A local Muslim student at a private school in northern Iraq fatally shot his gym teacher, a Christian from the United States, before shooting himself on Thursday. Local authorities said sectarianism was not the motive, but the victim's father disagrees.
Biyar Sarwar, an 18-year-old student at the Classical School of the Medes in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, shot his gym teacher Jeremiah Small, a 33-year-old American citizen and reportedly a believing Christian, before turning the gun on himself during a morning sports lecture Thursday, The Daily World reported.
While Small died on the spot, Sarwar died later at a hospital in Sulaimaniyah, about 160 miles northeast of the national capital city of Baghdad.
Small was from Cosmopolis, western Washington state near the coast. Small, locally seen as an intensely religious man, went to Iraq seven years ago to teach after graduating from Central Washington University.
"He is one of my personal heroes of the faith," Pastor Brad Gill of Light and Life Community Church in Hoquiam was quoted as saying. "He influenced thousands of people in his life. He is one of the deepest Biblical thinkers I know, and he poured his life into his students and the staff in that school."
The victim's father, J. Dan Small, recalled, "Every time he went through the airport scanner we knew we were having to let go, not knowing if we would ever see him again. He was doing what he loved doing and his students are testifying to that. He told his mom at Christmas that he didn't want to die in his sleep."
The Associated Press quoted a witness, Ahmed Mohammed, as saying that an argument erupted between Small and Sarwar in the classroom at the private Christian school. "Then I heard the gunshot. I turned my head and saw the body of the American teacher on the ground with blood near it. All the students started to run out of the room. Seconds later, as I was running to the reach the school gate, I heard another gunshot."
In a short while, another student shouted that Sarwar had killed himself, the witness said. "So I rushed back to the class with other students to see the teacher on the ground with three bullets in his head and chest, and bloody, and Biyar with a bullet in his head."
Sulaimaniyah police said the shooting appeared to be a murder-suicide without mentioning any motive. City Mayor Zana Hama Saleh was quoted as saying that Small was not a missionary, and Sarwar "had no radical religious tendencies." "Maybe the student had mental problems," she said.
However, Small's father said other witnesses on Facebook suggest the shooting occurred as his son was opening his class in prayer as was his custom. "My kids have been in touch with students over there who were in the classroom and it did not happen as is being represented," he said.
Iraq's Kurdish region is known to be peaceful as opposed to the rest of the country where bombings and shootings are not uncommon. However, persecution of local Christians in the region surfaced recently.