The body of an American tourist stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa on Tuesday began its journey home Friday morning, after a farewell service at Ben Gurion Airport.
US Army veteran and Vanderbilt University graduate student Taylor Force, 28, was in Israel on a school-sponsored trip when he was stabbed and killed by the terrorist on a knife rampage in the coastal city.
In a letter notifying students, faculty and staff, Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos called the stabbing a “horrific act of violence.”
Friday’s service was attended by American-born former MK Dov Lipman, Force’s friend and former West Point Military Academy classmate David Simpkins, and members of the US diplomatic corps and military in Israel.
Mourners stood around Force’s coffin, draped in the American flag, to say their goodbyes.
“It is with profound sadness that we gather today and bow our heads in fellowship as Taylor Force begins his journey home,” said William Gaunt, the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, on behalf of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
“Innocent of any wrongdoing, Taylor was taken cruelly from his family, his friends, fellow students at Vanderbilt University, and his community, in an act of terror which we condemn with all of our strength,” he said.
“Tragically, Taylor’s death forms an additional bond between the people of the United States and the people of Israel.”
Lipman read out a message from Force’s sister, Kristen, on behalf of the family, in which they thanked Israel for the its reaction to his murder.
“Please convey our deepest appreciation to the Israeli people and government who have been so compassionate and thoughtful during the worst moment of our lives,” the letter said. “Taylor was our world and our lives are forever changed, but knowing Israel mourns with us is comforting.”
Simpkins also paid tribute to his “humble, optimistic, hardworking, handsome” friend.
Calling Force “America’s finest,” Simpkins said he “genuinely loved everyone, regardless of their race, religion or creed. Taylor is possibly the only person I knew who had absolutely no personal enemies.”
The service concluded with the singing of the American national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner.
Force’s father said Wednesday the business student was an avid skier and guitar player who loved horses and ranch life after a childhood in Texas.
Stuart Force told AP in a telephone interview that his son graduated from West Point in 2009, following in the footsteps of his grandfather.
Force served in the Army from 2009 to 2014, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then took about a year off after active duty. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky, before moving to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt.
Force was finishing his first year of business school and wasn’t yet sure what he was going to do when he graduated.
“He just wanted to further his education and explore more of the civilian side of life,” said his father, Stuart Force.
Taylor had been making friends and having a great time at school, and he was very excited about the trip to Israel, he added.
Tuesday’s rash of violence also included a stabbing attack in a Tel Aviv suburb which injured an Israeli man, and a shooting outside Jerusalem’s Old City, in which two policemen were badly hurt. It was the latest in a wave of near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and security forces that erupted in mid-September.
The Jaffa spree unfolded as Vice President Joe Biden was meeting with former president Shimon Peres at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, nearby. The vice president’s family was dining in the area too. Biden later slammed the Palestinian Authority and others who failed to condemn this and other such terrorist attacks.
Raphael Ahren and AP contributed to this report