LAKEPORT, Calif. -- An American activist who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq earlier this month was remembered yesterday for her dedication to humanitarian causes and her personal mission of counting civilian Iraqi deaths.
Many of the more than 600 mourners, including friends, family, colleagues, and journalists who traveled from around the world for her funeral, offered memories of Marla Ruzicka as a passionate and dedicated woman who accomplished much in her 28 years.
Kevin Danaher, co-founder of San Francisco-based Global Exchange, a nonprofit international human rights organization, said Ruzicka's magic was understanding and showing unconditional love. ''That's why a 28-year-old woman from a small town in Northern California has so many people around the world grieving for her," Danaher said.
Ruzicka traveled to Iraq before the March 2003 US-led invasion and later founded a group called CIVIC, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, whose aim was to tally the number of civilian deaths in the conflict. On April 16, she was killed in a car bombing in Baghdad, along with her interpreter and another foreigner.
The Rev. Ted Oswald, who conducted the Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in this town 350 miles north of San Francisco, compared Ruzicka to Mother Teresa. The upbeat homily brought laughter and applause from the mourners, who included actor Sean Penn, who also has spent time in Iraq and said he counted Ruzicka among his heroes.
Oswald told of how, as an 8-year-old, Ruzicka sold rocks door to door for a quarter, then used the money to buy her mother flowers. He said she had done things in her own quiet way -- and in a not-so-subtle way.
''There's no doubt in my mind that the good Lord has his hands full right now," Oswald said, referring to Ruzicka's outspoken nature.
Several journalists offered accounts of how they met Ruzicka, the social events she organized in Afghanistan and Iraq, her boundless energy, and her commitment to her cause. Bobby Muller, chairman of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, said the true value of Ruzicka's work was that she countered people's cynicism.
''Marla demonstrated the fact that an individual can make a profound difference in this world," Muller said. ''This woman was our inspiration."