Taylor Force, the Vanderbilt University graduate student fatally stabbed Tuesday in a terrorist attack in Israel, was a 28-year-old West Point graduate who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Force, who was studying at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, was on a school trip in Tel Aviv when a Palestinian attacked a crowd close to the site where Vice President Biden was visiting.
At least 10 people were hurt before the attacker was fatally shot by police.
Force was a good man, the sort of person you would want as an older brother, said David Campos-Contreras, who met him in 2013 when Campos-Contreras was an Army private serving in Afghanistan. Force was his platoon leader and was very well liked, he said.
“He always led from the front – just everything you wanted in a leader. Professional. But you knew you could kick back and have a beer with him when the time called for it. Just a good guy.
“He didn’t take himself too seriously; he knew how to take a step back and laugh. … He was well-rounded. He had good judgment.
“He was the kind of person who would keep you alive. And did. He did keep us alive.”
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he majored in engineering management, Force served as a field artillery officer from 2009 to 2014.
David Simpkins wrote in a blog for the Times of Israel, “My friend Taylor Force is dead.”
“He laughed and smiled a lot in the classes at West Point. He sat behind me, next to me, or across from me during our first two years at the United States’ premier institution. He was very mild-mannered, sharp and professional.
“I couldn’t think of someone who was more of a model of ‘America’s finest’ than him. He was handsome, articulate, brilliant, and just so GOOD. I can’t think of a moment where he wasn’t exuding an aura of pure positive energy.
“He was as honest and heartfelt as they come, but now he’s dead.”
Force was a first-year student at the business school when he and 28 other students along with four faculty and staff members went to Israel to meet with start-up companies and learn about global entrepreneurship.
He was very interested in entrepreneurship, said Eric Johnson, dean of the school. “He saw this time as a real transition in his life from a time of active service in the military to a new life in business and starting his own company, Just a really promising time for him, and one when he was excelling.”
Force was good-natured, quiet, and very well-respected, Johnson said. “Taylor really was a quiet leader in every sense of the word. Humble and authentic.
“Faculty would say that Taylor was a student who didn’t speak a lot in class, but when he spoke, it was always with insight and impact. People really valued what he had to say … that was part of the way he handled himself.” He had recently been elected a senator in the student government, Johnson said. “It was something that students, faculty and staff alike all saw in Taylor.”
Vanderbilt’s Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said, in statement sent to the campus community, “Taylor’s family and his friends and colleagues have our deepest sympathy and utmost support. He exemplified the spirit of discovery, learning and service that is the hallmark of our wonderful Owen community. This horrific act of violence has robbed our Vanderbilt family of a young hopeful life and all of the bright promise that he held for bettering our greater world.
“In light of this loss, we as a community can look to find strength by continuing our commitment to build and nurture an educational environment whose foundational mission is to expand world peace and enlightenment.”
Force was identified early on by the admissions office as one who embodied the school’s ideal of leaders without ego, Johnson said. “We all feel the better to have known him, even in the devastation of this time.”
All other Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff on the trip are safely back in the U.S. now, Johnson said.
They will have a memorial for Force when students return to campus next week after spring break.
Force’s father did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday, but he told the Times of Israel that his son had grown up in Texas, loved skiing, playing guitar and horses, and had been an Eagle Scout.
On social media, Force shared a link about West Point naming a barracks in honor of a Tuskegee Airmen leader, and about post-traumatic stress disorder, encouraging veterans to ask for help if they need it.
And he shared this photo:
Campos-Contreras took the photo, which shows Force’s back while they were counter-attacking in Tagab, Afghanistan.
Campos-Contreras’s first thought when he heard about the attack in Israel was denial. “There’s no way that could happen.” Then his heart sank.
“It was real. That’s just the way life is sometimes.”
A fund was set up to help Force’s family pay for funeral expenses, with a note about what the world had lost. “Taylor was loved and respected by everyone who was fortunate to have known him. His permanent smile, positive spirit, and kindness were complemented with his honor, integrity, and dedication to serving others.
“He will be forever missed by his family and friends.”
What makes this particularly difficult, Johnson said, is not just the horrific nature of the attack, “but the fact that Taylor was really transitioning to a new life, as many of our MBA students are — one with great promise. To see that cut short is really hard.”