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Woman who grew up in Mass. among those killed on Ethiopian plane

An Ethiopian Airline Boeing 737-700 aircraft.
An Ethiopian Airline Boeing 737-700 aircraft. AFP/Getty Images

At an age when many are taking their first, tentative steps away from home, Samya Stumo traveled the world.

As an undergraduate studying anthropology and Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she did field work in a Peruvian village in the Andes. She obtained a master’s degree in global health from the University of Copenhagen and worked in Kenya and at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

On Sunday, Stumo was flying from Ethiopia to Kenya when her plane, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, crashed minutes after takeoff.

Stumo, who was 24 and grew up on a farm in Sheffield, a small town in the Berkshires, was among the 157 passengers and crew killed aboard the flight.

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She had just taken a job in January at ThinkWell, a global health organization, and was en route to her first project for the group in Uganda, according to her grandmother, Laura Nader, a professor of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley.

“She was curious — curious about the world and what she could be doing to make it better,” Nader said Tuesday.

Stumo, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 2015, was part of a politically and socially active family that includes her great-uncle, Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate and 2000 presidential candidate. She was the middle of three siblings. A fourth sibling died of cancer at age 2 1/2, her grandmother said.

Tarek Milleron, Stumo’s uncle, said she was a precocious child who was home-schooled by her mother and could read at age 4. She played the cello and her two brothers and father were accomplished musicians, he said. The family performed rock songs at local open mic nights in Western Massachusetts, he said.

“They had a really beautiful situation growing up,” Milleron said.

When she traveled to Peru for the first time, as a 16-year-old on a Rotary Club trip, it seemed to inspire her interest in the wider world, Milleron said.

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“She just seemed to really blossom at that point and, to me, that’s the memory of when she started to take off and develop all these interests and develop this technique of befriending everyone under the sun,” Milleron said.

At UMass, Stumo was the recipient of a Service Scholarship for her commitment to public service, said Ed Blaguszewski, a campus spokesman.

“She was a rising star, contagiously enthusiastic about her work and about life in general,” Yogesh Rajkotia, the founder and chief executive of ThinkWell, wrote in a Facebook post. “As a father myself, I cannot imagine the shock that her brave family is enduring.”

The crash was the second in recent months of a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. In October, the same model Boeing crashed off Indonesia, killing 189 people. In response, the United Kingdom, China, Australia, South Korea, and others countries have grounded the aircraft.

Nader said Stumo’s mother, father, younger brother, and boyfriend were traveling to Ethiopia on Tuesday to identify her remains at the US Embassy.

Nader said she last spoke to her granddaughter on Presidents’ Day last month, when she came to Berkeley with her boyfriend, a medical resident from San Francisco.

“Nobody can believe it,” Nader said. “She was such a dear and a very happy person.”


Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.

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