Jeremiah Small, 33, the son of J. Dan and Rebecca Small of Hoquiam, was shot and killed by an Iraqi student in his classroom as he began classes at Classical School of the Medes in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, today. The 18-year-old student then turned the gun on himself and died a short while later at Sulaimaniya Emergency Hospital.
Small was remembered in the local Christian community this morning as an intensely religious man who was doing what he loved to do. He went to Iraq seven years ago to teach after graduating from Central Washington University.
“He is one of my personal heroes of the faith,” said Pastor Brad Gill of Light and Life Community Church in Hoquiam, president of Christian Cable Ministries. “He influenced thousands of people in his life,” Gill said. “He is one of the deepest Biblical thinkers I know, and he poured his life into his students and the staff in that school.”
Small’s family moved to this area in December 1999. His father was the director of the well-known Shiloh Bible Camp in the North River area. His parents recently moved to Hoquiam.
Gill said whenever Small would come home to Grays Harbor for a visit he would feature him on television to share about why he went to Iraq and what he experienced there.
Small’s father said the family is deeply saddened and Jeremiah’s six siblings and their families are all gathering together to comfort each other.
“Every time he went through the airport scanner we knew we were having to let go, not knowing if we would ever see him again,” his father said. “He was doing what he loved doing and his students are testifying to that. He told his mom at Christmas that he didn’t want to die in his sleep,” Small said.
There are conflicting reports about what happened in the classroom before the shooting. The family is awaiting information from the U.S, Embassy in Baghdad, three hours away from where the incident occurred. Small said the embassy is sending representatives to the school to piece together what happened.
According to the Associated Press, Small was killed when a student in the crowded classroom pulled out a gun, shot the teacher and then, as his terrified classmates fled the room, shot himself, officials and eyewitnesses said. The AP story reported a quarrel broke out between Small and the student, identified as 18-year old Biyar Sarwar, according to city police spokesman Sarkawit Mohammed. During the argument, Mohammed said, Sarwar shot the teacher with a gun he had hidden in his clothes.
Small’s father said according to Facebook eyewitnesses the shooting occurred as Jeremiah was opening his class in prayer as was his custom. “My kids have been in touch with students over there who were in the classroom and it did not happen as is being represented,” Small said. He said Jeremiah’s Facebook page is filling with tributes from around the world by people’s whose lives were touched by his son.
Sulaimaniyah is located in Iraq’s comparatively peaceful Kurdish region, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad. The Kurdish region has generally been free of the bombings and shootings that have plagued the rest of Iraq in recent years. Foreigners, including American citizens, usually travel freely around northern Iraq without the armed guards or armored vehicles often used in the rest of the country.
The Medes School, according to its website, is a private, Christian, English language-based academy that covers elementary through secondary grade levels. It runs schools in the three provinces that make up Iraq’s northern Kurdish region with a total enrollment of about 2,000 students.
In addition to his parents, Small left his six siblings: Sarah (32) & Jon Russell of Washougal; Mattaniah (30) & Ericka of Hoquiam; Caleb (24) & Kassie of Hoquiam; Keren (22); Tirzah (16); and Sharon (14).