Simone’s Smile

Simone Camilli on the balcony of the AP office in Gaza. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

Simone Camilli on the balcony of the AP office in Gaza. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

This week my AP colleague, 35-year-old Simone Camilli, was killed in Gaza while he was filming a Palestinian bomb squad disarming an unexploded bomb from an Israeli airstrike.  The bomb blew up also killing AP translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash, and four Palestinians from the bomb squad. AP photographer Hatem Moussa was badly injured. The news left us in the AP Rome Bureau shocked and devastated.  He was one of us. Simone is the second staffer to die while covering the news this year and the 33rd since AP began in 1846, but he was the only one I knew well.

The same photo of Simone on his coffin during the funeral in Pitigliano, Tuscany. August 15, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Riccardo De Luca

The same photo of Simone on his coffin during the funeral in Pitigliano, Tuscany. August 15, 2014. Photo by AP Photographer Riccardo De Luca

On Friday I travelled with many of my colleagues from Rome, London, New York, Paris, Brussels and Jerusalem to the small Tuscan town of Pitigliano for the funeral.  Much has already been said about Simone, but I wanted to add just a few of my own thoughts.

Simone came to our office in Rome in 2005 to work as an intern.  He was tall, with long gangly legs and a messy mop of hair which he held in a pony tail.  I remember my boss Maria Grazia and I teasing him that we would loan him hair clips or pony-tails for covering events at the Vatican.  He would laugh, give us that sweet smile and tie back his hair.  It is that gentle smile and easy going style we will miss the most.

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli in Gaza

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli in Gaza

Simone had a way of getting everything done that was asked of him while absorbing information and learning new skills with amazing speed.  Before we knew it Simone had learned how to shoot video, edit, feed, write in English, do interviews in English and Italian and set up complicated stories and event coverage.  He made himself so useful in the period when Pope John Paul II was dying that APTN hired him to help us with the funeral and the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.  He worked long hours, pitching in wherever he was needed, never complaining, always getting the job done well.

Freeze Frame of video shot by Simone Camilli of a Palestinian man in Gaza

Freeze Frame of video shot by Simone Camilli of a Palestinian man in Gaza

Simone had the perfect combination of great humility, serenity and unusual technical and editorial abilities.  He was the epitome of the perfect video-journalist, he could do it all – edit, shoot, write, do interviews, run a live truck.  In addition he was incredibly easy going.  I never saw him angry or stressed out, and he never raised his voice. As my London colleague Toby Goode wrote, “I remember Simone as a kind, gentle soul, hugely talented, always unassuming.  Whether running around the streets of Rome with him or discussing coverage plans from the desk in London, Simone was a joy to work with.”

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli of an Israeli bomb falling on Gaza.

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli of an Israeli bomb falling on Gaza.

At the time Jerusalem Bureau Chief Chris Slaney was in Rome coordinating our coverage of the Pope’s funeral and I remember over a coffee at the Caffe’ Doria below our office Simone telling me that he was studying Arabic and really wanted to go to the Middle East. Simone asked me if he thought he could approach Slaney about eventual work in Jerusalem after the Conclave.

As Chris Slaney described it himself yesterday at the funeral, “Simone– young, intelligent, enthusiastic– called me in the spring of 2006 asking me if I could find him a temporary position in Jerusalem.  We had met a year earlier when I was working in Rome.  Simone wanted to expand his experience dedicating himself to something different and more demanding.  Despite the difficulties, the Holy Land was a place that fascinated Simone, and Simone immersed himself in it, not just as a journalist.  Its people, its history, its music, the food — his interests were wide and profound.  Three months became a year, than three years, and then more.”

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli in Gaza

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli in Gaza

During his years in Jerusalem, Simone often came back to Rome to work with us on stories.  In June 2009, I was asked to coordinate the G8 Foreign Minister’s meeting in Trieste, Italy from June 25-27.  I had several cameramen and a truck engineer but I was anxious that I needed more help, Hillary Clinton was expected and other political big shots would be there and I didn’t want to blow it. Simone was in Rome and AP’s Senior Producer Maria Grazia Murru assigned him to work with me.  I was relieved.  Simone could handle anything, with him present I felt secure.   I made up a coverage plan for door-stepping the leaders, filming their  photo-opportunities, one and one meetings, and press briefings. In addition we had to do scene-setters, filming flags, beauty shots of the city of Trieste, and interviews with analysts.

On the morning the summit was to begin, we were up early doing our set-up piece, when it was ready to go I called into London.  Tanya, the APTN’s Editor-of-the-Day, answered the phone, “Didn’t you hear Trisha?” she said. “Michael Jackson has died.  It’s huge. Forget about what the Ministers are talking about, we need comments on Michael Jackson.  Ask them about that.”

