It's been a year since the world learned of the death of Indianapolis native Abdul-Rahman Kassig at the hands of Islamic State militants. His death brought the horrors of the Syrian war home to Indiana, but his life continues to inspire those trying to bring some hope to the Syrian people.
INDIANAPOLIS -- When Peter Kassig visited a refugee camp outside of Beirut, Lebanon in 2012 on spring break from Butler University… his life changed. In an email to family and friends he wrote, “I have found my calling. I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand, to make a difference.”
It was around that time Kassig called home to talk to his mother, Paula.
"I had never heard him sound so alive and so sure of himself, and so dedicated to something, there was no doubt in my mind that he was doing what he felt called to do and that it was a noble thing," Kassig remembered.
Kassig founded a relief organization to provide medical services, supplies, food and clothing to people living in some of the most dangerous areas of the conflict. He was abducted in eastern Syria in October of 2013, doing work that's nearly unthinkable today.
Kathleen Fallon, advocacy manager for the Syrian Medical American Society, or SAMS, says nearly 700 medical workers have been killed since the conflict began four years ago.
"Doctors and hospitals are actively being targeted by all players, but particularly by the Syrian government, so the doctors that remain inside of Syria treating others are truly risking their lives every day," Fallon said.
Paula Kassig says her son understood the danger.
"It was risky and we knew it was risky but that’s how he felt alive, by doing that work," Kassig said.
Peter Kassig was stationed in the Middle East as a U.S. Army Ranger after graduating from North Central High School in 2006. He was honorably discharged and returned to Indiana, attending college and training as an EMT. On his return to the Middle East, his commitment to help those in need was unwavering.
"Part of the thing with him was, he would not say 'It’s an impossible thing and so I won’t try' so there he was. He was the Man of Lamancha, he’s the guy who went out to dream the impossible dream and do what he could to make the world better," Kassig said.
As he worked alongside Syrian people he began to explore the religion of Islam, and he converted while in prison, taking the name, Abdul-Rahman, which means “Servant of the Most Merciful.”
When ISIS named Kassig as its next target, there was a groundswell of support from here at home, says Edgar Hopida, communication director for the Islamic North American Society, based in Plainfield.
"The fact that he’s an American Muslim means that he’s part of our community, and when anyone from our community needs help or assistance, we’ll help them and their families to see if we can get them safe, or even secure their legacy by helping out with what they’re doing," Hopida said.
Hopida says the focus should now be on how Abdul Rahman Kassig’s mission can live on through that work.
"We do want to help them with the humanitarian work that’s going on there, the medical help, helping the refugees, if nonprofit organizations here want to take in more refugees, or give more aide…that’s what you can do to help," Hopida said.
On Nov. 12 the U.S. announced that it had killed "Jihadi John," the British citizen Mohammed Emwazi, who was the face of the group's chilling and highly-produced beheading videos, including the one that showed Kassig's death a year ago.
In Syria, Kassig has become an icon for his humanitarian work. Last month the Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights honored him during the International Day of Non-violence.
Paula Kassig says she and her husband were wowed by a brochure that was distributed in five Syrian cities.
"They had three pictures on the right of it, Peter, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. I was floored and so was Ed. We were just moved," Kassig said.
Abdul Rahman Kassig is also being remembered through a number of scholarships for students, who, like him, are focused on serving others.