Washington County native shot while on New Orleans mission

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Last Thursday, Ray Smith of Venetia got a horrifying phone call from his son, Mark, an AmeriCorps volunteer in New Orleans.

"At 11 p.m., the phone rings and it's Mark on the phone and he says, 'Dad I'm going into surgery. I've been shot. Tell everybody I love them,' " his father said.

About an hour earlier, Mark Smith and a fellow volunteer were returning to the community center where they lived in New Orleans' 17th Ward when they saw four men they did not know near the center's tool shed. The men began to run away upon seeing the two volunteers.

Thefts from the site had put Mr. Smith and the volunteer with him on edge and they instinctively took off after the men.

Mr. Smith, a former college athlete, jumped the back fence and chased the men across railroad tracks and a highway. He caught up with one of the men, but stopped suddenly as the man began to turn around.

The man Mr. Smith was pursuing then shot him two or three times in the stomach and left arm and ran off, said Gerry Flot, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department.

As of yesterday, police said they had no suspects.

On Monday, Mr. Smith underwent the last of three surgeries to repair liver and lung damage and he remains in stable condition in a New Orleans hospital. His father, who flew to New Orleans with his wife early Friday morning, said that "he has regained some consciousness" and was beginning to be coherent.

His father knew that the one-year mission with AmeriCorps carried risks but he said his son was never concerned about his own safety.

"He might be scared for somebody else," his father said. "I've never known him to be scared for himself."

Those who know Mr. Smith, a 2007 Grove City College graduate and former captain of the basketball team, characterize him as selfless, often putting the welfare of others ahead of his own.

Steve Lamie, his former basketball coach at Grove City, described him as quiet and said he avoided drawing attention to himself, though he "was our best athlete by far."

"It was all about the team and not him," he said.

That had begun to change, as he took on the role as captain his senior year and no longer shied away from scoring, though he remained modest. Mr. Lamie said that his performance carried the team to the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship.

His father said he had also noticed an evolution in his son. Though he was still reserved, he was taking on more prominent leadership roles when his mission with AmeriCorps began in August, heading up two Bible studies in New Orleans and stepping up to coordinate teams of part-time volunteers.

For now, he is grateful his son has made it through the ordeal, in which he lost half of his blood and nearly lost the function of his liver. He called his son's survival "a miracle."

"The good Lord made him a tough guy," his father said.

Moriah Balingit can be reached at mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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