THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
Deena Umbarger, '90, an international relief worker in Africa, was shot and killed March 20 in a remote area near the border between Kenya and Somalia. She was 35.
Umbarger, from Sumner, apparently was on her way into Somalia to do relief work for the United Methodist Committee of Relief. She volunteered to work with the committee after forsaking a career in corporate law.
A graduate of Sumner High School, Umbarger received a bachelor's degree magma cum laude in psychology from the UW in 1990. In 1994, she graduated from Yale Law School and went to work for a Washington, D.C., corporate law firm before deciding it wasn't for her.
A friend in Seattle suggested she find temporary employment with the committee, the disaster relief arm of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. "She took that job until she had time to decide what she wanted to do," said her mother, Maryann Workman. "And she fell in love with the work."
She spent time doing relief work in Kenya and the Republic of Georgia when she asked to go back to Africa. She had an apartment in Nairobi and was helping develop agricultural projects for the area when she was killed.
Umbarger was shot while having tea with town elders from the tiny community of Kiumigo on the border between Kenya and Somalia. A lone gunman broke into the meeting and opened fire on the participants. A U.S. Embassy official in Nairobi said it appears the UW graduate was targeted because Umbarger reportedly had uncovered a scheme in which U.S. relief aid to Somalia may have been siphoned off to someone in Washington, D.C. Two weeks prior to her death, someone had broken into Umbarger's apartment and stolen her computer.
"Deena's death is a tragedy," said Randolph Nugent, chief executive of the Global Ministries board. "Not only did she possess a brilliant mind, she also possessed a deep passion for justice and a love for those who so desperately need the kind of support provided through the outreach programs." Umbarger was engaged to a Kenyan, Japhet Nwaga, who is also was relief worker. They had planned a Christmas wedding in the Puget Sound area.
Survivors include her mother, Maryann Workman of Sumner; her father, Dean Umbarger of Cypress, Texas; and two sisters, Samantha Miller of Tacoma, and Leeann Handy of Michigan.
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