ROCHESTER, N.H. — Residents of this quiet city came together Sunday to remember James W. Foley, the New Hampshire native and freelance journalist who was killed last week by the Islamic State.
“This moment in our lives is international in scope, crossing all boundaries, yet very personal,” Bishop Peter A. Libasci of the Manchester diocese said during a Mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. He added that Foley had gone to Syria “so that we might open our eyes.”
Outside the church, a yellow sign, written in cursive, read: “Our Lady of Holy Rosary prays for James Foley and his family. Pray for peace!” Inside, before a congregation that included Foley’s parents, John and Diane, the bishop did just that, requesting peace for Foley and “for all our fragile world.”
The Mass filled the church, with people standing in the back and along both sides. Some began to cry as Foley’s family filed in near the front.
“It’s just beyond belief, I can’t put it into words. It’s just heart-wrenching,” said Donna Hinch of Barrington, who met the Foley family through the church.
Foley, who would have turned 41 in October, was working for GlobalPost, an online publication based in Boston, as well as for Agence France-Presse, when he disappeared in Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. Foley reappeared last week in a video that showed him being beheaded by an Islamic State fighter, who said the killing was payback for the recent U.S. military operations in Iraq.
The video showing Foley’s death concludes with the fighter threatening to kill Steven J. Sotloff, another American freelance journalist, who was being held alongside Foley. Sotloff is seen kneeling in a position matching Foley’s, in the same landscape and wearing the same style of orange-colored jumpsuit.
“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” said a masked Islamic State fighter, who spoke English with a British accent.
Foley’s death has drawn condemnation from world leaders, including President Barack Obama, and an outpouring of grief. An online memorial, Remembering Jim, has compiled dozens of tribute photographs, and Foley’s family is collecting donations for a scholarship in his honor. Near the end of the Mass, Foley’s parents thanked the congregation of about 1,200, which responded with a standing ovation.
The pair later greeted hundreds of guests in a reception room next to the church, where family photo albums and messages of remembrance for James Foley were displayed. The line of well-wishers stretched out of the room, and John Foley worked his way along it, clasping shoulders, hugging mourners and, sometimes, laughing with friends.
“It’s world news, but it’s our hometown,” said Adam Dow, a Realtor who attended grade school and high school with Foley in Wolfeboro.
“Jim had a purpose,” Dow said, adding in reference to the wide and dangerous range of Foley’s career, “I live in a resort town — Jim’s out there. Jim was in prison for two years.”
On Sunday, Foley’s family released what they said was a letter he had written. A note on the Free James Foley Facebook page explains that Foley’s written letters had been confiscated by his captors, so he asked a fellow hostage who was about to be released to memorize the letter and dictate it to the family.
“I remember so many great family times that take me away from this prison,” the posted letter says. “Dreams of family and friends take me away and happiness fills my heart. I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”
The letter says that Foley’s captors kept him crammed in a cell with 17 other inmates. Having the company helped him, he said, and the group passed the time by discussing movies, playing games and sharing stories. The letter says that he regained some weight after his captors began feeding the hostages better and daily. But, he said, he still yearned for his freedom.
Before signing off, he wrote to someone called “Grammy”: “Stay strong because I am going to need your help to reclaim my life.”
Among those at the Mass were Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte. Hassan directed that flags across New Hampshire fly half-staff on Sunday to honor Foley.
Some of Foley’s colleagues also came to pay their respects.
“This is the darkest day you can imagine for his family, his colleagues,” said Charles M. Sennott, who co-founded GlobalPost.
Foley, he said, had brought a human touch to the hardening work of conflict reporting.
“He understood that they were people on the other side of the camera,” Sennott said. “That’s Foley — being there, respect, dignity.”