Local News

North Carolina woman killed in Afghanistan hotel attack

Posted May 15, 2015 5:14 a.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2015 6:46 p.m. EDT

A North Carolina woman who was in Afghanistan working on a project involving wheat production was the lone American victim in this week's Taliban attack in Kabul.

Paula Kantor, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was staying at the Park Palace Hotel when it was stormed by Taliban gunmen late Wednesday, sparking a siege that left 14 people, including nine foreigners, dead.

A scientist, gender and development specialist, Kantor was in Kabul to work on a project involving wheat production with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit. Kantor's mother, Barbara Kantor, said their family moved to Winton-Salem in 1988. She said her daughter was a "very take charge person."

"She has been overseas for 20 years living abroad. She felt very strongly about bettering the life of women, in particular, but also families. She was very brilliant," Barbara Kantor said. "She always worked in difficult areas and kept us on our knees."

Barbara Kantor said her daughter had been scheduled to leave the Park Palace Hotel the day of the attack.

"She was in a guest home there for a training session for folks setting up a project in the field," her mother said. "The day of the shooting was the day she was leaving, but it wasn't to be."

Kantor spent time in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She is survived by her parents, sister and brother.

"I'll remember her compassion and serenity about her work and confidence in herself," Barbara Kantor said.

UNC professor Meenu Tewari described Kantor as prolific.

"She left a lot of work behind that other people will be inspired by," Tewari said. "She was described by others in the department as being very prolific and taking a bold lead in new areas."

AREU's director Nader Nadery said on the organization's website Friday that Kantor "gave her life ... to make sure millions of people, especially women, get a chance at a better life."

"She was aware of the risk she was taking to serve in conflict and terrorist-affected places," Nadery said in a statement. "While we grieve her loss, we shall never forget the cause she gave her life to." Kantor also worked at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, which described her as a "pillar of our gender work."

Stephen Hall, director general of WorldFish, a nonprofit organization that uses fisheries to reduce hunger and poverty, called Kantor's death a "waste of remarkable talent."

"Her commitment to improving the livelihoods of women in some of the world’s most impoverished regions will be her legacy," Hall said in a statement. "Paula’s passing is a loss to the whole development community.”

WorldFish said Kantor earned a doctoral degree focused on international economic development and gender from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2000.