On Tuesday, Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Information Management Officer assigned to the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, typed a message to the director of his online gaming guild: ”Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” The consulate was under siege, and within hours, a mob would attack, killing Smith along with three others, including the U.S. ambassador.
In his professional and personal life, Smith was a husband and father of two, an Air Force veteran, and a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service who had served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague. But when gaming with EVE Online guild Goonswarm, he was a popular figure known as “Vile Rat,” and alternately as “Vilerat” while volunteering as a moderator at the internet community Something Awful. Smith’s death was confirmed on Wednesday morning by the State Department and reported widely in the news media. But the first people to report Smith’s death were his friends. Their reaction was shock and mourning.
“My people, I have greivous [sic] news. Vile Rat has been confirmed to be KIA in Benghazi; his family has been informed and the news is likely to break out on the wire services soon,” wrote Goonswarm director Alex Gianturco in a message mirrored to Something Awful at 11:21 EST. “Needless to say, we are in shock, have no words, and have nothing but sympathy for his family and children. I have known Vile Rat since 2006, he was one of the oldest of old-guard goons and one of the best and most effective diplomats this game has ever seen.”
According to his friends, Smith had emerged as a key leader for the community, and was known as a senior guild diplomat who helped engineer the destruction of Goonswarm’s chief rival, the Band of Brothers. He let his guildmates design his tattoo. On Wednesday, Gianturco posted an obituary for his friend of more than six years. “He was on jabber when it happened, that’s the most fucked up thing,” Gianturco wrote. “In Baghdad the same kind of thing happened – incoming sirens, he’d vanish, we’d freak out and he’d come back ok after a bit. This time he said ‘FUCK’ and ‘GUNFIRE’ and then disconnected and never returned.”
Next, media reports began circulating that the consulate in Benghazi, and the U.S. embassy in Egypt, had come under attack. Gianturco, known in the EVE Online community as The Mittani, “freaked out.” Gianturco wrote that he was “in shock” and felt dead inside.
“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 goddamned master at this game we all play, even though a lot of people may not realize how significant an influence he had,” wrote Gianturco. And that “if you play this stupid game, you may not realize it, but you play in a galaxy created in large part by Vile Rat’s talent as a diplomat.”
At Something Awful, Smith was a long-time member — more recently a moderator — who posted about football, politics and working with the Foreign Service. Forumers are now leaving messages in Smith’s memory, and others are doing similar at the EVE Online forums. Gamers are now also re-naming virtual space stations after Smith. EVE Online, which takes place in a simulated galaxy, center around the digital stations as bases for trade, socializing and fighting. Smith’s username “was a name you could mention in any conversation about the pointy end of EVE, without needing to explain who he was,” posted developer CCP Greyscale.
Forumer SpaceGirlArt wrote that Smith had “been part of my internet presence for a decade, right back to the old #ce [IRC] channel. I can honestly say that I never expected to feel this gutted over the death of someone that I never met in real life. This is unbelievable.”
One forumer expressed concern that Smith’s death would be politicized by the media during an election year. But, “Through the bullshit media circus, we will know ‘That was Vilerat, and he was actually way awesome.’”
Update 2:45 p.m., Sept. 12: Something Awful admin elpintogrande writes, “After some conversations with Sean’s wife, we will be launching a fundraiser as soon as possible through YouCaring. It might take a few days.” In the meantime, the admin has posted an e-mail address tied to Smith’s PayPal account for those who want to donate now.
3:30 p.m. Ned Coker, public relations agent for EVE Online developer CCP, emailed Eurogamer: “I can tell you that CCP 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,” Coker wrote. He added that the Council of Stellar Management, EVE Online’s player-run government, is planning to post a tribute. Smith was once a member of the council.
4:49 p.m., Sept. 13: The Air Force confirmed to Danger Room more details about Sean Smith’s military service. According to the Air Force, Smith served in the Air Force as a Ground Radio Maintenance (2E) specialist. He enlisted in July 1995, entered active duty in 1997, and completed his service in 2002. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant in August 2000.
In addition, there’s more details on in-game tributes from the Council of Stellar Management.