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NPR photogragher David Gilkey dies in Taliban ambush

COURTESY PHOTO: NPR - An undated photo provided by NPR shows Zabihullah Tamanna, left, and David Gilkey. Gilkey, a veteran news photographer and video editor for National Public Radio, and Tamanna, an Afghan translator, were killed while on assignment in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, June 5.Former Portlander David Gilkey, a photographer for National Public Radio, died June 5 when the five-vehicle Afghan Army convoy he was in was ambushed by Taliban soldiers in Helmand Province.

Gilkey, 50, and his interpreter, 38-year-old Zabihullah Tamanna, were killed along with their Humvee driver, according to NPR, which announced Gilkey’s death in an email to staff.

They were among a handful of journalists embedded with Afghan special forces in the region. Gilkey was the first American journalist killed in the United States’ 15-year war in Afghanistan. Since 1992, 27 journalists have been killed in the region, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Gilkey lived in Portland and graduated from Wilson High School. He studied photojournalism at Oregon State University.

Following the incident, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest praised”on Monday praised Gilkey for his work in dangerous places. “His work is a testament to the courage and passion that is displayed by professional journalists around the world every day who put their lives at risk to tell the story of people whose voices would otherwise go unheard.”

Earnest said that reporters everywhere “owe these professionals a debt of gratitude for the risks they take and the service that they provide.”

“I know there are a lot of broken hearts in this room and over at NPR headquarters over the loss of your beloved colleagues,” Earnest told reporters. “Please know that the thoughts and prayers of everyone here at the White House, including the President and the First Lady, are with those who are mourning the death of Mr. Gilkey and Mr. Tamanna today.”

NPR Morning Edition reporter Ari Shapiro, also a Portland-area native and a Beaverton High School graduate, told OPB’s Geoff Norcross that Gilkey had a way of blending into situations, no matter how difficult or tense. Shapiro said he and Gilkey worked on stories together, and Gilkey’s “penetrating photos of the people we met, some of them in very rough areas,” provided a valuable view of life outside the United States.

“He managed to just sort of make himself welcome in these homes where maybe they had never seen a Westerner,” Shapiro said. “People would respond to him in ways they don’t often respond to strangers.”

Gilkey previously worked for the Knight Ridder newspaper group and the Detroit Free Press. He joined NPR in 2007 and covered military conflicts around the world. In 2007, he received a national Emmy award for a video series “Band of Brothers” about Michigan Marines in Iraq. In 2004, he was named Michigan “Photographer of the Year” by the Michigan Press Photographers Association, according to NPR.

Shapiro said Gilkey was “drawn to those places (because) those are the stories of life and death.”

“He would go from South Sudan to India to Afghanistan with barely a week at home in between,” Shapiro said. “He would not let us ignore those stories. It was so important to him not only that the stories be told, but that they be captured in a way that those of us going about our suburban lives can relate to.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting is a Portland Tribune news partner. Digital media editor Kevin Harden contributed to this story.