The parents of slain journalist James Foley begged President Obama on Wednesday to do everything in his power to save the other journalists who have been abducted by Islamic State, and pleaded with their son’s executioners to release the other American reporter whom they have threatened to kill.
“We beg compassion and mercy of Jim’s captors, for Steven Sotloff and the other captives,” John Foley told reporters when asked whether he had a message for the militants behind his son’s death. “They never hurt anybody; they were trying to help and there’s no reason for their slaughter.”
Speaking to reporters from the lawn outside the family home in the quiet New Hampshire town of Rochester, his wife, Diane Foley, said that her son was an “innocent” and his captors knew it.
“They knew that Jim was just a symbol for our country, and it’s that hatred that Jim was against,” Diane Foley said, standing with her husband and their son Michael. “Jim was there [in Syria] to hear the truth and bear witness to the love, and suffering, and hopes of the people to be free, like we are.”
While the Foley family expressed gratitude to Obama for the efforts to rescue James Foley, who was known as Jim, John and Diane Foley hesitated when asked whether the U.S. government had done enough to bring him back safely.
“We have no idea, because most of it was classified,” Diane Foley answered, noting that the FBI had been in touch frequently.
“I hope they do more for Steven,” their son Michael interjected. “So the answer is ‘No.’”
James Foley was last home with his family around the time of his birthday in October 2012. His parents suspected something was wrong when they did not hear from him that Thanksgiving.
During the nearly two years of Foley’s captivity after he disappeared in Syria in 2012, the Foley family led an intensive effort to bring him back to the U.S. safely. At the time of his death, they believed they were “very close” to achieving that goal, his mother said, and were hopeful after a recent trip to France and Denmark, where they had been trying to arrange for his release.
She did not give any additional details about that effort. But John Foley said the family was at the point of considering “fund-raising/ransom,” and was making a video to publicize their son’s work and draw attention to his plight.
Foley was the oldest of five siblings in a devout Roman Catholic family. He was described by his family as a “very daring, but fun-loving kid.”
Diane Foley said her son was drawn to conflict journalism in part because several of his brothers were serving in the military.
“Jim wanted to be there,” she said, noting that one of his first assignments was in Afghanistan where one of his brothers was serving in the Air Force at the time. “He wanted to cover what was happening at the human level.” (Before that, he was embedded with the Indiana National Guard in Iraq, his father said.)
The struggle to come to terms with Foley’s death has been especially difficult for his family and their network of supporters because the photojournalist had returned safely after being abducted and held for 44 days while covering the conflict in Libya in 2011.
When Foley told his family that he was going to Syria, some of his siblings were angry, his mother said. But the family compared his intense desire to return to that of a fireman who keeps rushing back into a burning building.
During one conversation in the family’s kitchen, Diane Foley said, she had urged her son not to go back to Syria, noting that he could do many other things with his talents. “He said, ‘Mom, I’ve found my passion. I’ve found my vocation.’ He just felt compelled,” she said.
Obama condemned the Islamic militant group believed to be behind Foley’s slaying after speaking to the Foley family Wednesday. He said the U.S. would “do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”
Obama did not detail what U.S. efforts might be underway to rescue Sotloff from Islamic State, which has seized territory in Syria and Iraq with the goal of creating an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. Clearly under duress on the video that was released by the militant group, Foley described the U.S. government as his “real killers.”
After Foley was beheaded on the video, his masked executioner showed Sotloff, who was dressed like Foley in attire resembling an orange prison jumpsuit. The masked man, who spoke with a British accent, said Sotloff would be killed if Obama did not act, which was interpreted as a demand for the U.S. to halt its airstrikes on the militants in Iraq. It is unclear when the video was made.
The family said Wednesday that they did not watch the video and learned about their son’s death along with the rest of America. His mother said that at one point during his captivity the family began thinking of him as Jesus; she urged her listeners to be proud to be Americans.
The family is planning a service in his memory at their parish, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, on Sunday, and a memorial service Oct. 18.
“We know Jimmy’s free. He’s finally free. We know he’s in God’s hands,” John Foley said, breaking down in tears. “We know he’s in heaven.”