The award-winning foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times, who provided a first-hand account from the frontline of wars for more than a quarter of a century, died alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik in the besieged city of Homs.
They were working in the suburb of Baba Amr when the makeshift media centre they were staying in came under bombardment from government forces at about 9am yesterday. As they tried to escape, the journalists were killed by a rocket attack. Activists said they were among more than 80 people to die in the latest series of offensives in the city.
Rosemarie Colvin, Marie’s mother, said her daughter was passionate about her work, and elected to stay in Syria despite being urged to escape.
“She was supposed to leave [Syria] today,” she said from her home in New York, revealing that her daughter had spoken on Tuesday with her editor, who ordered her to leave because it was so dangerous.
“She had to stay. She wanted to finish one more story.”
Addressing reporters, she added: “The reason I’ve been talking to all you guys is that I don’t want my daughter’s legacy to be ‘no comment’ … because she wasn’t a ‘no comment’ person.
“Her legacy is, be passionate and be involved in what you believe in. And do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.”
One of Ms Colvin’s peers, who was working alongside her last week, claimed they had been told the Syrian Arm was intent on “deliberately” shelling buildings used by journalists.
The deaths, part of an escalation of attacks on opposition strongholds in the country in the 11-month uprising, provoked outrage in the international community, with French president Nicolas Sarkozy insisting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, “must go”.
Politicians and prominent media figures paid tribute to Ms Colvin, 55. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Sunday Times, hailed the UK-based American as “one of the most outstanding foreign correspondents of her generation”.
Her death came just days after she filed her last harrowing dispatch for the Sunday Times from Homs. In it she described a “widows’ basement” – the cellar of a wood factory where hundreds of women and children were hiding from the chaos above. Ms Colvin wrote that one baby born in the basement “looked as shellshocked as her mother”.
Also wounded in the attack was Paul Conroy, a British freelance photographer, and Edith Bouvier, a reporter with French daily paper, Le Figaro.
Ms Bouvier, 31, suffered severe injuries to her hip and thigh. The global advocacy group, Avaaz, which has been working with journalists inside Syria, warned she could bleed to death without urgent medical attention, and said they were “desperately trying to get her out” in “extremely perilous circumstances”.
Mr Conroy, who was working with Ms Colvin, suffered shrapnel wounds to his left thigh, according to his father, Les.
Mr Ochlik, 28, was an award-winning star of French photojournalism who covered riots in Haiti and the upheaval sweeping across the Arab world. Less than two weeks ago, his series on Libya won an award at the prestigious World Press Photo competition.
Mr Murdoch said efforts were being made to rescue Mr Conroy. He said: “We are doing all we can in the face of shelling and sniper fire to get him to safety, and to recover Marie’s body.”
Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based Liberation newspaper ,who was with Ms Colvin in Homs last week, claimed they had been told that the Syrian Army was “deliberately” going to shell a building used by the media.
He 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 the journalist from the Sunday Times, but then she wanted to go back when she saw that the major offensive had not yet taken place.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said Ms Colvin was “talented and respected”, and said her death was a reminder of the risks journalists were taking to report the “dreadful events” in Syria.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “This is a desperately sad reminder of the risks that journalists take to inform the world of what is happening and the dreadful events in Syria, and our thoughts should be with her family and her friends.”
A spokeswoman for the US State Department said: “This tragic incident is another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime.”
Ms Colvin, a veteran of conflicts in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone, lost an eye in an attack while working in Sri Lanka in 2001, yet still filed a 3,000 word article for that weekend’s newspaper.
Revered for the humanity she brought to her account of life on the frontline, she was twice named Foreign Correspondent of the Year at the British Press Awards, and reported extensively on countries caught up in the uprisings of the Arab Spring.
In an e-mail to his staff, Mr Murdoch, wrote: “She put her life in danger on many occasions because she was driven by a determination that the misdeeds of tyrants and the suffering of the victims did not go unreported.”
Ms Colvin’s editor at the Sunday Times, John Witherow, described her as “driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered”.
He said: “She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice.”