Family Allegedly Murdered While Living Abroad Wanted to Build a Playground for Local Kids

Friends of the American family-of-three all found dead in the Republic of Georgia, where they had lived for many years, have described the victims as “passionate” people with an interest in helping others.

The bodies of Ryan Smith, wife Lora Smith and their 4-year-old son, Caleb, were discovered last week by Georgian investigators after the family had gotten into a fight with a shepherd, according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry of Georgia.

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Ryan and Caleb were allegedly shot by the shepherd, a man, while Lora ran for her life, then fell into a ravine and died, according to national authorities.

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The Smiths, who obtained dual American-Georgian citizenship, were found days after their July 4 slayings, according to the statement. Ryan was originally from San Diego, according to his Facebook page, and met Lora in 2005.

The family had lived in Georgia for 10 years and cofounded reWoven, a company that creates traditional handcrafted woven carpets by working closely with local artisans, helping them provide for their families and communities.

“We’re losing a couple who’s passionate about caring for other people,” Barabara Gowen, a family friend, told local TV station KNSD, “And the way they did, it’s a rare commodity these days and they did it so graciously. They were committed believers in Christ.”

Lora taught English through a Georgian government program and she and Ryan planned on building a playground in Marneuli, a city in southern Georgia, according to a GoFundMe page started by the Gowens.

“Nothing like it existed for the community,” the couple wrote on the page, which was started to help pay for funeral expenses. “They had been working with the authorities and were getting close to an approval. There is hope to see that realized and possibly use any funds leftover to make that dream come true.”

According to Georgian national officials, the Smiths were reported missing by a friend. Search parties found their vehicle in Tskere village, in the Dusheti region of the country, and soon after recovered Lora’s body from the edge of a waterfall.

The next day, they found Ryan’s remains.

A 19-year-old shepherd was arrested and during police questioning allegedly revealed that he had shot Ryan and Caleb with a hunting rifle but Lora managed to flee the scene. She died after falling into the ravine, according to the statement.

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Locals told the Georgia Today newspaper that the man allegedly got into an altercation with the Smiths after he attempted to sexually harassed Lora. They said he is not from the area, according to Today.

The shepherd has been charged with premeditated murder and is facing a possible life sentence. It is unclear if he has appeared in court or retained an attorney.

He allegedly hid Caleb’s body “in an avalanche,” the statement explains. According to the Georgia paper, the boy was hidden to cover evidence. The shepherd allegedly led police to his remains.

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