Reporter killed in Syria recalled as truth seeker

March 12, 2012 - 10:17 PM
Syria Journalists Colvin Funeral

Rosemarie Colvin, right, mother of Marie Colvin, is embraced by a mourner as they arrive for the funeral service for journalist Colvin, Monday, March 12, 2012 at St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church in Oyster Bay, N.Y. The 56-year-old Colvin was a longtime reporter for Britain's Sunday Times. She and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed Feb. 22 in shelling in Homs, Syria. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. (AP) — Journalist Marie Colvin was remembered Monday as a fearless seeker of truth by mourners from media mogul Rupert Murdoch to the immigrants who counted on her dispatches from their strife-ridden homelands to make a difference in global policy.

A huge American flag was suspended over Main Street in Oyster Bay, the quiet oceanside town where the 56-year-old New York native grew up and decided to become a reporter.

And when her casket emerged from at St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church after her funeral Mass, a group of Sri Lankan immigrants held a placard dubbing her the "uncrowned queen of intrepid journalists."

Colvin worked for the Sunday Times of London, which is owned by Murdoch's News Corp. She was killed on Feb. 22 when the building that served as a makeshift media center in the city of Homs was struck by a Syrian army mortar.

"She was looking for beauty and truth, and she was telling the world about the vicious crimes," said Malek Jandali a Syrian-American musician who came from Atlanta to attend the funeral.

"Her last moments were steps from my family's house in Homs," said Jandali, adding that anti-government sympathizers hoped to have a street or a square there named after Colvin.

Seetharam Sivam, an immigrant from Sri Lanka, said he wanted to pay his respects because Colvin's writing a decade ago had brought attention to violence involving the Tamil ethnic group. Colvin lost an eye while covering the civil conflict in Sri Lanka in 2001 and wore an eye patch after that.

"She took the risks and went into war zones. She brought the truth of the Tamil plight to the world," said Sivam, an electrical engineer from Holbrook, Long Island, who lost his father in the conflict Colvin covered. "It's one reason the United States and other countries had the information, and could act on it."

Colvin died hours after her last report on the government crackdown in Syria, where thousands of civilians have been killed since a popular uprising began a year ago.

Days after her death, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Syria was led by a "criminal regime." He vowed that his country will continue to investigate "the crimes that are taking place" — including the scene where Colvin appeared in her last dispatch — "so that one day those responsible for them will have to answer for their actions."

In her final live broadcast with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Colvin told him the Syrians were shelling "a city of cold, starving civilians." She spoke as a baby boy lay dying near her.

"It's a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists," she added. "There are no military targets here."

It was a challenge to get Colvin's body out of Syria through territory controlled by the government. A Polish diplomat received her remains from the Syrian Red Crescent, flying them home to New York via Paris.

After the funeral, Sunday Times editor John Witherow said the effort included contacts with Russia, considered Syria's strongest ally.

Now, "she'll be inspirational to journalists all over the world because she was always there to help people," said Witherow, adding that he's received sympathy messages written by oppressed people worldwide whose stories Colvin had told, from the Tamils to residents of Kosovo.

To do that, she took huge risks as a journalist.

"She was extraordinarily brave, because she thought she could make a difference," Witherow said. "She said, 'They did terrible things, and I must tell the world.'"

During the service, hundreds of mourners in the church sang the hymn "Be Not Afraid."

While many praised her daring and empathy, her best friend from Yale University shared another side of the war reporter — the "pandemonium" and "mirth," as Katrina Heron called the lighter moments of Colvin's visits to the United States. Speeding along a Long Island highway, she ran out of gas because she mistook the temperature gauge for the fuel gauge, said Heron, adding that Colvin was "full of passion, full of belief" — and full of fun.

When the correspondent was back in Iraq several years ago, she emailed her friend, "I'm in Baghdad. You'd love it here. It's just like New York, except without cars, restaurants, shops, telephones, electricity or taxis."

And wherever she went, she carried her reporter's notebooks — and her pearl necklace, Heron said.

As the funeral ended, Colvin's mother, Rosemarie Colvin, stood in front of her daughter's casket with tear-filled eyes. She reached out to touch it with her right hand before putting a hand-held cross and a white rose atop the casket.

Colvin is survived by two brothers, two sisters and her mother.