Sean Smith, the foreign service information management officer who was killed with three others in an attack on an American consulate in Libya, wasn’t just remembered Wednesday in the real world as a husband, father and 10-year veteran of the U.S. State Department, but also as an influential intergalactic diplomat in a sprawling virtual galaxy.
The 34-year-old State Department officer serving in Benghazi was known online as the player "Vile Rat" in the massively multiplayer game "EVE Online," which features more than 400,000 players captaining starships, buying and selling virtual goods, engaging in corporate espionage and electing a government composed of real-world players.
"I can tell you that CCP Games and its employees are overwhelmingly saddened by the news of Sean Smith’s passing, as we are when we learn of any player who is tragically lost," said Ned Coker, a spokesman for the game’s developer. "Many of us interacted with him professionally and personally and, honestly, it feels like our words are lost – adrift amongst such a tremendous, soul-affirming outpouring from the ‘EVE’ community."
Smith was an avid participant of "EVE," having served in the game’s virtual government and convinced some of the game’s biggest alliances to disband. He played as "Vile Rat," a cunning diplomat whose head was shorn, just like Smith’s, since 2006.
After the news of Smith’s death spread online Wednesday, several virtual space stations in "EVE" were renamed in his honor and condolence messages poured across Internet message boards and on Twitter with (hashtag)tweetfleet.
Alex "The Mittani " Gianturco, the leader of Smith’s "EVE" guild "Goon Swarm," detailed his final online interaction with Smith on his personal site Wednesday. He said Smith was on the instant messaging service Jabber before the attack and posted two words – an expletive and "GUNFIRE" – before he disconnected.
"I’m clearly in shock as I write this as everything is buzzing around my head funnily, and I feel kind of dead inside," wrote Gianturco. "I’m not sure if this is how I’m supposed to react to my friend being killed by a mob in a post-revolutionary Libya, but it’s pretty awful, and Sean was a great guy and he was a (expletive) master at this game we all play, even though a lot of people may not realize how significant an influence he had."
Prior to arriving in Benghazi, Smith served in Brussels, Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague, according to a State Department statement. He had also served in the Air Force.
Tuesday’s attack by a mob enraged by a film ridiculing Islam’s prophet came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist strike. Ambassador Chris Stevens was also killed in the assault. He was the first U.S. diplomat to die in the line of duty since 1979.
The attack was touched off by an obscure movie made in the United States by a filmmaker who calls Islam a "cancer." Video excerpts posted on YouTube depict the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.
Smith is survived by his wife, Heather, and two children, Samantha and Nathan.