Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent Patrick J. McDonnell tells a horrific story in his online tribute to the New York Times' Anthony Shadid, who died yesterday (probably of an asthma reaction) while trying to leave Syria for Turkey. McDonnell's story is of a 2004 bombing in Karbala, Iraq, during a self-flagellation frenzy by pious Shiite Muslims to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. "Thousands of exhilarated young men, many of them from Iran, were striking their backs with knife-and-razor-tipped chains, emulating Hussein’s death and creating a grisly spectacle...," McDonnell writes, setting up what was to come.
It was all quite overpowering and became more so when nine or 10 hidden killers who had slipped in amid the worshipers detonated their suicide vests, creating literal explosions of body parts and a panicked stampede of humanity. It was carnage on a scale that I hope never to witness again.
In the gruesome aftermath, I bumped into Anthony on a street where a grizzled old man was collecting strips of scorched flesh and placing them into a bag to be buried in proper Muslim fashion. The enormity of what we had just witnessed had overwhelmed both of us.
I felt extremely fortunate to have survived and hadn’t even begun to process what I had just seen. I could barely speak and had reverted to a kind of preliterate stage. But Anthony was already processing it all and observed: “It was that combination: The mixing of the ritual blood and the blood from the bombs.” Afterward, that remark seemed to encapsulate the whole ghastly spectacle.
As journalists we are tasked with trying to explain events that sometimes defy explanation, to convey some sense of authenticity. No one was better at it than Anthony Shadid. RIP Anthony.
The New York Times has published details of what happened with Shadid, saying his death "abruptly ended one of the most storied careers in modern American journalism." He was in Syria with NYT photographer Tyler Hicks, and had suffered an asthma attack on their first night in country, possibly brought on by an allergy to the horses that accompanied the journalists through the countryside, according to the paper's story.
On the way out a week later, however, Mr. Shadid suffered a more severe attack — again apparently set off by proximity to the horses of the guides, Mr. Hicks said, as they were walking toward the border. Short of breath, Mr. Shadid leaned against a rock with both hands.
“I stood next to him and asked if he was O.K., and then he collapsed,” Mr. Hicks said. “He was not conscious and his breathing was very faint and very shallow.” After a few minutes, he said, “I could see he was no longer breathing.”
Mr. Hicks said he administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation for 30 minutes but was unable to revive Mr. Shadid.
Last night I posted the email to the staff from NYT executive editor Jill Abramson.
* At the NYT: Staffers gathered in the newsroom this afternoon to talk about Shadid, nicely summarized by Joe Pompeo at Capital New York. Abramson and foreign editor then left for Beirut, where Shadid lived with his family and was the paper's bureau chief. Shadid's final bylined story is online now and will be on page one tomorrow. Publication of his memoir has been moved up to Feb. 28 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.