HARRISBURG, Pa. – The widow of an American teacher who was killed in Yemen two weeks ago said the family knew about the risks of living there but never felt threatened.
Joel Shrum, 29, of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, was gunned down March 18 in the central city of Taiz, where he had been living with his wife and two sons while studying Arabic and teaching English at a language institute. The Yemen branch of Al-Qaida claimed responsibility, saying he had been trying to spread Christianity in the mainly Muslim Arab nation.
Janelle Shrum told The Associated Press in an email late Saturday that she and her family left Yemen for three months last year but decided to return. She said they felt safe in their neighborhood and avoided areas of the city where most of the violence occurred, and had no clear warning of any threat in the days and weeks before the shooting.
"We never felt personally threatened," she said, adding that foreigners are welcomed in Yemen and treated with great respect. "Anything that may have served as a warning was too vague."
Her responses were forwarded in an email by James Shrum, who said his son's remains have now been returned to the United States.
She remembered her husband as "a very loving, genuine man" whom she met in a Spanish class in college in 2001.
"He had always said it was love at first sight for him, but it took him a few months before he won my heart!" she said.
Joel, she said, was "a wonderful, devoted husband and my best friend" who always made the family his priority. He was "an amazing father" to their boys, 4-year-old Valen and 20-month-old Liam, she said.
"He was always showering them with love, lots of hugs, kisses and cuddles, and he always told them how proud he was of them," she said.
Shrum said her husband had a very mild-mannered and laid-back personality but was passionate about living out his values.
"He lived in the reality that we are all created in the image of God and that nothing can separate us from the love of God," she said. "These truths were an inspiration for everything that he did."
Shrum's parents have said he went to Yemen in 2009 to learn Arabic, not to proselytize, and became passionate about teaching business skills to Yemenis. He worked at the International Training and
Development Center, which was established in the 1970s and is one of the oldest foreign language institutes in Yemen.