Emily Kerstetter (Photo courtesy of WJZ-TV )
As Emily Kerstetter and her fellow church mission members enjoyed a meal at an Ethiopian restaurant in Uganda, the 16-year-old Ellicott City resident told her new friends that she wanted to stay and work through the rest of the summer.
She had already extended her trip once, opting out of her original flight that departed five days earlier. She was ready for more.
Minutes later, a suicide bomber struck outside the restaurant, one of two attacks in the Ugandan capital of Kampala that killed at least 74 people and wounded 85 others, including Emily, her grandmother and three other members of her group. Ugandan police believe an al-Qaida-linked group, al-Shabab, is behind the bombings at the restaurant and a rugby club. At both locations, crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands outdoors on a large-screen TV.
"A couple of people have said, 'Man if she'd only come home,'" said Nikki Liskovec, a family friend and former next-door neighbor of Emily and her parents. "But if you'd seen Emily's face, she loved doing this work. You'd understand why she was there."
A metal rod was successfully placed in Emily's shattered right leg during surgery Tuesday and she was in stable condition, according to Liskovec. Emily's parents, Matthew and Jennifer, were scheduled to land Tuesday night in South Africa.
Joanne Kerstetter, Emily's paternal grandmother and traveling companion, had an elbow injury but was in good enough condition to accompany her granddaughter to Johannesburg, South Africa, for surgery.
The other four members of the party, a mission group organized by Joanne Kerstetter's Selinsgrove, Pa., church, sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, according to the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor at Christ Community Church.
Joanne Kerstetter asked her granddaughter earlier this year to accompany her on the trip, said Liskovec. But the elder Kerstetter warned her granddaughter it wouldn't be easy. Emily would have to raise $4,000 to finance the mission.
The then-sophomore at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville contacted family, friends, relatives and anyone she could think of to support her cause, said Liskovec. In a newsletter for Mount de Sales Academy, Emily asked her community at the private school for help. "I am feeling that God is calling me to reach out to those who are less fortunate," she wrote in April. "I have been presented with this opportunity to grow in charity toward others." At that point, she had raised only $1,000.
Chantel Hunter, a classmate, said via e-mail Monday that Emily is known as a caring person who "is always thinking of others before herself."
Liskovec said Monday neither she nor Emily's parents have been able to contact the girl but have received word of her condition from the State Department and FBI.
Such a deadly attack came as a shock to the missionaries. Kind said her church has sent members on mission trips to Uganda for years. Eight other members of the church's party had returned on the flight last week.
Kind said Joanne Kerstetter has been a part of several trips, and considers her to be a pillar of the church. "Before she left, she asked every child in the church to pray for her," Kind said. "That comes from a place of sincerity and deep faith."
In Washington, President Barack Obama spoke with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday to express his condolences for the loss of life in the bombings. Obama offered to provide any support or assistance needed in Uganda, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Gibbs said Monday that, while the FBI is assisting in the ongoing investigation, the U.S. believes that there is "no clearer signal of the hateful motives of terrorists than was sent yesterday."
A California-based aid group said one of its workers, Nate Henn, 25, of Brandywine Hundred, Del., was among the dead.
One of the leaders on Emily's team, Lori Ssebulime, told the Associated Press the members had arrived early at the restaurant for dinner to get good seats to view the soccer match. After the blast, Ssebulime said, she scrambled around the bodies, found Emily and got her inside a minivan.
"Emily was rolling around in a pool of blood screaming," she said. Ssebulime added: "The blast happened. It was total chaos. I fell over backward. Everything was gray. Five minutes before it went off, Emily said she was going to cry so hard because she didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay the rest of the summer here."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts