The Muslim 11th-grader in northern Iraq approached her Christian teacher one day last fall and declared quietly, “I don’t know what to do.” She’d been reading about Jesus and believed what she read, she explained, but her parents would never let her become a Christian.

The teacher, Jeremiah Small, responded in what those who knew him described as a characteristically thoughtful manner.

“I encouraged her to consider what she had read and explained that it wasn’t my place to tell her to be a Christian,” he wrote in an email to friends that day, asking them to pray for her conversion. “Keep reading and let the object of your faith take shape and its character be proven.”

Small, of Cosmopolis in southwestern Washington, was shot to death Thursday at the Classical School of the Medes, a private Christian academy in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, in Iraq’s most peaceful region. The gunman, an 18-year-old, then shot himself in the head as other students scattered from the room.

No motive was evident; students reported that a brief quarrel preceded the shooting, but the cause was unclear.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Servant Group International, which employed him, said it was stunned. Small had taught history and literature at the school since 2005, returning year after year because of the changes and hope he saw in the lives of his students, the organization said in a news release.

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