'Always Giving Us Hope': Friends, Family Remember Murdered Hostage

Dec 6, 2014
Originally published on December 7, 2014 10:12 am

American photojournalist Luke Somers, who was killed by al-Qaida militants in Yemen on Saturday, was described by those who knew him as passionate, inspiring and committed to the Yemeni people.

Somers had been held captive for more than a year. He died during a U.S. special forces rescue attempt, along with a South African teacher who was also held hostage by the militants.

Somers was born in England and raised in the U.S., and he was always struck with a bit of wanderlust.

"Luke was the friend that you had in high school or college that you would find kind of inspiring," says Shawn Gillen, who taught him at Beloit College in Wisconsin, "because he was willing to go the distance."

Somers worked as a salmon fisherman in the Arctic, lived in Jamaica and spent time in Egypt before moving to Yemen full-time in 2011. It was there that he took a hobby of photography and turned it into a career.

Tik Root, a freelance journalist who worked in Yemen at the same time as Somers, calls him "an extraordinarily passionate and thoughtful person."

"I think what really shone through was his love of Yemen and the Yemeni people," Root says. "He sort of felt at home there, it almost seemed to me."

Somers' sister, Lucy Somers, who still lives in the U.K., alluded to that comfort in a video she put out last week, pleading with al-Qaida militants to spare her brother's life, just days after U.S. special forces' first attempted to rescue him.

"When foreign nationals were advised to leave Yemen," she says, "Luke refused to go, saying he felt safe and at home there."

He also had friends there, including Fuad al Kadas, who spoke to NPR from Sanaa, the nation's capital. "He's different than the other journalists," Kadas says. "He makes friends, Yemeni friends, local friends. He [was] always giving us hope that things in Yemen will be good."

Kadas says that Somers was living with him before he was kidnapped in 2013. Ever since, when he goes out, friends ask about him — "Any news about Luke?"

"Every day they ask about him," Kadas says.

With Saturday's news, Kadas says, some were overwhelmed. "My dad couldn't speak," Kadas says. "My dad couldn't speak today."

Somers was 33 years old.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

An American photojournalist and a South African teacher, held hostage by al-Qaida militants in Yemen, were killed by their captors during a U.S. special forces rescue attempt earlier today. U.S. forces had attempted another rescue late last month. Pres. Obama condemned the murder, and Secretary of Defense Hagel offered his condolences to the families. The American, Luke Somers, had been held captive for more than a year. NPR's Nathan Rott has this remembrance.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Born in England and raised in the U.S., Luke Somers was always struck with a bit of wanderlust. Shawn Gillen taught him at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

SHAWN GILLEN: Luke was, you know, the friend that you had in high school or college that you would find kind of inspiring, I think, because he was kind of willing to go the distance.

ROTT: Somers worked as a salmon fisherman in the Arctic, lived in Jamaica and spent time in Egypt before moving to Yemen full-time in 2011. It was there that he took a hobby of photography and turned it into a career. Tik Root is a freelance journalist who worked in Yemen at the same time as Somers.

TIK ROOT: You know, Luke was an extraordinarily passionate and thoughtful person. And I think what really shown through was his love of Yemen and the Yemeni people. He sort of felt at home there, it almost seemed to me.

ROTT: Somers' sister Lucy Somers, who still lives in the UK, alluded to that comfort in a video she put out last week, pleading with the al-Qaida militants to spare her brother's life just days after U.S. special forces first attempted to rescue him.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LUCY SOMERS: When foreign nationals were advised to leave Yemen, Luke refused to go, saying he felt safe and at home there.

AL KADAS: He's different than the other journalists. He makes friends - Yemeni friends, local friends.

ROTT: This is Fouad Al Kadas, one of those friends, speaking from Sana'a, Yemen's capital.

AL KADAS: And he was always filling us - giving us hope that things in Yemen would be good.

ROTT: Kadas says that Somers was living with him before he was kidnapped in 2013. Ever since, when he goes out…

AL KADAS: Friends say any news about Luke? Hey, we hope he will be fine. Hey. Every day they ask about him, really.

ROTT: And when they heard today's news…

AL KADAS: I cannot explain my dad today. My dad couldn't speak, you know? My dad couldn't speak today.

ROTT: Somers was 33 years old. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.