WILMINGTON, Del. – A former college rugby player who toured U.S. colleges and churches urging people to help children in war-riven Uganda was among 74 killed by explosions that tore through crowds watching the World Cup final in the African country.
Nate Henn was on a rugby field Sunday in Kampala with some of the children he'd gone to help when he was hit by shrapnel from one of the blasts, according to the aid group he worked for. A Uganda native Henn mentored had traveled back to the country with him and was standing next to him, but 20-year-old Innocent Opwonya wasn't harmed.
"Right now he's so broken he can barely talk," said Jedidiah Jenkins, spokesman for the aid group Invisible children, said of Opwonya. "Nate was just his father figure, his brother, his family."
Henn, 25, had spent the last year traveling to campuses and churches to raise money and seek volunteers for work in Uganda. Henn raised thousands of dollars for children's education and went to the country to meet the children, the aid group said.
The children called Nate Henn "Oteka," or the strong one, and they "fell in love with Nate's wit, strength, character and steadfast friendship," San Diego-based group that helps child soldiers said on its website.
Henn's former youth pastor, the Rev. Andrew Hudson, said Henn was a gentle, sincere young man with deep compassion for those in distress.
The pastor from Chelten Baptist Church in Dresher, Pa., said Henn knew that traveling in Africa could be dangerous. "Nate was willing to take that risk in order to provide hope and healing for precious children who were finding themselves in very difficult situations," Hudson said.
Henn's parents, who live in Raleigh, N.C., declined to comment. Early Monday, a truck delivered flowers to their two-story brick home.
His sister Brynne Henn wrote on her Facebook page: "I just don't understand. Please pray."
Adding to their grief, a small plane carrying Henn's youngest brother crashed Monday at an airport in Chapel Hill. Kyle Henn was in fair condition, a second passenger was critically injured and the pilot died.
Henn was a psychology major at the University of Delaware from September 2003 to December 2008 but did not earn a degree, spokeswoman Meredith Chapman said. He graduated from Concord High School.
He played club rugby at the university in 2005-06 until an injury sidelined him, according to school officials and a teammate, Jason Vanterpool.
He was "always smiling, he was a really, really nice guy," Vanterpool said.
Former neighbor Melanie Mask recalled how Henn and other children would play football in the front yard of her home in the quiet, shady neighborhood in suburban Wilmington where he grew up. As a teenager in Wilmington, Henn volunteered at an orphanage and went on a church mission to Peru.
"He always wanted to help people; never met a stranger, ever," she said.
Mask described Henn as gregarious but sensitive, easily making friends in high school. She said girls vied to be his prom date and nicknamed him, "Nate the date."
Associated Press writers David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., Karen Mahabir in Washington, Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C., and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.