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Teacher Slain in Benghazi Has Austin Ties

Reuters/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
The International School Benghazi, photographed Dec. 5, 2013. Gunmen shot dead an American chemistry teacher working at the international school, medical and security sources said on Thursday.

Update: Smith's Austin Church in Mourning; Listen to One of Smith's Sermons

The Austin Stone Community Church say they are grieving the loss of their friend Ronnie Smith, who was killed jogging in Benghazi, Libya this morning. 

The church says Smith was preparing to fly home this month to spend time here over the Christmas holidays. Smith grew up in Detroit and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan.

The church confirms Smith's wife and son were not in Libya when he was shot. The church says Smith remained in Libya to help his students with their midterm exams. Smith and his family moved to Libya in December 2011.

Several archives of Smith's sermons are housed on the community church website. Below is one recording dated June 2010; in its beginning, he discusses a health scare his family faced just before their move to Austin. 

"Ronnie loved Libya and was dedicated to his students to help them aspire to their dreams. Ronnie’s greatest desire was for peace and prosperity in Libya and for the people of Libya to have the joy of knowing God through Christ," executive pastor of operations Dave Barrett says in a statement:

"Although we grieve because we have lost a friend, a husband, and a father, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a greater purpose than we can imagine right now. Though we don’t fully understand right now, we place our full trust in the one who does until we see our friend again."

Update (1:34): A Deteriorating Situation in Libya

The Guardian adds some context to Smith's killing in Benghazi:

"His death comes with Libya enduring some of the worst violence since the 2011 revolution, with nearly three weeks of clashes between militias and the army in both Benghazi and Tripoli, the capital. Three Libyan army soldiers were killed in the eastern port city earlier on Thursday."   "Last week the army stormed four bases of Ansar al-Sharia, the Islamist militia blamed by some for the killing last year of American ambassador Chris Stevens at the US consulate. Bombings and assassinations have continued on a near-daily basis."

Libya has been subject to a U.S. State Department travel warning since this summer.

Update (1:02 p.m.): UT-Austin in Mourning for Smith

The University of Texas at Austin has issued a statement mourning Smith's death. "Ronnie was a proud Texas Ex who earned a master's degree in chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin in 2006," the statement reads. "He was an enthusiastic and outgoing student. His death is a tragedy for the campus and our nation." 

Original story (12:51 p.m.): A Texas teacher killed in Libya yesterday hails from Austin.
NBC News says 33-year-old Ronnie Smith was shot to death while jogging in Benghazi. He was a chemistry teacher at International School Benghazi, a Libyan-owned school with a western curriculum.

The Austin Stone Community Church says Smith was a teaching pastor at the church before he traveled to Libya. The church says it was preparing a further statement, and that it was in mourning.

Smith's archived biography on the church website jokes that "When Ronnie isn't creating new chemical compounds, he loves to read and play as many sports as possible, especially tennis."

No one has claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Smith was married and had a young son. His Twitter account describes him only as “Libya’s best friend.”

There’s an outpouring of grief on the school’s Facebook page. In a statement there, the school writes “He was a much loved teacher who supported students in their learning and always had time to help when asked. Ronnie was a professional who gave his time freely and without question. We do not understand why this has happened and it is extremely difficult for his students and his colleagues to accept.”