Courageous, passionate and driven.
That’s how a local filmmaker describes his friend James Foley, who was brutally murdered this week when an Islamic militant beheaded him as revenge against U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
“Some consolation that people should take is that James died doing what he is passionate about,” said Matthew VanDyke, a native of Fenwick Island, Del. “He died doing something he believed in.”
Foley, a freelance journalist and photographer covering atrocities in the Middle East, and VanDyke became friends in 2011 when they met in Libya.
“We became friends quite quickly,” he said. “We hit it off because we had both gone through a shared tough experience of being in Gaddafi’s prisons.”
“He had been captured by the Gaddafi regime and then he had returned to continue reporting on the war,” he said. “I had just escaped from prison after being a prisoner of war for a number of months.”
The following year, on Thanksgiving Day 2012, Foley was kidnapped at gunpoint in northern Syria. The last time the two friends spoke was only a few weeks before Foley was taken captive, VanDyke said.
On Tuesday, as the video of Foley’s gruesome death -- a public beheadding -- began to circulate online, a text message alerted VanDyke to the tragic news.
“I had a text message from a Syrian American friend saying, “Sorry about your friend James,” VanDyke explained.
He immediately replied, but too alarmed to wait for a response, VanDyke began searching online.
“[I] saw the headline and it was devastating. It was a nightmare,” he said. “[The video] shows the level of brutality and barbarism ISIS represents.”
The two men were roommates in Tripoli and worked together on the front lines – one of just a few people VanDyke felt comfortable with in a combat zone.
“He was making a difference,” VanDyke said. “There is only a select group of people who have the courage and the passion and the drive to get out and have these stories told.”
The filmmaker is now fearful for Steven Sotloff, another American journalist who disappeared in Syria in 2013. In the same video that showed Foley’s death, an ISIS fighter stands beside a man identified as Sotloff and declares, “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”