CHICAGO – From Chicago to Afghanistan, Dr. Jerry Umanos dedicated his service to poor children.
The pediatrician was among three Americans killed when an Afghan security guard opened fire Thursday at a Kabul hospital. He was volunteering in Afghanistan to train young doctors, periodically returning to Chicago to work in a Christian clinic on the city’s southwest side.
Umanos “was always working to help inner-city kids and trying to help out any needy, poor kids anywhere,” said Jeff Schuitema, Umanos’ brother-in-law.
The fatal shootings at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul were the latest in a string of deadly attacks on foreign civilians in the Afghan capital this year.
In an interview inside her Chicago home, Jan Schuitema, Umanos’ wife, said he always wanted to work with children, and became fascinated with Afghanistan when visiting through a Christian clinic in 2006.
“What he would really want people who care about this to know is that he really did love Afghanistan and the Afghan people,” said Schuitema, a teacher in Chicago who also spent time teaching in Afghanistan.
The couple moved individually back and forth between the two countries. They knew other people who had been killed in Afghanistan – doctors, nurses and community development workers. Yet they did not live in fear.
“There’s always a concern. This isn’t the first time we’ve been through this. And there’s always a thought that this could happen,” she said. “It’s a reality, but it doesn’t, we weren’t afraid. When you know you’ve got God’s backing, the fear is not there.”
In addition to the pediatrician who was killed, “also two others who were here to meet him, and they were also American nationals,” said Afghanistan Minister of Health Soraya Dalil. “The two visitors were father and son, and a woman who was also in the visiting group was wounded.”
Colleagues in Chicago are heartbroken about the loss of Umanos, 57, who had worked for more than 25 years at Lawndale Christian Health Center in the city, said Dr. Bruce Rowell, medical director of clinical quality at the facility.
“He was … for many of us on staff, the pediatrician for our very own children,” Rowell said at a news conference in Chicago.
Dale Brantner, president and CEO of Cure International, in Lemoyne, Pa., said he did not have solid information about what motivated the attacks but that “it doesn’t seem to be religiously motivated.”
“We’ve existed there for 12 years being unapologetically Christian,” he said.
He remembered Umanos as “a guy who is just full of life, loves people, especially little people.”
The Cure International Hospital where the shooting took place is focused on maternity and pediatric care and serves 37,000 patients annually, said Mark Knecht, Cure International’s chief financial officer.
Umanos’ volunteer work in Kabul involved training residents and medical students interested in international health.
The shooting continued a deadly pattern of attacks on civilian targets in Kabul.
In January, a Taliban attack on a popular restaurant with suicide bombers and gunmen killed more than a dozen people. In March, gunmen slipped past security at an upscale hotel and killed several diners in its restaurant. Two foreign journalists were killed and another wounded in two separate attacks.
But attacks on Western civilians have not been limited to Kabul. On April 4, an Afghan police officer shot two Associated Press journalists working in the eastern province of Khost, killing photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon.
The hospital shooting is also the second “insider attack” by a member of Afghan security forces targeting foreign civilians this month.
While aid groups have been targeted before, the frequency of such attacks has disturbed a community used to the daily risk of working in conflict zones.
“We’re not seeing aid workers running for the airport, but many organizations are taking a careful look at their security postures,” said Graeme Smith, a senior analyst in Kabul for the International Crisis Group. “The hard reality is that the country is becoming more violent, and Kabul has not escaped this pattern.”