Commentary: Abdul-Rahmin Peter Kassig, RIP


By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS – The weather fit the news.

The official word that the self-proclaimed Islamic State had beheaded young Hoosier Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig came on a day when the skies turned gray. A thin blanket of snow – for centuries a symbol of death and rebirth – fell on the streets, sidewalks and yards where Kassig grew up and went to school.

He died far from home at the hands of people determined to see him as something other Column by John Krullthan what he was – a good-hearted young man who wanted to help others. The Islamic State killers wanted to make him a symbol of American arrogance.

In a video released on social media, a masked militant with a disguised voice said:

“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country. Peter, who fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier under the American Army, doesn’t have much to say. His previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf. But we say to you, Obama, you claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you are liars.”

As is so often the case in atrocities such as this, the killer’s tone mingled rage and self-righteousness. How often – and how easily — human beings find justifications for murder.

Young Kassig’s death brought to a close a heartrending struggle to preserve his life.

On one side, his captors were determined to use him as a means by which they could indict the United States and its foreign policy. On the other side, his parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, worked to do something more meaningful and more real – get those captors to see their son not as a flag or a uniform, but as a human being.

To do that, the Kassigs just told their son’s story.

Peter Kassig was a young man who graduated from North Central High School in Indianapolis and enlisted in the U.S. Army Rangers. He was honorably discharged for medical reasons and returned home to go to college.

On a spring break trip to the Middle East, he, an emergency medical technician, decided he could help people in a troubled part of the world. He left school, devoted himself to humanitarian work, began the process of converting to Islam and, in captivity, changed his name to Abdul-Rahman Kassig.

He was working on a humanitarian mission when Islamic State militants took him captive on Oct. 1, 2013. They kept him until they killed him.

In that time, they apparently never came to see Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig as a son, as a friend, as a man who wanted to do some good in the world, as a fellow member of the human race.

No, they just saw him as a means to an end – a way to make a gruesome statement.

That is, of course, what hate does to us. It blinds us first to the humanity of the person before us – and then to the humanity within ourselves.

The Kassigs, to their immense credit, have not allowed that hate to claim them. Throughout this ordeal, both parents and son have reminded us, again and again, that, regardless of our nationality or faith, we all are brothers and sisters under the skin. We all hold dear those we love. We all cry when we’re hurt and bleed when we’re cut.

Even in their time of immense sorrow, Abdul-Rahmin Peter Kassig’s parents asked not for revenge but for reconciliation. They requested that those who mourn their son’s death make contributions to the Syrian American Medical Foundation. They want to continue their son’s legacy of hope.

The word that a fine young Hoosier’s life had ended in a land far from home came on a cold, snowy day in Indiana. And, for a moment, that made a gray day even drearier.

But Abdul-Rahmin Peter Kassig and his parents, in a time of tragedy, reminded us of the only forces that can warm and light the bleakest of days – the humanity that links us all and the love that can sustain us in our darkest moments.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.