March 22, 2019 | 48° F

Rutgers alumna among 22 killed in Mali attack

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Traveling overseas to spread peace, education and health care were among Anita Ashok Datar's many passions.

Datar, a Rutgers Class of 1995 alumna, was among the group of at least 22 people killed during an attack in West Africa on Friday, in which gunmen stormed into a Mali hotel shouting “Allahu akbar” as they opened fire on guests gathered for breakfast.

Datar is the only known American killed in Mali on Friday, according to The Washington Post.

The Rutgers alumna was a 41-year-old public health expert who worked toward fighting the spread of HIV and expanding family planning, according to a statement from President Robert L. Barchi. She was in Mali on Friday working on a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Our entire community grieves for her, and for her parents, her siblings, and her 7-year-old son. The loss that they have suffered is immeasurable,” Barchi said.

Datar was born in Western Massachusetts and grew up in Northern New Jersey, according to a statement released by Datar’s family. After receiving her Bachelor's in Psychology from Rutgers, Datar earned a Master's degree in Public Health and Master's degree in Public Administration from Columbia University’s Joseph Mailman School of Public Health and School of International and Public Affairs.

Following graduation, her desire to promote education and health care continued with two years in Senegal working with the Peace Corps from 1997 to 1999, according to the family's statement. And as a founding member of Tulalens, a non-profit organization, Datar connected low-income women in underserved communities with health services.

Datar’s family said they were “angry and saddened that she has been killed” but also knew that Datar would want to prevent violence and poverty around the world, not promote intolerance.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who knew Datar, also praised her for her work toward public health in a statement

"Anita Datar was a bright light who gave help and hope to people in need around the world, especially women and families..." Clinton said. "From her service in the Peace Corps to her career in international health and development to her work with Tulalens, an NGO she helped start to connect poor women with health care, Anita represented the best of America’s generous spirit."

The two gunmen who stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel on Friday initially took 170 hostages who were visiting Mali from countries across the globe such as France, Belgium, Germany, China and Canada. 

An al-Qaeda affiliated group is taking partial responsibility for the attack that killed Datar.

"Her death leaves emptiness in our hearts; her remarkable life is a reminder to us all of the capacity for good and the spirit of helpfulness to which we all can aspire," Barchi said in a statement. "I hope that the entire Rutgers community will join us and will find Anita’s life to be an inspiration."

Avalon Zoppo

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