Slain War Victim Activist Buried

Marla Ruzicka sits with Harah, an Iraqi girl thrown from a car after it was hit by a missile. This photo was sent in an e-mail to Ruzicka's parents 45 minutes before Ruzicka was killed April 16.
AP (file)
Friends, family, journalists and colleagues came from around the world for the Lakeport, Calif., funeral service for Marla Ruzicka, a passionate defender of victims of war who was killed in a car bombing in Baghdad.

Among the some 600 mourners at St. Mary's Catholic Church Saturday were U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and actor Sean Penn, who called Ruzicka one of his heroes.

Ruzicka, 28, was the founder of CIVIC, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, whose aim was to tally the number of Iraqi civilian deaths in the war.

She was killed with her Iraqi translator and another foreigner on April 16th by a car bomb which hit their two vehicles as they drove along the treacherous road leading to Baghdad's airport.

Instrumental in securing millions of dollars in aid for distribution in Iraq, Ruzicka had been traveling to and from the country since U.S.-led forces invaded, often going door-to-door to meet wounded Iraqis and gathering data for her surveys on those hurt and killed.

In Iraq, a 12-year-old orphan remembers Marla Ruzicka as a smiling blonde apparition who gave him a glass of juice and changed his clothes when bullet splinters in his spine made it painful to move and walking virtually impossible.

The American activist took up Rakan Hassan's cause, securing a surgeon in the United States to perform the operation he needs to recover from the attack that killed his parents. But Ruzicka died before she could complete her mission, cut down by the same relentless violence that has shattered the lives of the many Iraqis she tried to help.

At the time of her death, Ruzicka was in contact with officials from the U.S. Embassy and State Department to arrange Rakan's medical evacuation. Since then, however, his cause has stalled. The embassy said Friday it was still processing his case.

Everyone who knew the 28-year-old activist — from the Iraqi families she helped, to the U.S. senators and war correspondents she lobbied — extolled Ruzicka's relentless campaign for compensation for the innocent victims of war.

With passion for her causes and an unbridled capacity for having fun, she was remembered as a force of nature, a cross between Mother Teresa and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, said Quill Lawrence, a radio reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp., speaking at the funeral.

Ruzicka often arrived in war-torn places unprepared and nearly broke, he said. But Lawrence said she quickly managed to win over the hearts of those she was helping and those whose help she needed.

Lawrence said Ruzicka repaid favors with her friendship, kindness and a ready smile. "She made me feel like I was the greatest person on earth," Lawrence told the crowd.