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Peace Activist Slain in Iraq is Mourned Around U.S., World

March 12, 2006|Chuck Neubauer and Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Relatives, friends and a nationwide network of Christian peace advocates reacted with anguish and shock Saturday to the death of Tom Fox, a Quaker whose belief in nonviolence led him to Iraq, where he was kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Iraqi police said the body of Fox, 54, clad in a gray warmup suit, was found Thursday with his hands and feet tied and gunshot wounds to his head and chest. There were cuts on his body and bruises on his head that police said appeared to have been inflicted by electrical cables.

Children in Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood found the body, wrapped in a blanket and black plastic bags, beside a railway line on a lot used as a garbage dump. Fox's body is on its way back to the United States, according to the U.S. Embassy.

Fox, of Clear Brook, Va., was abducted in November along with three other members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group of North American religious activists who travel to conflict zones to work with civilians and make appeals for peace to combatants. A previously unknown group, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, claimed responsibility for the abductions.

"We mourn the loss of Tom Fox, who combined a lightness of spirit, a firm opposition to all oppression, and the recognition of God in everyone," Christian Peacemakers said in a statement posted on its website. "We renew our plea for the safe release of Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember."

Sooden and Loney are Canadians. Kember is British.

Christian peace advocates who admired and worked with Fox gathered in northern Virginia and in Baghdad on Saturday to grieve and recall a quiet man whose belief in nonviolence led him to leave a managerial job in Virginia to work for a subsistence wage in Iraq. Colleagues in Chicago held a candlelight vigil Saturday night.

Friends said Fox had opposed the Vietnam War and had long harbored a Christian-inspired belief in nonviolence, even as he worked for years as a musician and a store manager. But the Sept. 11 attacks and the resulting global strife marked a galvanizing moment that led him out of the life he had known in northern Virginia.

"Tom left his life as we know it with a clear sense that after 9/11, he felt like he needed to do something very concrete to help create peace in the world," said Marge Epstein, a friend and a member of his Quaker congregation in Virginia.

Before that, friends said, he nurtured his Quaker beliefs in nonviolence as well as a quiet but growing commitment to the cause of peace.

Graduating from college in 1973, Fox was unwilling to serve in a combat role in Vietnam and fulfilled his military obligation by joining the U.S. Marine Band.

"During the Vietnam War, Tom figured out a way to have a career as a musician and not fight in Vietnam, which was against his convictions," said the Rev. Carol Rose, a co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams who worked with him in Iraq.

He remained with the Marine Band as a clarinet player for 20 years, friends said. Although band musicians are members of the Marine Corps, they are not considered part of the corps' tactical mission and are not required to take part in Marine boot camp.

"My dad wasn't a Marine; he was a musician," said his daughter Katherine in a video statement issued after her father was seized.

Fox continued to play after he left the Marines, and would carry a recorder, a woodwind instrument, with him on all of his travels, according to his daughter. He would play on the roof of the apartment building where he lived in Baghdad.

He became a Quaker 22 years ago, and was active in the Langley Hill Friends Meeting, as Quakers refer to their gatherings, in McLean.

He worked for 10 years for Whole Foods, rising from an assistant in the bakery to an assistant manager at the store in Springfield, Va. He left the job in 2004 to devote himself to Christian Peacemaker Teams.

"The staff was sad when he announced he was leaving," Michael Ameg, manager of the Springfield store. "He was a very humble guy. He was very honest.... He was very enjoyable to work with. He's a very good leader."

Before plunging into what he knew could be a dangerous new life, Fox thought about what to do and talked with friends.

"This was not a position to take lightly," Epstein said. "He took a long time to make a decision."

In time, Fox decided on Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group of members of various denominations that conducts "violence-reduction work in conflict zones," according to Rose.

In 2004, Fox went through four weeks of training and then asked to go Iraq, where he worked with the families of detainees as well as with Muslim groups. He had spoken with friends and relatives about the dangers, but believed his work in Iraq was important.

"It was his passion," Ameg said. "Tom would say he knew it was dangerous, but he believed if he can just touch one person and make a change, he would be happy."

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