Andrew Bith Abui survived many hardships in his 32 years, including the Sudanese violence that made him one of the Lost Boys more than 20 years ago.
As a child, he endured harsh refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He made his way to Nebraska, where he worked, studied and sought a better life for himself and others.
Abui was gunned down and killed last week during an extended visit to his wife in South Sudan, relatives and friends said.
“It's really hard,” said a cousin, Stephen Miajok, who was with Abui in an Ethiopian refugee camp. “I feel a lot of pain.”
That which Abui left behind — the horror of intense civil unrest — ultimately caught up with him anyway.
Miajok said members of the Nuer tribe, who are in armed conflict with members of the Dinka tribe in South Sudan, attacked the community where Abui was staying. Abui was killed in the melee.
Daniel Bior of La Vista said he met Abui when both were in a camp in Kenya. They were in Group 44, a large group of boys.
“When I stayed with him, he was just like my brother,” Bior said. When they were given a chance to study, Bior said, Abui performed near the top of the kids.
But living in those camps was difficult. Peter Kuany of Waterloo, who met Abui in the United States, said the Lost Boys lived without parents in refugee camps that sometimes had too little food and water. Conditions were at times unsanitary.
“It was a very bad life,” Kuany said.
South Sudan won independence in 2011 from Sudan. But recent conflict among South Sudanese leaders has sparked friction between Dinkas and Nuers. Fresh hostility, violence and death have followed.
Miajok and others said Abui lived in Plattsmouth, Neb. He had worked over the past few years at a meat-processing plant in Council Bluffs and at a plastics plant in Omaha.
He lived briefly in Florida, studying and working, but came back to the Omaha area and earned a degree at Metropolitan Community College, his friends said. A Metro spokeswoman said Abui graduated with honors in May with a degree in criminal justice.
Abui ran last year for the chairmanship of a large local group that sends books and supplies back to his community in South Sudan, but narrowly lost.
He married a woman in South Sudan and had been visiting her there since late spring. Miajok said his cousin intended to return to the Omaha area.
Abui liked watching boxing and engaged in a bit of that sport as well, Miajok said. He also enjoyed a form of wrestling that is popular in Sudan.
Mainly, Miajok said, Abui hoped to lift others from the kind of tough life that he escaped. He knew what it was like to struggle.
Miajok said: “He was always there for anyone who needed help.”