Sarah Russell pays tribute to Jeremiah Small

Washougal woman remembers brother killed Thursday in Iraq

Jeremiah Small, an American teacher in Iraq, was fatally wounded by three gunshots fired by a student Thursday. The 18-year-old male student then shot and killed himself. Small’s family includes his sister Sarah Russell and brother-in-law Jon Russell, of Washougal.

A memorial service is planned for today in Iraq, for Jeremiah Small, of Cosmopolis, Wash. Additional services are scheduled to occur this month in Nashville, Aberdeen and Yakima.

Small’s family includes his sister Sarah Russell and brother-in-law Jon Russell, of Washougal.

Small, 33, was shot three times and killed by an 18-year-old male student in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, Thursday. The student then shot himself and died later at a hospital.

Small was teaching a history class at the Classical School of the Medes when the shooting occurred.

“The day before the shooting, there was a debate in the classroom and this student became very heated,” Sarah Russell said. “My brother had asked him to calm down and use rationale and reason rather than emotion to be convincing. There was never any known antipathy between my brother and this student.”

Sarah, 31, said her brother and the student had seemed to be on good terms.

“They were studying Islam and the life of Muhammad,” she said. “The student was actually arguing for the same side Jeremiah would have, had he been involved in the debate.”

The shootings occurred as Small finished his regular opening prayer.

In addition to history, he taught literature and some philosophy.

“I would like his legacy to be [that] people whose lives he has touched will walk in a path that’s transformed by Jesus — especially for the kids in Iraq — that they would continue to seek to be the instigators of a new and better society,” Sarah said. “I would like for him to be remembered as someone who lived life full of passion — taking joy in everything he did and living life fully.”

Small and the Russells were part of the family Christmas celebration last year in Aberdeen.

“He had told my mom, ‘I don’t want to die in my sleep, I want to go out in a meaningful way,’” Sarah remembered.

She admired him for teaching in Iraq for 6 1/2 years.

“We had talked about setting up a time for me to bring some medical people, to do some training within the EMS and hospital systems in Iraq,” Sarah, an advanced nurse practitioner with a specialty in family practice, said.

She described her brother as serious and adventurous.

“He loved hiking, snowboarding and rock climbing,” Sarah said. “He could be goofy and enjoyed playing with the kids. He was also very thoughtful and kindhearted.

“He always beat himself up — thinking he was not good enough,” she added. “He was always striving to be a better person.”

In 2010 and 2011, Small and other chaperones accompanied high school seniors to countries such as Italy, France and Greece.

“That was an unheard of thing,” Sarah said. “Most of them had not been outside their city. He was really involved with the students. He loved spending time with them — hiking, and discussing philosophy in the coffee shops.

“He really enjoyed getting the students to think outside the box — critical thinking and thinking about the truth — what does it mean and how does it apply to other situations,” she added.

The challenges of living and working in Iraq included the heat, as well as intermittent electricity, Internet, heat and hot water.

“He was overwhelmed with all of the classes and homework,” Sarah said. “Certainly there were the challenges of students who were having a hard time in class, or parents who were struggling with what their students were learning.

“Every time, it was so hard to leave the family,” she added. “He loved the students, but it was hard to leave home. He felt he was missing out on things at home.”

Small started teaching in Iraq after he graduated from Central Washington University.

He used Skype regularly to communicate with his family.

“What really struck me after his death is I want to live my life in a way that loves people and take every opportunity to show that love to the community that I’ve been placed in,” Sarah said.

Jon, a Washougal City Councilman, thanked city officials and staff for their condolences last night during the council meeting.

He talked about how Small was murdered in a Christian school in Northern Iraq.

“I’m very proud of my brother-in-law and the life he lived,” Jon said. “Two days after the murder, he was eulogized in a mosque with the student. That was the first time anyone [in the city of Suli] can recall a non-Muslim being eulogized in a mosque. That is the impact he had on his community.”

In addition to the Russells, Small is survived by his parents J. Dan and Rebecca and siblings Mattaniah (Ericka), Caleb (Kassie), Keren, Tirzah and Sharon, all of Hoquiam.

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