On Tuesday, Sharon Gray was killed while riding in a car, stoned by protestors in Ethiopia.
Gray was a researcher for the plant biology department at UC Davis. The department chair, Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar said the department was a small and tight knit community on campus.
Dinesh-Kumar described Gray as a bright light, a ray of sunshine, and a woman who loved being outdoors.
"She worked here on trying to understand how plants are able to cope with stress," Dinesh-Kumar said. "Especially she was interested in understanding how plants cope with increased carbon dioxide."
Gray was in Ethiopia for a research project with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and other charity foundations. Her goal was to help small farmers in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.
"Unlike the United States where farmers have big acreage, [in Ethiopia and throughout Africa], most farming is very small,” Dinesh-Kumar said. “The needs there are quite different. She was involved in solving real world problems."
Hundreds of people have been killed in similar protests in Ethiopia since last November. Gray was the first foreigner killed.
"I saw her two days before she left. She was smiling. She said hi [as she was] going to the greenhouse," Dinesh-Kumar said. "That's why it's hard to comprehend what happened within the last 24 hours."
Gray and her husband Cody moved from Illinois to Davis for National Science Foundation Fellowships. For him, it's losing his partner in life and in the field.
On Facebook, Gray's sister writes:
"My sister was a bright light in a sometimes bleak world. My sister was laughter, She was love. She loved completely and without reserve. My sister lived every moment of her life. She took joy in every small happiness she could find. She worked tirelessly. My sister was brilliant. My sister took in as much of this world as she could. She camped. She hiked. She ate everything delicious that she could get her beautiful hands on. She traveled. She was hopeful. Her soul was as beautiful, strong and resilient as her mind and her body. My sister was peaceful. My sister was the most exceptional human being anyone of us has ever known. She touched every life she encountered in a positive and beautiful way. My sister is gone and this world is so much worse for it."
Dinesh-Kumar said the loss is not just for the plant biology department at UC Davis and the greater science community, but a loss for the world and future generations.
Gray's colleague traveling with her in Ethiopia was not harmed and on her way back to the states.
Copyright 2016 KXTV