American journalist James Foley, who traveled to some of Earth's most dangerous corners, "didn't let fear hold him back," his best friend said Thursday, while adding that the war correspondent was never reckless.
On Tuesday, ISIS militants released a video showing the brutal killing of Foley, who was abducted in Syria on Thanksgiving Day in 2012. Thomas Durkin, who has known Foley since the two were freshmen at Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1992, told NBC News on Thursday that the news still hadn't sunk in.
"We knew that there was this possibility, but it's not real," said Durkin, 40, who lives in Chicago.
Foley's journalism career took him throughout the Middle East and North Africa during some of the most perilous times in the region. His Syria kidnapping was not his first brush with death: Just a year and a half earlier, while in Libya, he was captured and held for 44 days.
Speaking to students at his graduate school alma mater, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, in June 2011, he warned of the dangers of war reporting.
"It's not worth your life. It's not worth seeing your mother, father, brother and sister bawling. It's not worth these things," he said.
The last time Durkin saw Foley was a month before he was abducted in Syria. The two talked about how dangerous Syria was becoming for journalists, but Foley insisted that he needed to go to tell the stories of what was happening on the ground.
"It's just an overwhelming sadness. We're proud of Jim, we love him."
"People want to say he was fearless. He was afraid of things. He didn't let fear hold him back [though]," ," Durkin said. "That was part of the reason he was in Syria. He was brave enough to do it. I want to make sure people know he wasn't reckless. He knew the risks. Unlike most of us, he was brave enough to confront them."
At Marquette, Durkin said, they met and "became fast friends." Foley had an insatiable curiosity and was "interested in everything."
The two stayed in touch after college, meeting up wherever and whenever they could as their grad schools and jobs took them to different places. Durkin now supervises electronic monitoring for inmates at the Cook County Sheriff's Office in Chicago, a place where Foley had also worked before he went to journalism school in 2008. While there, Foley taught inmates to read and write.
"He loved anything where he was working with underrepresented or underserved people," Durkin said. "He really took to it and really put his heart in it."
When Foley was captured in Libya, Durkin was part of a massive effort to bring attention to his situation, writing to politicians and foreign dignitaries and setting up vigils. Foley's kidnapping in Syria the following year was devastating to him.
"When it happened again, I felt very overwhelmed," Durkin said. "My heart sank."
He and a close-knit group of Marquette friends are mourning Foley's death together.
"It's just an overwhelming sadness. We're proud of Jim, we love him. We want to make sure that his name is remembered."
First published August 21 2014, 8:49 AM