Yesterday two photojournalists, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, were killed in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata, while covering the intense fighting there that has claimed so many lives. Their accomplishments as journalists are matched by few. They also cared deeply for the people whose stories they told.
During Liberia's civil war in 2003, Chris captured the moment when a government militia commander celebrated a direct hit on his target with a rocket-propelled grenade, under fire on a bridge in Monrovia. The picture was printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, and it will live as one of his most enduring images.
A couple of years later, Chris was back in Liberia and wanted to meet the person who had become an "inextricable part" of his life. Through his Liberian assistant, he found the former militia commander, and wrote about their second encounter at Digital Journalist:
Finally, the door opened and the man whose every detail I'd memorized stepped outside with a nervous smile. He was very short, far shorter than I remembered or than can be guessed from the photo; maybe 5 foot 3 inches at the most. The dreadlocks were gone, his torso covered with a shirt. He smiled a perpetual closed-mouth grin and was shy and nervous. It was like meeting an introspective 10-year-old.
"It's good to finally meet you again," I said, a bit at loss of what to say. "Do you remember me?"
"You the white man on the bridge," he said quietly. "You snapped that picture of me."
I smiled. "You know, I never did know your name."
"It's Joseph. My name is Joseph Duo."
After talking with Duo, it was understood that he had only gone as far as the 10th grade, and now wanted to learn a trade. Chris found a private school, paid out of pocket and signed him up.
"Okay," I said, returning to the bill. Grand total, for a year of private 11th-grade education in Liberia, with full computer lab benefits and several other perks I had them throw in: $86.
The headmaster loomed over Joseph and immediately started earning his pay, wagging a finger at his newest student: "Now, this man, he come to pay for you to go to the school. You've got to come to the school! Education, that's your future. You know that?"
"I know," Joseph said quietly, still staring at the ground. Then he looked me dead in the eye.
"I won't let myself down and I won't let you down. I promise."
I didn't know Chris well, but I've had conversations with him and can say this, echoing his many friends and colleagues — he was usually the sharpest person in the room, and always tried his best to understand the complicated places and people that he covered. He was 41.
Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington weren't just photojournalists — they were contributors to the historical record of some of humanity's lowest points. Two other photographers — Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown — were also injured in the attack in Misrata. We hope they make it home safely to their families soon.
[Images via Chris Hondros/Getty Images]