01:32 - Source: CNN AP
Somers' professor: 'Proud' of Luke

Story highlights

NEW: Former professor says Somers was good writer, very curious

Somers, 33, was born in the United Kingdom but was an American citizen

He was a freelance photographer with work published by Al Jazeera, BBC

Somers is the third U.S. journalist killed in captivity by Mideast terrorists this year

CNN —  

“Luke loves Yemen and wants the best future for Yemenis.”

That’s what The Yemen Times, an English-language newspaper in the country, wrote about American photographer Luke Somers earlier this week, after the al Qaeda militants who were holding Somers hostage threatened his life in a videotape.

The sentiment that Somers was deeply dedicated to Yemen was shared by his own family members and friends.

Somers was killed in Yemen on Friday during an attempted rescue mission by U.S. Navy SEALs. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was “certain” that one of the militants shot Somers and South African hostage Pierre Korkie as the rescuers moved in.

President Barack Obama issued a statement on Saturday morning condemning the killing. Secretary of State John Kerry called it “a reminder of the brutality of the terrorists.”

Al Qaeda, Kerry said in a statement, “knows how to hate, they know how to murder, and now they have robbed a family of an idealistic young photojournalist who went to Yemen to practice his calling and document the lives of ordinary Yemenis.”

Dedicated to Yemen

Somers was 33. He was born in the United Kingdom but was an American citizen. Like many journalists of his generation, he traveled to the Middle East to tell the stories of the region’s strife and the people affected by it. His friends said the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 was a motivator.

Also like many of his colleagues, Somers freelanced, taking photographs that were licensed and published by news outlets like Al Jazeera and the BBC.

Tik Root, who said he crossed paths with Somers while freelancing in Yemen, said Somers “was really dedicated to Yemen and he spent over two years there continuously, telling the stories and documenting the people that he met.”

“He really, truly seemed to enjoy it,” Root said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day Saturday.”

One of the sites where his photos could be licensed has hundreds of his photos of political meetings and protests, interspersed with more ordinary scenes from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

Somers was taken hostage in September 2013.

A November raid by special forces freed eight other hostages, but not Somers. The militants subsequently issued demands and a threat to kill him.

That’s what triggered the editorial in The Yemen Times, where he had also worked, and the calls for Somers’ release from many others, including his mother, Paula, and brother Jordan.

“He’s a good person and he’s only been trying to do good things for the Yemeni population,” Jordan Somers said in a video message.

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen echoed that feeling in a statement after his death was confirmed.

“Yemen has lost a friend today,” the statement read.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that Somers was “the third American freelance journalist to die this year while being held captive, after James Foley and Steven Sotloff were murdered in Syria.”

The organization also pointed out that the “raid is at least the third to be launched by U.S. special forces in an attempt to rescue American journalists held hostage in Syria and Yemen. All of the raids failed to rescue the journalists.”

Professor: Smart, thoughtful, sensitive

Somers graduated from Beloit College in southern Wisconsin in 2008. The following year, he edited a book of nature stories written by Tamarack Song, director of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in Three Lakes, Wisconsin.

Song described Somers as “extremely intelligent” with a “restless spirit” and an “inquisitive reporter’s eye.”

“He had skills as a writer and skills as a photographer, but these were just tools,” Song said. “If there was another tool that would have worked, he would have used it.”

A professor who taught Somers in two classes at Beloit said he was smart, thoughtful and sensitive.

“He was well-liked on our campus,” Shawn Gillen said. “He made friends with students from around the world. Beloit has a significant international student population and Luke grew close to them beyond polite introductions.”

Somers was a good writer and had the driving curiosity of an excellent journalist, Gillen said.

CNN’s Barbara Starr and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.