USA TODAY -- President Obama calls U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died during an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a "courageous and exemplary representative of the United States."
Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya since May, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate in Eastern Libya to try to evacuate staff.
Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif told a news conference in Benghazi that the building came under attack by a mob firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades, ABC News reports.
Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Information Management Officer, died from smoke inhalation during the attack. Two other Americans, possibly guards, were also killed.
Stevens, 52, was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since the death of Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979.
"Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi," Obama said in a statement. " As ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya's transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my administration, and deeply saddened by this loss."
Stevens, who spoke Arabic and French, was a career diplomat and a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent three years, from 1983 to 1985, teaching English in Morocco in the 1980s.
He arrived in Tripoli in May 2012 as U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Stevens served twice before in Libya, as a special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the Libyan revolution and as the deputy chief of mission from 2007 to 2009.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Stevens "fell in love with the Middle East" as a Peace Corps volunteer and "won friends for America in distant places and made other people's hopes his own."
Clinton said she sent him to Libya last year as a special representative to build relations with the Libyan opposition in Benghazi during their fight against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddhafi.
"He risked his life to stop a tyrant then gave his life trying to help build a better Libya," she said. "He will be remembered as a hero byman nations."
Stevens' bio on the U.S. Embassy website in Tripoli says the ambassador "considers himself fortunate to participate in this incredible period of change and hope for Libya."
It says the ambassador sought to develop "a strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Libya."
"When he's not meeting with government officials or foreign diplomats, you can find Ambassador Stevens meeting with Libyan academics, business people, and civil society activists, exploring Libya's rich archaeological sites, and enjoying Libya's varied cuisine," the bio says.
Harvey Morris, who contributes articles on international affairs for the International Herald Tribune, writes today that he last heard from Stevens two months ago in a catch-up e-mail to family and friends.
Morris, in his post for the IHT, says Stevens acknowledged the uncertain security situation, writing that We move around town in armored S.U.V.'s with security teams watching out for us."
But Stevens also wrote that the "whole atmosphere" in Libya, where he had served before, had changed for the better.
"People smile more and are much more open with foreigners," Stevens said in his e-mail. "Americans, French and British are enjoying unusual popularity. Let's hope it lasts!"
Before joining the Foreign Service in 1991, Stevens was an international trade lawyer in Washington.
Stevens, who was born and raised in Northern California, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982 and got his law degree from the University of California's Hastings College of Law in 1989.
He also received a masters degree from the National War College in 2010.
His previous diplomatic postings included assignments in Israel, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In Washington, Ambassador Stevens served as Director of the Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs. He was a also a Pearson Fellow with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; special assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Iran desk officer; and staff assistant in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.