BOSTON — Award winning photographer Tim Hetherington was reportedly killed on Wednesday during a mortar attack in Libya, a country that has descended into a bloody civil war and has become increasingly unpredictable and dangerous for journalists trying to cover it.
Hetherington is the second journalist killed in Libya, where nearly two dozen correspondents have also been detained by government forces, including James Foley, who was there reporting for GlobalPost. Foley was last seen in a Tripoli detention center along with two colleagues and is still being held incommunicado after more than two weeks.
Hetherington was apparently killed on the frontlines near the city of Misurata, where the forces of Muammar Gaddafi have intensified operations against Libyan rebels who are aided by a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.
The last tweet on Hetherington’s Twitter account reads, “In besieged Libyan city of Misurata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.”
Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who was a friend of Hetherington, confirmed his death. He added that another photographer, Chris Hondros, of the Getty agency, was also wounded in the attack and is reportedly in grave condition. Also hit in an RPG attack were Guy Martin of Panos Agency and freelancer Michael Brown. The extent of their injuries was uncertain.
Recently nominated for an Oscar for the Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo,” which he co-directed with author Sebastian Junger, Hetherington was one of the most dedicated and committed journalists I’ve ever seen working in the field. He was always on the front line of where the action was through 10 years of reporting in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. But what set him apart most wasn’t that he was usually in the right place, but that his heart was always in the right place.
He cared about the people caught in the conflict and the soldiers he was covering as well as his colleagues in the field. He understood the intensity of war and its deep effect on human beings and he worked endlessly to try his best to capture that with his cameras, whether they were still photographs or video. He was born in the U.K., but lived in Brooklyn. He was 41.
We met in the field in 2006 in Afghanistan when we were both reporting there. We were reporting in Kunar Province and he was covering what was by far the most dangerous pocket of Kunar, the Korengal Valley. Tim embedded with a single unit there for the better part of a year along with Sebastian Junger. Together they made the feature documentary film “Restrepo.” The film is built around Hetherington's visceral, riveting and revealing video that chronicles the experiences of the unit in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Hetherington’s footage brought home the intensity of combat and the raw fury and fear that it instills in the soldiers who experience it. Hetherington described a series of firefights during a particularly horrific ambush that he documented in the fall of 2007.
“It was an awful state. Hard to digest,” he said. “Where men were in a state of shock. I was in a state of shock, too.”
It’s a simple observation, really. But it is also classic Tim Hetherington. He was right there with the men in the unit seeing what they were seeing. And feeling what they were feeling. And bringing that all home for people to catch a sobering glimpse of the reality of war.