"I need to get in and get out fast"
Marie Colvin (1956-2012)
Marie Colvin left Beirut on Valentine's Day on a mission to illegally enter Syria from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley en route to Homs, Syria. Her clear intention was to document the conditions of the civilian population in Homs who had been under heavy attack for the preceding two weeks.
Marie, with more than a quarter century experience in the Middle East had made contact in Beirut with some smugglers who agreed to take her and her colleague, French photographer Remi Ochlik to a makeshift media center in the besieged flash point neighborhood of Baba Amr.
Marie promised apprehensive friends in Beirut that she would return "no later than one week maximum, Certainly I'll be back by your birthday Franklin! (Feb. 26)" she told me.
According to her mother, Rosemarie, who lives in New York City, Marie planned to arrive back in Beirut on February 22nd. As it turned out, that was the day she was killed as eleven artillery shells slammed into her cramped quarters.
Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper who was with Marie until the day she died said the journalists had been told that the Syrian Army was "deliberately' going to shell their center. Perrin said: "A few days ago we were advised to leave the city urgently and we were told: "If they (the Syrian Army) find you they will kill you'. "I then left the city with Marie but then she decided to go back when she saw that the major offensive had not yet taken place.'
"I need to get in and get out fast", Marie said as she waited to hear from her transport team in Beirut on February 13, 2011.
Marie asked my help in getting a visa to enter Syria.
I did give her contact information for friends in Syria, including Dr.Bouthania Shaaban and her associate Nizar, whose friendship I value very much. I mentioned to Marie that I hoped they are both well but that I was worried about them. We used to see a lot of Bouthaina on TV. One of her jobs was as media adviser to Bashar Assad on TV but now nothing. I urged Marie to try to meet with Bouthania who I am certain would help her if she possibly could. I am not sure if the two women ever did make contact.
Her mom said to me Marie had been told twice by her editor to leave the country because of the danger she was facing, but Marie replied that she "wanted to finish one more story".
In her own words, Marie explained not long ago how she viewed a reporter's job.
"You hear all this talk about the meaning of the media, the need for integrity etc etc," she said during a November 2010, talk at London's St Bride's Church -- the "journalists' church" on Fleet Street at an event to honor fallen journalists.
"But isn't it quite simple? You just try to find out the truth of what's going on and report it the best way you can. And because we are kind of romantic, our sympathy goes towards the underdog."
Ironically, on Thursday 2/23/12, as Marie's sheet draped body lay atop rubble near the media house, awaiting evacuation, the invasion on Baba Amr that she had predicted and risked and then gave her life trying to report on began with armored Syrian units and tanks entering and shelling the neighborhoods starting in late morning.
As of late afternoon February 24, 2011 Marie and Remi's bodies have still not been able to be evacuated nor have three journalists wounded in the same attack that killed their colleagues.