Western Washington man killed in suicide car bomb in Afghanistan

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by HEATHER GRAF / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherGrafK5

KING5.com

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 12:50 AM

Family members say Winlock native Michael Hughes was one of two civilian contractors killed in a suicide car bomb on Monday in Afghanistan.  It happened on the night before he was set to fly home.

The 38-year-old went to work in Kabul, Afghanistan back in 2010.  He is a former corrections officer at McNeil Island and was hired to train Afghans to run and reform their own prisons.

"At first it was going to be for a year, and we're like okay, let's get through the year, and then he went back again and again," said his sister, Kathleen Alexander.  "He felt like his work was very worthwhile and very important."

Family members say Hughes really believed in what he was doing.

"It was his biggest success, he told me he never felt like anything was more important than what he was doing over there," said Kristine Zitny, another of Hughes' sisters.

The women were emotional as they spoke to KING 5 from Zitny's home in Tumwater.  They say this is something they'd always feared would happen, with their brother working in Afghanistan.

Making their loss even more difficult is the timing of his death.

"He was supposed to get on a plane that night," said Zitny.  "He was going to be getting married."

Hughes was set to marry his fiance on Valentine's Day weekend in Las Vegas, where his fiance currently lives and Hughes planned to move once his work in Afghanistan was finished.

"It's like he was so close to his dream and it was just taken," said Zitny. 

Their only comfort, right now, are the happy memories they shared with their brother.  The sisters recalled how he decided to run for mayor of his small hometown of Winlock when he was a senior in high school, because he wasn't happy with the current city leadership.

They laughed when remembering the station wagon he bought for $75.

In those memories, the family says his spirit will be kept alive.  They hope his passion for his work will be kept alive by those who survived Monday's attack.

"He was taken too young, and I just hope his work can be carried on, with the people he leaves behind," said Alexander.  "I think he originally went over there as an adventure, but when he got there, he fell in love with the Afghanistan people, and he really wanted to change the world, and I really felt like he thought he could."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been set, but the family says Hughes will be buried in Winlock.  They also say he was one of two civilian contractors killed during Monday's suicide car bomb in Kabul.

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