LONDON >> She was instantly recognizable for the eye patch that hid a shrapnel injury — a testament to Marie Colvin’s courage, which took her behind the front lines of the world’s deadliest conflicts to write about the suffering of individuals trapped in war.
After more than two decades of chronicling conflict, Colvin became a victim of it Wednesday, killed by shelling in the besieged Syrian city of Homs.
Colvin, 56, died alongside French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, the French government announced. Freelance photographer Paul Conroy and journalist Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro were wounded.
Colvin, from East Norwich, New York, had been a foreign correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times for more than 25 years, making a specialty of reporting from the world’s most dangerous places. The newspaper posted her final dispatch outside the website’s paywall, so anyone could read her account from a cellar offering refuge for women and children. The report chronicled the horrors that eventually took her own life.
"It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire," Colvin wrote. "There are no telephones and the electricity has been cut off. … Freezing rain fills potholes and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbors. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food.
"Fearing the snipers’ merciless eyes, families resorted last week to throwing bread across rooftops, or breaking through communal walls to pass unseen."
Colvin often focused on the plight of women and children in wartime, and Syria was no different. She gave interviews to major British broadcasters on the eve of her death, appealing for the world to notice the slaughter taking place.
"I watched a little baby die today," she told the BBC on Tuesday. "Absolutely horrific, a 2-year old child had been hit. They stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said ‘I can’t do anything.’ His little tummy just kept heaving until he died."
In the 1990s, Colvin worked in the Balkans, where she went on patrol with the Kosovo Liberation Army as it engaged Serb military forces. She worked in Chechnya, where she came under fire from Russian jets while reporting on Chechen rebels seeking independence for their region. She also covered the conflict in East Timor after its people voted for independence in Southeast Asia.
She was one of the few reporters to interview ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in his final days before his death in October. Her mother, Rosemarie Colvin, of East Norwich, N.Y., told The Associated Press that her daughter knew Gadhafi well, and described her daughter as a passionate about her work, even when it got very hard.
"She was supposed to leave (Syria) today," Rosemarie Colvin said, adding that her daughter had spoken yesterday with her editor who ordered her to leave because it was so dangerous. "She had to stay. She wanted to finish one more story."
The eldest of five children, Colvin is survived by her mother, two sisters and two brothers. Rosemarie Colvin invited reporters into her home, fighting back the tears.
"The reason I’ve been talking to all you guys is that I don’t want my daughter’s legacy to be ‘no comment … because she wasn’t a ‘no comment’ person,’" she said. "Her legacy is: Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in. And do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can."
A graduate of Yale University, Colvin had never planned to be a journalist. She had studied anthropology, later taking the rigorous study of people and places and putting it to good use writing about individuals caught up in suffering to relay the horror of war.
"Our mission is to speak the truth to power," she said during a tribute service for slain journalists at Fleet Street’s St. Bride’s Church in November 2010. "We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians."
Colvin’s death comes only days after two other respected journalists died while reporting on the uprising against Syria’s president, Bashar Assad. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died last week of an apparent asthma attack while slipping out of Syria.
Award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed in an explosion in Homs on Jan. 11, becoming the first Western journalist to die since the uprising began. His colleagues believe he was murdered in an elaborate trap set up by Syrian authorities — a claim that Assad’s government has denied.
Colvin lost the sight in one eye during an ambush in Sri Lanka in 2001 but promised not to "hang up my flak jacket" and kept reporting on the world’s most troubled places. She was matter of fact about the injury during the tribute at St. Bride’s, as she described how authorities will try to keep the truth out of the headlines.
"I had gone to the northern Tamil area from which journalists were banned and found an unreported humanitarian disaster," she said. "As I was smuggled back across the internal border, a soldier launched a grenade at me and the shrapnel sliced into my face and chest. He knew what he was doing."
British Prime Minister David Cameron led the tributes to Colvin, telling lawmakers in the House of Commons that the death of the "talented and respected foreign correspondent" was "a desperately sad reminder of the risks journalists take to inform the world of what is happening and the dreadful events in Syria."
Author Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding from death threats, sent a message to his followers on Twitter, noting that it was "dreadful news. A great reporter, fine writer and fearless woman is gone. Her many friends are devastated."
Colvin’s boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, described her as "one of the most outstanding foreign correspondents of her generation."
But the tributes also described a woman intent on living life to the full. She was often compared to pioneering war correspondent Martha Gellhorn — gutsy and glamorous, taking each day as it came.
"She lived life passionately," said BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet. "Great shoes, great journalism."
Associated Press Writers Frank Eltman in New York and Jill Lawless and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this story.