LONDON (AP) – Respected American journalist Marie Colvin, who spent decades reporting on conflicts from Sri Lanka to Syria, focusing on the suffering of women and children in wartime, died in a fierce shelling attack Wednesday in Syria.
Colvin, who was 57, was known for her courage behind the front lines and immediately recognizable for an eye patch that hid an injury suffered in a Sri Lankan ambush. She had been holed up in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. Sunday Times editor John Witherow confirmed her death during a “devastating bombardment by the Syrian army.”
French photojournalist Remi Ochlik died alongside Colvin, the French government announced. Freelance photographer Paul Conroy and journalist Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro were wounded, according to Witherow and Le Figaro.
Colvin, from Oyster Bay, New York, had been a foreign correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times for the past two decades, making a specialty of reporting from the world’s most dangerous places. Her final dispatch Tuesday from a cellar offering refuge for women and children hinted at the horrors that eventually took her own life.
“It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire,” she wrote. “There are no telephones and the electricity has been cut off. … Freezing rain fills potholes and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbors. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food.
“Fearing the snipers’ merciless eyes, families resorted last week to throwing bread across rooftops, or breaking through communal walls to pass unseen.”
Colvin often focused on the plight of women and children in battles and Syria was no different. She gave interviews to major British broadcasters on the eve of her death, appealing for the world to notice the slaughter taking place.
“I watched a little baby die today,” she told the BBC on Tuesday. “Absolutely horrific, a 2-year old child had been hit. They stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said ‘I can’t do anything.'”
Colvin’s boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, described her as “one of the most outstanding foreign correspondents of her generation.”
Colvin worked in the Balkans, where she went on patrol with the Kosovo Liberation Army as it engaged Serb military forces. She worked in Chechnya, where she came under fire from Russian jets while reporting on Chechen rebels. She also covered the conflict in East Timor after its people voted for independence; she was one of the few reporters to interview ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in his final days.
She was outspoken in her defense of independent journalism, and a fervent advocate for the cause of unfettered war reporting. During a tribute service for slain journalists at Fleet Street’s St. Bride’s Church in November 2010, she offered a stirring appeal to media executives, pressing the case to continue investing in conflict zone reporting.
“Our mission is to speak the truth to power,” she said. “We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”
Her death comes only days after two other respected journalists died while reporting on the uprising against Syria’s president, Bashar Assad. Two-time Pulitzer prize winning reporter Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died last week of an apparent asthma attack while slipping into Syria.
Award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed in an explosion in Homs on Jan. 11, becoming the first Western journalist to die since the uprising began. His colleagues believe he was murdered in an elaborate trap set up by Syrian authorities–a claim that Assad’s government denies.
British Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes to Colvin. Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the death of the “talented and respected foreign correspondent” was “a desperately sad reminder of the risks journalists take to inform the world of what is happening and the dreadful events in Syria.”
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband called Colvin “a brave and tireless reporter … an inspiration to women in her profession.”
“Her reports in the hours before her death showed her work at its finest,” he said.
Author Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding from death threats, sent a message to his followers on Twitter, noting that it was “dreadful news. A great reporter, fine writer and fearless woman is gone. Her many friends are devastated.”
Colvin lost her sight in one eye during an ambush in Sri Lanka in 2001 but promised not to “hang up my flak jacket” and kept reporting on the world’s most troubled places.
“So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night,” she wrote in the Sunday Times after the attack. “Equally, I’d rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offense to desk jobs.
“For my part, the next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”