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NPR photojournalist, interpreter killed while reporting in Afghanistan

David Gilkey, an NPR journalist whose photographs chronicled decades of global events, died in Afghanistan on Sunday.

Zabihulla Tamanna, who was working as an interpreter for NPR, was also killed. The two were accompanying a unit in the Afghan army when it was hit by shelling.

Reporter Tom Bowman and producer Monika Evstatieva, who was documenting the group’s reporting trip on Twitter, were also traveling with Gilkey and Tamanna but were unhurt, according to an NPR press release.

“David has been covering war and conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. He was devoted to helping the public see these wars and the people caught up in them. He died pursuing that commitment,” Michael Oreskes, NPR’s Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director said in a statement. “As a man and as a photojournalist, David brought out the humanity of all those around him. He let us see the world and each other through his eyes.”

In 2009, Gilkey traveled to Gaza to cover the conflict between Israel and Hamas. He contributed to “Brain Wars,” a joint project between ProPublica and NPR on treatment of brain injuries in veterans that was honored with a George Polk Award in 2010.

His photographs of Ebola-affected nations played a vital role in the public’s understanding of the epidemic in West Africa. NPR received a Peabody Award for the coverage in 2014.

Gilkey spoke to NPR about his experience covering the devastation in Haiti that followed the 2010 earthquake.

“You can put yourself in the zone. I am doing this and what I’m doing is not pleasant — but you just march through it,” he said. “It’s hard, but you can’t get caught up in it and become part of it. You still need to maintain your state of mind that you are helping tell this story.”

“It’s not just reporting, it’s not just taking pictures,” he said. “It’s… do the visuals, do the stories, do they change somebody’s mind enough to take action? If we’re doing our part, it gets people to do their part, hopefully.”

He was embedded with the U.S. Army in 2013, one of the first journalists to join the army as it crossed the border from Kuwait to Iraq.

Gilkey’s coverage of war-torn scenes and international conflict was interwoven by a sense of anticipation for the future. In 2013, he wrote about his experience covering the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City, Philippines. He noted that “amidst a collage of wreckage, despite all odds, there is hope in the eyes of the victims that things will get better. The will to survive prevails over what seems to be the impossible.”

His colleagues expressed consolation on social media.