A young American English teacher who was executed by Islamic terrorists accusing him of proselytizing in Yemen was described by family and friends as someone who "loved his job" and had a heart for the poor.
Officials said a motorcycle gunman and an accomplice pulled alongside the vehicle that Joel Shrum was riding in March 18 and opened fire.
Shrum was on his way to work in the city of Taiz at the time of the attack. The 29-year-old served as deputy director of the Swedish Institute, a language school, and spent time offering vocational training in some of Yemen's poor areas.
"He was just motivated by especially seeing people coming out of poverty," Shrum's father, James, said Sunday night.
Shrum was a football star at his high school in Mount Joy, Pa. Former coach Gayne Deshler remembered Shrum and his brother as great kids who were "more about the team than themselves."
Al Qaeda-Linked Group Boasts
The assailants escaped after the shooting, but an al Qaeda-linked group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.
"This operation comes as a response to the campaign of Christian proselytizing that the West has launched against Muslims," an unidentified person claiming responsibility on behalf of the group Ansar al-Sharia said in a text message to journalists.
The group, whose name means "Partisans of Islamic Law," also called Shrum "one of the biggest American proselytizers."
Shrum worked for the International Training Development Centre, a well-established nonprofit, nongovernmental group in Taiz.
On Monday, the organization called Shrum, "a very professional employee who highly respected the Islamic religion," and denied that he was proselytizing in the country.
ITDC shut down its offices after Shrum's death to address "the security of the foreign staff members."
On Sunday, a U.S. State Department official also condemned Shrum's murder.
"We continue to work to obtain additional information and urge Yemeni authorities to bring to justice all those responsible for this heinous crime," the official, who did not want to be named, said.
No Churches Allowed
Last week, Saudi Arabia's highest Islamic authority said no Christian churches should be allowed in the Arabian Peninsula, which includes Yemen.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah said the Islamic prophet Mohammad taught that there cannot be two religions on the Peninsula, and that only Islam should exist there.
Violence has increased in Yemen since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, vowing to stop al Qaeda. The Islamic group has increased attacks in Yemen as a result.
Shrum is survived by his wife and their two young sons.