Harvard responds after pregnant graduate is killed in Kenya mall attack

Elif Uganda 2[2]
Elif Yavuz with a child in Nairobi. Photo courtesy Jessica Cohen/Harvard.
Faculty and students at Harvard University’s School of Public Health are mourning the loss of a recent doctural graduate who colleagues say brought life and laughter to the campus. 

Elif Yavuz, 33, was one of at least 62 people murdered in this weekend’s savage shooting rampage at Kenya’s Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall. She was eight months pregnant.

“I think we all feel a deep loss. It makes us pause because many of us work in Africa, and this is the type of place that many of us would feel safe in. This part of Nairobi is in a bubble, and is generally considered pretty safe,” said Jessica Cohen, an assistant professor of Global Health at Harvard.

“She was a very intelligent, very hilarious, warm and easy to talk to. She was well known and loved around here, and in the communities in east Africa, where she worked. She was unique and full of life,” Cohen said.

Al Shabaab, a militant Somali Islamist group, launched the mall raid. Yavuz’s partner, architect Ross Langdon, was also killed in the attack.

Yavuz graduated in May, and completed her dissertation research on malaria in eastern Africa. She was currently working with the Applied Analytics Team at the Clinton Health Access Initiative and preparing her thesis for publication.

Cohen said Yavuz was living in the Tanzanian capital, Dodoma, but had traveled to Nairobi to deliver her baby at the end of October, Cohen said.

“I think she thought it would be a safer, and more comfortable place to deliver,” Cohen said. “We are all so heartbroken. She was a very special and full of life person.”

Elif Yavuz in Bali. Photo courtesy Jessica Cohen/Harvard.
Elif Yavuz in Bali. Photo courtesy Jessica Cohen/Harvard.
Elif Yavuz doing a thriller dance with children in Africa. Photo courtesy Jessica Cohen/Harvard.
Elif Yavuz doing a thriller dance with children in Africa. Photo courtesy Jessica Cohen/Harvard.

In response to the murder, Julio Frenk, dean of the faculty at Harvard School of Public Health, sent this letter to staff and students:

“I am extremely saddened to let you know that Elif Yavuz, ScD, a 2013 graduate of our Department of Global Health and Population, was among the victims of this weekend’s senseless violence at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

As an HSPH doctoral student, Elif completed her dissertation research on malaria in eastern Africa. Elif was Dutch, and had lived and worked abroad for many years, both in Africa and in Asia. She was currently working with the Applied Analytics Team at the Clinton Health Access Initiative and preparing her thesis for publication.

Elif and her partner, who was also a victim in the attack, were expecting their first child in early October.

As one of her colleagues here at HSPH said: “Elif brought laugher and love wherever she went. She lightened the lives of her HSPH colleagues and of the children she lived with in Uganda during her thesis work.”

Elif committed her career and her life to helping those in need. Her compassion was an inspiration to everyone she touched at HSPH and the broader global community in which she lived and worked. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her.

I know you join me in expressing heartfelt condolences to Elif’s family and to the GHP department’s faculty, staff, and students as they cope with this terrible loss.”

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
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