Total Pageviews

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Students Use Twitter to Remember American Teacher Killed in Libya

After an American chemistry teacher at a school in Benghazi, Libya, was gunned down while jogging Thursday, his students turned to Twitter to share memories of a man they said inspired and motivated them, often with online banter and humor.

They used the hashtag #ThankYouSmith.

Ronnie Smith, 33, who was from Austin, Tex., taught at the International School in Libya for more than a year, as our colleagues Suliman Ali Zway and Kareem Fahim report. He was scheduled to return to the United States next week after midterms to join his family for the Christmas holidays. His wife and 2-year-old son had recently left Benghazi to return home ahead of him.

On his Twitter profile, Mr. Smith described himself as “Libya’s Best Friend.”

Several students at the International School, an English-language school in Benghazi, described him as a friend, as well as a teacher, who often used easy banter on Twitter to engage them.

“Mr. Smith was more than just a teacher,” said an 18-year-old student who asked not to be identified. “He was our inspiration. He motivated us to work harder no matter what was happening in the country. After everything that happened in Libya, we were in a state of depression. He was like a light at the end of a very bad tunnel.”

Students shared a variety of tweets.

When Mr. Smith arrived in Libya, the student said in an interview, he took to Twitter after students told him that was their preferred platform to communicate and have fun. Mr. Smith would often address students directly online. In one post, he warned a student she risked becoming a Libyan housewife if she did not complete her college applications. In another, he explained the concept of “cool kids.”

In a post on Nov. 25, he joked about the danger of living in Benghazi, noting to students that “your grades have been securely recorded.” He also made references about bathroom habits and encouraged students to save for ransom in case he was kidnapped by a Muslim militia group.

When a student was using his iPhone in class, Mr. Smith took it away and then used Twitter as a game, sharing multiple playful photos of the iPhone over several days. He shared photos of the phone, which he nicknamed Voldy, in the shower and tucked under sheets. He also made a reference to the phone’s being “locked in a closet” in a post about sharing Thanksgiving with friends.

Mr. Smith also made comments on Twitter that could have offended Muslims. But his student said in the interview that Mr. Smith was very supportive of their religion and culture and never intended any harm.

In an exchange that was one of the very last before he was killed, Mr. Smith joked about anti-American sentiment. He also shared a post on how he missed his family.