Lancaster County man among Afghan ambush victims

Posted: August 09, 2010

He was an avid cyclist. A nurse with a big smile. A man whose passion for hiking, adventure, and people was plain to see.

"A beautiful person," said an adoring friend.

And on Sunday, in news that stunned neighbors and loved ones in tranquil Lancaster County, Glen D. Lapp was named a casualty of a war that had drawn him as a volunteer but ended his life in a massacre.

Lapp, his family learned from the State Department, was among 10 medical-aid workers slaughtered in a Taliban ambush last week in Afghanistan.

In 2008, the practicing Mennonite Christian had left a block of modest twin homes in Manheim Township to volunteer through the Mennonite Central Committee, a nationwide group whose aid missions largely originate from an office in Akron, Lancaster County.

"We're very, very sad, and we're very sad for his family, especially," said Lari Walker, a neighbor so close to the Lapps that she hesitated to say more lest she show disrespect for his loved ones.

"Glen was just a beautiful person," Walker said. "He loved other people, and he loved helping people."

He leaves behind his mother, Mary, his father, Marvin, and two brothers.

Mary Lapp declined to take questions when reached at home last night, instead referring media calls to the Mennonite aid organization with which her son had been serving.

"They're really suffering," Cheryl Zehr Walker, the group's director of communications, said last night of the Lapps.

Lapp, 40, was among 10 medical volunteers whose bullet-riddled bodies were found Friday in northern Afghanistan: six Americans, two Afghans, a German, and a Briton. The workers had spent several weeks delivering medical aid to villagers. They were ambushed on the way back to the capital city, Kabul.

The Taliban and a lesser-known insurgent group claimed responsibility and accused the group of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Lapp, one of two of the Mennonite organization's volunteers working in Afghanistan with partner agencies, had been part of an "eye camp" medical team that had been delivering treatments and tests for eye diseases, according to the group's statement.

The Mennonite group describes itself as a Christian relief, development, and peace-building organization active in 60 countries worldwide.

Lapp was a member of the Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster. He had begun volunteering with the aid group in 2006, when from a desk in Akron he helped coordinate disaster relief to the U.S. Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Walker said.

Lapp was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Eastern Mennonite University.

He was due to return from Afghanistan in October.

In a recent written dispatch to the Mennonite aid group, Lapp had reflected on his work there.

" . . . [T]he main thing that expats can do is to be a presence in the country," he wrote, according to excerpts released by the group. "Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world."

The partner organization coordinating Lapp's eye team - International Assistance Mission - lost touch with him and his group on Thursday evening, when members of the Kabul-bound medical mission did not check in as expected after leaving the remote villages where they had been working.

Ten bodies were found Friday, making international headlines. On Sunday morning, official word came: U.S. Embassy officials contacted the Lapp family to say he had been among those killed.

Lapp had most recently served as executive assistant and manager of the International Assistance Mission's provincial ophthalmic-care program, according to the separate Mennonite group.

"I'm shocked," said Karen Ward, 46, an elementary schoolteacher who lived two doors down from Lapp. She had not heard about his death until a reporter telephoned her last night. "I had no idea Glen was killed."

After nearly breaking into tears, Ward composed herself enough to describe him: "Very, very friendly, very quiet, very energetic. Always doing something."

On a block of "real small yards," Ward said, Lapp was always eager to help. Although their interactions were largely limited to waving and saying "hello," it was enough to leave an impression.

"He was a very nice person," Ward said. "If you needed any help shoveling your walk, mowing your yard, he was there."


This article includes information from the Associated Press.

Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com.

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