Friends Describe U.S. Tourist Murdered in Israel as Deeply Spiritual

PHOTO The friend of Kristine Luken who was stabbed to death in Israel over the weekend said it was clear that their attackers undoubtedly meant to murder the pair as they were hiking.PlayCourtesy CMJ
WATCH American Tourist Murdered in Israel

Friends describe Kristine Luken, the American missionary murdered in Israel, as a deeply religious woman who felt most at home in Israel.

"She has always from the first day I met her had a love for the Jewish people. She felt nowhere more at home than in Israel," Naomi Harralson, a friend and former colleague of Luken, told ABCNews.com. "Her relationship with God was everything to her."

It was a relationship so meaningful to Luken that she left her job at Patrick Henry College in 2009 to move to the United Kingdom to work with an evangelical Christian ministry called the Church's Ministry among Jewish people.

"It was not an easy process for her, but she was so confident that it was what she was supposed to do," Harralson said.

Harralson was Luken's boss at the Virginia college where Luken worked assisting with the university's accreditation process. Prior to that job, Luken worked at the Department of Education.

When Luken, 44, moved to the U.K., she and Harralson kept in touch by emailing inspirational quotes to each other. The last quote that Luken sent Harralson a few weeks ago now haunts her. Luken wrote to Harralson, "Remember to search out the goodness of God in the face of tragedy."

Few could have predicted the tragedy that awaited Luken. On Sunday, her body was found in a forest outside of Jerusalem. Her hands were tied behind her back. She'd been stabbed to death.

Luken and Kaye Susan Wilson, a friend she met on a trip to Poland with her Christian ministry, had been hiking together.

Wilson survived the stabbing attack by playing dead. She said that they were attacked by two Arab men.

"It all happened so fast. They came out and attacked us," Wilson told Israeli media as she recovered in an Israeli hospital after reportedly suffering 12 stab wounds Saturday while hiking in a forest near Jerusalem. "It was clear they came to kill."

Israeli police said they believe Wilson's account of the attack but are looking into all possibilities.

"There's a strong possibility that they could have been from Palestinian areas, but everything is under investigation. It's still open, still new, still fresh," Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told ABC News. "It might take time, but we're hoping arrests will be made as soon as possible if those alibis are 100 percent correct."

Rosenfeld said authorities were treating the attack as politically motivated, while not ruling out that it could have been criminal.

Wilson, described by Israeli media as an immigrant to Israel from the U.K., was wearing a necklace with the Star of David on it during the attack. At one point, she said one of the attackers ripped the symbol off her neck and then stabbed her with what looked like a bread knife where the Star had been hanging.

"I saw that the stab had not penetrated my heart, and I played dead. While I lay there, I could hear my friend dying. Her breath sounded like bubbles," Wilson told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

"I waited two minutes, we lay in the corridor. Our hands tied behind our backs and something was covering my mouth," she said. "It was terribly hard for me to get up, but I managed to go. I saw that we were in a bush area and I did not know then that they had fled. I felt myself getting tired, all I wanted to do was sleep but I knew I could not."

Eventually Wilson said she was able to stumble to a parking lot where she was spotted by passersby who called police.

American Authorities Assist Investigation

American authorities, including the FBI, are working with the Israelis on the case.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would not comment on whether investigators believe the crime was a terrorist act or a robbery gone wrong.

"We haven't reached a judgment at this point," he said at a press conference.

Today, a member of the evangelical Christian ministry who worked with Luken identified her body.

"It was her ambition and desire of the heart to one day be based in Israel," Luken's friend Keren Pryor said. "She had just an amazing love for the country."

Luken worked with the Church's Ministry among Jewish people in Israel after working for the U.S. government, a statement on the CMJ website said.

On the American web site for the organization, Luken wrote that a 2007 study tour in Israel brought her to the church.

"It is a tragedy that such a lively, caring and faith-filled person should have been struck down in such a way," CMJ CEO Robin Aldridge wrote.

Luken's family is too upset to speak, issuing a statement that read: "The Luken family in America has just been notified that the woman killed in the recent attack in the Jerusalem forest is their daughter Kristine and they respectfully request that their privacy be honoured."

When ABC News reached Luken's father by phone, he said that the family was in mourning and in shock.

Luken's aunt, Mary Jane Luken, took to her Facebook page, writing, "My heart is broken; no words can convey my sorrow."