James Foley profile: A 'committed and brave journalist'

James Foley is being remembered as a loving person and passionate journalist. The American freelance reporter was abducted in Syria in 2012 and a video now shows he was killed by ISIS militants. His proud family said Foley died trying to expose the suffering of innocent civilians to the world.

American journalist was passionate about reporting from war zones and telling human stories

In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website, American journalist James Foley is shown covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In an act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group beheaded Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage. (Nicole Tung/Associated Press)

James Foley is being remembered as a charming, loving person who worked tirelessly and bravely to report from some of the world's most dangerous places.

Foley was born Oct. 18, 1973, and grew up in Rochester, New Hampshire, as the oldest of five children.

The tall, 40-year-old freelancer worked first as a teacher with Teach for America in Phoenix and he also taught inmates in a Chicago prison. He went back to school for journalism, graduating in 2008 and beginning a new career. 

He was passionate about reporting from the frontlines of the world's conflict zones and telling the stories of innocent people trapped in them. The dangerous places he worked in included Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan before his abduction in Syria in 2012. The Foleys are well-acquainted with war zones — two of the other children are members of the U.S. military.

Foley had been kidnapped once before, in Libya in 2011. He was held captive for 44 days before he was released. In an interview with the Boston Globe later he said he was thankful to his friends and family and astounded by the efforts they had made to find and free him.
Diane and John Foley talk to reporters about their son James after speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama on Aug. 20, 2014, outside their home in Rochester, N.H. (Jim Cole/The Associated Press)

He also spoke about his dedication to such risky work in dangerous territory. "I believe that frontline journalism is important. Without these photos and videos and first-hand experience, we can't really tell the world how bad it might be," he said. "These kinds of things are very important to me."

Drawn to the drama of conflict

When Foley was kidnapped in Libya, another journalist, Anton Hammerl, was killed in the same ambush. Foley became involved in fundraising for Hammerl's family after his release from captivity.

Foley cared about telling the human side of conflicts, he said in an interview at one of the fundraisers.

"I really am drawn to the drama of the conflict and trying to expose the untold stories, but I'm drawn to the human rights side," he told the BBC.

Despite his previous kidnapping and the traumatic event of his colleague being murdered, Foley put himself in danger again and went back and forth to Syria in 2012. He was freelancing for GlobalPost, an online publication based in Boston, and for Agence France-Presse.

On Nov. 22 of that year, the FBI says Foley was taken by an organized gang after leaving an internet café in Binesh. He had hired a translator to help him travel across the Syrian-Turkish border. The translator was also abducted, but later released.
A yellow ribbon is tied to a tree outside the family home of freelance journalist James Foley, on Aug. 20, 2014, in Rochester, N.H. (Jim Cole/The Associated Press)

For a second time, his family got to work trying to find their missing son and brother. GlobalPost hired a private security firm. Their worst fears were confirmed Tuesday night when the brutal video showing Foley's death began circulating.

A Facebook page dedicated to Foley's disappearance, that contains photos of a happy, smiling young man with his family, had a message from his parents Tuesday night that read:

"We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. 

"We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

"We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person."

On Wednesday morning, his parents spoke to reporters outside their home, where a yellow ribbon is tied around a tree by the driveway.

Brought joy to his family

"He brought so much joy into this family," his mother Diane said. They described Foley's warm and charming personality and his ability to get people to tell him their stories. He didn't speak Arabic, but the Syrians he met grew to love him, they said.

"It was a testament to his ability to meet people at a heart level and he spoke no Arabic so how he did this I have no idea," his mother said.

Paul Conroy, a photographer who became friends with Foley while working alongside him in Libya, said the world should mourn the loss of a man who was willing to take risks to tell stories about people suffering.

"He was a committed and brave journalist," Conroy told the BBC on Wednesday. "He's paid the ultimate price."

"He was a good, good person trying to tell a story of people suffering and that's how we should remember him," said Conroy.
Journalist James Foley, of Rochester, N.H., is shown in a May 2011 file photo. Foley is being remembered as a dedicated and passionate journalist. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

Foley's father said journalism was his son's passion in life and that he cared so deeply for other people and wanted to help them. He wanted to make the world a better place, he said.

"He was as much a humanitarian as he was a journalist," his father John said.

His mother, calling him a "courageous, fearless journalist," recounted that her son was home around his birthday in October 2012 and they talked about him returning to Syria. She pleaded with him not to go back. He told her there were too many stories he had to finish. "I'll be home for Christmas," her son told her.

His parents said repeatedly how proud they are of what Foley accomplished in his short life. "Jim gave joy to the world," his mother said.