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Friend Remembers Unconventional Life, Career Path Of Peter Kassig


Our hearts are battered, but they will mend. That message today, from the parents of Peter Kassig, who took the name Abdul-Rahman after his conversion to Islam in captivity. He was an aid worker who became the fifth Western hostage to be beheaded by Islamic State militants.

ED KASSIG: Our hearts, still heavy, are held up by the love and support that has poured into our lives these last few days.

PAULA KASSIG: One of Abdul-Rahman's teacher’s, the mother of some of his friends, wrote before his slaying, if a person can be both a realist and an idealist, then that's Peter.

BLOCK: We heard there from Paula and Ed Kassig. Their son was leading an aid convoy in Syria when he was taken hostage last October. Joe Dages knew Peter Kassig from their days together at Hanover College in Indiana. I asked him what words he would use to describe his friend.

JOE DAGES: He was fiercely loyal, compassionate. He seemed to be a guy on the move. And I know that he was doing some searching, you know, personally, at the time and trying to find his place in the world. But it may not be appropriate to say that he marched to the beat of a different drummer. It may be more apt to say that he carried his own drum set and made his own beat. And people tended to follow.

BLOCK: Now, by the time you met him, he had already served for a year in the Army. He was an Army Ranger. Did he talk about that military experience with you?

DAGES: You know, there weren't very many in-depth conversations about his military service. It was certainly a part of who he was and part of who he became over the years. In part, I think he wanted to create a legacy of healing than perhaps, you know, one of destruction or where he served.

BLOCK: When you heard he had founded a relief group, SERA, Special Emergency Response and Assistance operating out of Turkey but going into Syria to deliver aid and to help with medical care, were you fearful? Did you worry about what might happen?

DAGES: Oh, of course I was. You knew it was a volatile situation that he was in, but at the same time, there was going to be no stopping him and this is what he was passionate about so I figured who am I to try to put, you know, a stop to that?

BLOCK: Now, according to his family he apparently completed his conversion to Islam after he was taken hostage. Had he talked about the Islamic faith beforehand? I mean, was this a path that you knew he was already on?

DAGES: That was not a conversation that I had had with him so I can only go on the accounts of others. I do know that, you know, he fell in love with the people there and so it does not surprise me one bit that he jumped headfirst into learning and immersing himself in that culture. He was searching for his place, not just professionally, but I do believe religiously and spiritually and morally, and he would work all day over there on logistics and trying to find resources and connections and people to help and then would spend all night it seemed like, trying to reach back to his friends and network in the United States. Hey guys, I need blankets today. We're trying to get bags of food to give to the refugees or - at one point, I remember he was discussing a solar panel project that he was looking for funding for.

BLOCK: When was last time that you saw your friend?

DAGES: I saw him in 2013. It was St. Patrick's Day so March in 2013.

BLOCK: And what was the circumstance?

DAGES: He just happened to be making a visit back home to Indianapolis and reached out to his friends at the last minute and we had dinner. I mean it was wonderful to see him and everyone there was saying, hey, how long's your visit, when are you coming back? And he said, well, I think I'm heading back out tomorrow and you know, I've got more work to do. And that's kind of how the conversations went. It was where he wanted to be and you know, he came back long enough to visit those who he loved, but, you know, he was a man on a mission.

BLOCK: Well, Joe Dages, I'm so sorry for your loss and thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

DAGES: All right. Thank you.

BLOCK: Joe Dages was a college friend of Peter Kassig, who later took the name Abdul-Rahman Kassig. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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