Two Americans killed by the so-called Islamic State while cycling around the world are being remembered as free spirits.
Lauren Geoghegan and her boyfriend Jay Austin, both 29 years old, were cycling through Tajikistan with a group of foreigners when a car rammed into the group. The duo from Washington, D.C., was 369 days into their trip.
Five men got out and attacked the tourists with knives. One Dutch and one Swiss national were also killed along with the American couple.
Tajik authorities blamed the attack on an Islamic separatist group, but ISIS took responsibility in a video showing the five alleged attackers.
Geoghegan and Austin set out from the U.S. in July 2017 and chronicled their adventures on a blog called SimplyCycling.
Austin explained their decision to leave, writing: “I’ve grown tired of spending the best hours of my day in front of a glowing rectangle, of coloring the best years of my life in swaths of grey and beige.”
“Maybe it sounds crazy to others, but to me, it sounds exactly like who they were,” said Tiffany del Rio, a friend of the couple.
The trip was an example of Geoghegan’s “openness to new people and places, and her quest for a better understanding of the world,” Robert and Elvira Geoghegan, Lauren’s parents, said in a statement to CBS.
The couple’s adventures took them through Africa, Europe, and eventually Central Asia.
Their blog showcased many acts of kindness, like the time they said a stranger pulled their vehicle over to offer the couple ice cream bars or when young girls offered them flowers.
It led Austin to write: “You’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. ‘People,’ the narrative goes, ‘are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.’ I don’t buy it.”
Their last photos show a wide open world, filled with strangers and smiles — the opposite of how they died.
A memorial to the cyclists has been set up at the U.S. embassy in Tajikistan.
This was the first known attack of its kind against Western tourists in Tajikistan, a remote ex-Soviet state located north of Afghanistan in the towering mountains where Islamist militants fought an insurgency against a Moscow-backed government in the 1990s.
Security forces killed four suspected attackers on Monday and detained one. In a statement on Tuesday, the interior ministry said it had detained four more suspects and blamed the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan for the attack.
—With files from Mike Drolet