelli left Kabul three weeks ago to accompany a team of doctors on a medical mission to northern Afghanistan, the 25-year-old from Harrisonburg, Va., was well aware of the dangers ahead. He knew that other aid workers had been killed and that the long journey on pack animals through the Hindu Kush could be perilous.

But he had fallen in love with the country and its people when he moved to Afghanistan in September, shortly after graduating from James Madison University with a degree in digital journalism. When the doctors asked him along on the trip to Nuristan province, he said yes -- eager to see a remote area of the country where residents normally get little medical care.

His father, Mike, is an administrator for an international school in Kabul, but his parents were home in Harrisonburg on summer break. They were getting daily updates via e-mail and satellite phone on their son's progress as he slogged with the group of 10 through rivers swollen by rain and up steep slopes.

Then, Friday, nothing.

"They started getting worried," said J.D. Patton, a family friend from Harrisonburg, about two hours south of the District. "Then they learned there was an attack."

Authorities later said that gun-toting men with long beards set upon the team as it wound through the mountains on the way home to Kabul. The men forced the aid workers into nearby woods and shot them one by one. The Taliban later claimed responsibility and accused the aid workers of being spies and carrying Bibles written in Dari, the local language. The aid organization -- a Kabul-based Christian group called the International Assistance Mission -- denies those claims.

"Brian was a Christian, and so were some of the other team members, but their motivation wasn't evangelistic," Patton said. "It was a demonstration of the life of Christ by their actions in how they cared for the poor."

Friends and family, who said they were devastated by the loss, described Carderelli as a quiet young man with a sharp sense of humor. He'd spent most of his life in Harrisonburg, where he was home-schooled and attended the local Covenant Presbyterian Church.

On his Shutterfly and Facebook pages, he posted dozens of photographs of his far-flung travels -- to Mexico, England and finally Afghanistan, where he captured the lives of ordinary Afghans, from rug merchants to burqa-clad women on dusty streets. He called one album about the country ".the Beautiful" and wrote, "It's not all war."

"He often told me how beautiful Afghanistan was," said Mike Albert, 24, a doctoral student at Duke University, who was a childhood friend.

"I know that Brian had a passion for what he was doing, and he would not choose to do things differently, I don't think. He knew the risks associated with going and working in Afghanistan, and he considered it worth the risk."

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