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UMass mourns death of alumnus and journalist James Foley

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The University of Massachusetts is mourning the death of James Foley, an American journalist and UMass alumnus who was recently killed by Islamic State militants operating out of Iraq and Syria.

“The reported death of American journalist James Foley, a University of Massachusetts Amherst alumnus, brings great sorrow and grief to the university community,” the University said in a statement released Wednesday. “Foley is remembered as a courageous journalist who spent his time reporting stories from some of the world’s most dangerous places.”

Foley, whose home state is New Hampshire, graduated from UMass’ MFA Program for Poets and Writers in 2003, according to the statement.

A video released by ISIS Tuesday shows Foley being beheaded by a militant in what extremists say is retribution for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

Another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, was also shown in the video, with the militant saying his life hangs in the balance depending on Obama’s actions.

Foley was kidnapped in northern Syria on Nov. 22, 2012, while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and Boston-based GlobalPost.

Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, created a Facebook page following her son’s abduction called “Find James Foley.” She posted a statement there Tuesday, saying, “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 thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person.”

She also urged those who took Foley to spare the lives of the other hostages and said, “Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.”

Foley was born in Rochester, New Hampshire on Oct. 18, 1973. He received his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in 1996, and went on to graduate from Northwester University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2008.

Both schools have released statements regarding Foley’s death, and Marquette University plans to hold a prayer vigil on Aug. 26.

Foley began his career as a teacher, but enrolled in a graduate program at Medill in 2007.

Upon graduation, Foley went to the places he was drawn to, including Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict to work as a freelance reporter. He picked up work for several major media outlets, including Agence France-Presse and GlobalPost, according to a CNN article.

According to an article by ABC News, Foley worked close to the frontlines, shooting videos and writing articles for various publications.

He spoke about his experiences as a conflict reporter to Medill students, saying, “When you see something really violent it does a strange thing to you. It doesn’t always repel you. Sometimes, as you know, it draws you closer. Feeling like you’ve survived something, you know, it’s a strange sort of force that you are drawn back to. I think that is the absolute reality,” the article reported.

However, the article also noted he also took the time to appreciate moments with civilians caught in a conflict zone. One video he shot featured a Syrian couple exchanging vows in Aleppo with bombs being dropped in the distance. He also helped raise money for an ambulance in Aleppo, along with other concerned journalists.

Foley disappeared in November 2012 near the border with Turkey in northwestern Syria; however, this was not the first time he was abducted. He was taken and held in Libya for 44 days in 2011 until he and three other journalists were released by the Libyan military in May 2011.

Foley’s hometown expressed shock and sadness at his death. Rev. Paul Gousse, of the Holy Rosary Church, told CNN affiliate WMUR, “This is a tragedy which is beyond imagining. There are no words to describe this kind of inhumanity.”

According to CNN, Foley was described as even-tempered, fair and curious by friends.

In a statement Wednesday, President Barack Obama said, “The future is won by those who build and not destroy and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley.”

The president continued, calling Foley “A man who lived his word, who courageously told the stories of his fellow human beings, and was liked and loved by friends and family.”

Foley was held in Syria for over 600 days, and was 40 years old when he died.

Catherine Ferris can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Ca_Ferris2.

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