It was the news that friends, family, and colleagues of abducted American journalist James Foley hoped would never come.
When militants claimed Tuesday they had killed the freelance war correspondent in a brutal beheading as revenge against U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, remembrances of a man who was warm, funny, and dedicated to his profession poured in.
Foley, 40, was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012 while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and Boston-based news service GlobalPost, which has a partnership with NBC News.
"We are so deeply sorry that we couldn't bring Jim home safely," GlobalPost CEO and co-founder Philip Balboni said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" on Wednesday. "I think you know how hard we worked on this case every single day for almost two years. We're broken-hearted about it. Jim was a man of incredible bravery and courage, and he showed that right until the horrific end."
Foley's parents, John and Diane, told reporters outside their home Wednesday that they were in a state of disbelief that their son had been killed.
"He met such a cruel fate," John Foley said. "Right now, this is a bad dream. It can't happen. We never thought this would happen."
Diane Foley added that because he had gotten out of Libya, they felt their son "kind of had nine lives."
"We just kept thinking that somehow we're getting closer, we know he's alive. We just ran out of time. He ran out of time," she said.
Both parents mentioned the overwhelming pride they felt for Foley.
For the Rochester, New Hampshire, native who had worked throughout the Middle East and North Africa, his Syria abduction was only the latest brush with danger in his quest to tell war stories.
In April 2011, Foley was captured and held in Libya for 44 days, along with two other journalists. South African photographer Anton Hammerl, who had been traveling with them, was gunned down right in front of them.
“I still want to be a conflicts journalist, but I realize this is life and death,” Foley told the Boston Globe shortly after his Libya release. “What’s been tough to realize is Anton passed away, and it could have been any one of us.”
He had shared that dire warning in June 2011 when he spoke with students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, his graduate school alma mater.
"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 told them. "I should have known that a long time ago."
At the same time, he admitted, there was something addictive about reporting from dangerous situations.
"The honest fact is when you see something really violent, it does a strange thing to you," Foley said. "It doesn't always repel you, sometimes, as you know, it draws you closer. Feeling like you've survived something — it's a strange sort of force that you are drawn back to. I think that's the absolute reality."
Fellow journalists shared condolences and their anger after Foley's death.
Alex Sherman, a Bloomberg News reporter, tweeted, "Please remember my friend Jim Foley today —beheaded by ISIS after nearly 2 years of capture. A funny, warm, Big Lebowski-loving guy." He added that Foley was a "super courageous journalist who did unbelievable work in Syria and Libya."
"We believe the assassination of a journalist in wartime should be considered an international crime of war," Gary Pruitt, Associated Press president and CEO, said in a statement. "The murder of a journalist with impunity is a threat to a free press and democracy around the world."
Foley, who had four younger siblings, got a history degree from Marquette University. After graduating, he joined Teach for America, teaching in low-income areas of Arizona, Massachusetts and Chicago.
A Teach for America alum who kept in touch with Foley over the years remembered his self-deprecating sense of humor and commitment to his work in a blog post on the organization's website last year.
"As a teacher, Jim dedicated hours to his middle school social studies students at Lowell School and stayed in touch even when he was no longer their teacher," Sarah Fang wrote. "As a journalist, Jim's sense of duty and dedication leads him to want to report the deepest truths even if it means risking his own personal safety."
In a feature he wrote for Marquette Magazine, Foley thanked his college friends for their support during his Libyan imprisonment and recalled how prayer had gotten him through his 44 days of captivity. He remembered the time his captors allowed him to call home and he spoke to his mother.
"I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer," he wrote. "She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone."
In 2008, Foley switched from teaching to journalism, the profession he ultimately viewed as his calling.
"Journalism is journalism," Foley said once, the AP reported. "If I had a choice to do Nashua (New Hampshire) zoning meetings or give up journalism, I'll do it. I love writing and reporting."
Foley was "deeply committed" to journalism, GlobalPost's Balboni said Wednesday.
"Not to journalism in the abstract, which is something we practice every day, but to it being lived in the grit and the sweat and the blood in the field," he said. "He gave his life for that."
First published August 20 2014, 9:43 AM