By Carrie Wells
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — A graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s international studies school, eight months pregnant, was among dozens killed in the weekend massacre at a Kenyan shopping mall.
Elif Yavuz, 33, who earned her graduate degree from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 2004, was killed along with her husband, architect Ross Langdon, according to media reports.
Gunmen stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on Saturday, and were still locked in a standoff with Kenyan forces by Monday. At least 62 people were killed.
[The Washington Post reported that Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said Monday that “two or three Americans” and “one Brit” were among the perpetrators of the attack. She said in an interview with “PBS Newshour” that the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or Arab origin and lived “in Minnesota and one other place” in the United States. The British jihadist was a woman who has “done this many times before,” Mohamed said. U.S. officials said Monday that they were pressing to determine whether any of the assailants were American.]
Yavuz, whose family is Turkish and grew up in the Netherlands, studied at the SAIS’s campus in Bologna, Italy, in 2002 and 2003 and finished her European studies degree at the school’s Washington, D.C., campus, according to Hopkins officials. She later worked for the World Bank and earned a doctorate in public health from Harvard University earlier this year, focusing on malaria in east Africa.
Langdon, her husband, worked to develop tourism strategies for east Africa that were environmentally sustainable and designed an HIV/AIDS hospital pro-bono, according to media reports. The couple was reportedly in Nairobi because Yavuz was due to give birth in two weeks.
Matthias Matthijs, an assistant professor at SAIS who was in the same program as Yavuz, described her as vibrant and fun, the kind of person who would often invite fellow students to the bar to socialize.
“There’s certain people who, with their sheer force of personality, will make a night a good night,” Matthijs said. “It’s kind of like a light went out in the world.”
Yavuz was a fashionable dresser and lively individual who had been drawn to east Africa, despite beginning her international studies with a focus on Europe, he said. Matthijs said the couple wanted to keep the gender of the baby they were expecting a surprise until the birth and were just getting settled in east Africa.
“They just moved there to start this whole new chapter,” he said.
At the time of her death, Yavuz was working for the Clinton Foundation. The organization released a statement offering condolences to her loved ones. Yavuz was “brilliant, dedicated, and deeply admired,” the foundation said, on behalf of former President Bill Clinton and other Clintons.
“We were shocked and terribly saddened to learn of the death of Elif Yavuz in the senseless attacks in Nairobi,” the statement said. “Elif devoted her life to helping others, particularly people in developing countries suffering from malaria and HIV/AIDS.”
Vali Nasr, dean of SAIS, also sent a message about her death to the university community on Monday.
“The entire SAIS community mourns the loss of Elif, who committed her all-too-brief life to serving others around the world,” Nasr wrote. “We express our deepest condolences to Elif’s family and friends.”