Former Westmoreland Co. Resident Working As UN Expert Found Dead In Congo

SCOTTDALE (KDKA/AP) – The United States has issued a travel warning for Congo.

A State Department statement warns of unnecessary travel there, citing “ongoing instability and sporadic violence” in many areas.

The warning comes a day after Congo confirmed the deaths of an American, identified as a 34-year-old Pittsburgh-area native, and a Swedish expert for the United Nations and their interpreter. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave Monday after the team disappeared more than two weeks ago while looking into recent alleged rights abuses.

Michael Sharp, originally of Scottdale, and his colleagues went missing March 12 along with their driver and two motorbike drivers while looking into large-scale violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups.

Sharp spent many years of his life traveling the world to resolve conflicts, oftentimes, in the most dangerous parts of the globe.

The perils of his work caught up with him in the Congo when he and several other aid workers were murdered as they investigated human rights violations in one of the countless small villages that dot the troubled part of world.

But before tragedy struck while doing his job around the world, Sharp was a kid growing up in Westmoreland County.

“Growing up, we had a lot of fun, a lot of good times,” said Michael Butti, one of Sharp’s childhood friends.

Butti said Sharp was known as “MJ” when they were kids. They went to grade school together in Scottdale.

He said while MJ may have grown into a peacemaker, back in the day “we were all kids, we were all troublemakers.”

In the Congo for 18 months for the U.N., Sharp’s pictures of lush green jungle and the amazing people who live there make up most of his Facebook photos.

“Of all the people I know, whether it’s in a war zone or not in a war zone. You can’t imagine it would happen to him, of all people,” Butti said.

Butti himself did several combat tours in Iraq, which makes him admire his old friend all the more.

“To be willing to go to a place like that unarmed, it takes a lot of guts to do that,” Butti said. “For someone to take his life and the lives of the others in that manner, it’s cowardly.”

The Congolese government is investigating the deaths. Also, Sweden says it is opening a murder investigation.

Meanwhile, the U.N. secretary-general says the world body will conduct an inquiry into the deaths.

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(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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