SIGH!  There are the moments when working for a TV News Agency can become extremely frustrating.   I called everyone on the team, time to re-set, switch gears, we still had to cover everything but with a Michael Jackson focus.  Simone laughed, shrugged his shoulders and headed out with AP Rome cameraman Gianfranco Stara to get the job done.  Unfortunately, we all failed miserably.  The Minsters were not game. We could not get the UK’s David Milliband to tell us if he preferred “Thriller” or “Billie Jean” and France’s Bernard Kouchner was not prepared to show us his version of Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk.   We covered everything, but did not get a comment on Michael Jackson.  APTN used nothing.

At the end of the day, we shut down the satellite truck and most of the APTN team had headed back to the hotel. “Come on Trisha, relax,” Simone said. “Tranquilla- nothing you can do about it. There is nothing left to do. Let’s go for a walk back towards the hotel and I will buy you a beer.” Walking along the spectacular port of Trieste we entered the magnificent Piazza Unita’ D’Italia and Simone began telling about a beautiful Dutch woman named Ylva he had met in Jerusalem. He declared he was in love and eagerly pulled out his phone to show me a photo of her. She was beautiful.  He got so excited that he decided he wanted to talk to her right then and asked if I minded.  We stopped in the Piazza and I stood there with my computer bag looking out past the elegant, classical buildings, towards the sea.  The famous Bora wind was blowing and the air was refreshing.  I was still feeling grouchy and aggravated about the wasted day.  I looked over at Simone talking on the phone with his new love Ylva and thought, “here is a guy who has his priorities straight.”

Ylva van den Berg, Simone's long-time companion, embraces Simone's sister Chiara as his body arrives at Ciampino airport in Rome. August 14, 2014

Ylva van den Berg, Simone’s long-time companion, embraces Simone’s sister Chiara as his body arrives at Ciampino airport in Rome. August 14, 2014

Yesterday during the funeral Ylva was a picture of dignity in her simple blue dress, her blond curls circling her face as she came into the church with their three-year-old daughter Nour.   At one point during the funeral Ylva stood to read her message to Simone.  She began, “I remember so well the very first time our eyes met as we walked towards each other from opposite directions in a street in Jerusalem, this month exactly eight years ago. I was immediately attracted by your beautiful warm eyes and your shy and kind smile. We spent the following hours together talking about the Middle East and your work for AP that you had just started and you were so excited about. By the end of the evening, I had simply fallen for you and we have been together every since.”

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli of protest in Gaza

Freeze frame of video shot by Simone Camilli of protest in Gaza

Ylva and Simone had just moved to Beirut with their daughter Nour.   Last May Simone stopped by the Rome bureau and we went again to the Caffe’Doria for a coffee.  Simone told me how excited he was about his contract with AP in Beirut.  He was so pleased to be going with Ylva and Nour.  I told him that I wanted to give him a little advice as a mother and that was not to cross the Lebanese border into Syria.  I said there were enough stories on the border and it was too risky to go into Syria. It would have never occurred to me to tell Simone not to go to Gaza. He knew the story there. He knew the Israelis, he knew the Palestinians, he knew how to move, where to go and what to avoid. Simone was never one to look for risks, he wanted to tell the story.  Simone looked at me and gave me that easy-going, sweet Simone smile and said, “tranquilla Trisha.”

It is Simone’s gentle smile and laid back style that none of us will ever forget.

 Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.  Credit: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip. Credit: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

For anyone interested in seeing the two documentaries from which I took the video, “About Gaza” and “Gaza 22”, shot by Simone, you can find them here: Opacomedia

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Post in: Italiano

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

36 Comments

  1. Stephanie Maccarone
    2014/08/17

    Wonderful tribute Trisha, thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Stephanie. It is just so sad. Every time I look at that picture of Simone on the balcony in Gaza the tears come back.

      Reply
  2. Alan
    2014/08/17

    . . searching out the truth has long been a ‘battlefield’ – in the present political environment wearing a blue ‘Press’ flack jacket or riding in a car marked ‘Press’ or hoisting a video camera has become as dangerous an occupation as a soldier carrying a flame-thrower in WWII. (in combat, average life-expectancy less than ten minutes) Those who seek to hide the truth, crimes, etc see you and your colleagues as fair game – they prefer that the voices of the presstitutes back home are the only ones heard. Sorry for Simone’s death, commiserations to his family, friends and colleagues.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Alan — Simone was truly one of the most sincere, honest, people I know. He wanted to show the truth, but he never wanted to argue with anyone about anything, he did it through his pictures and his stories.

      Reply
  3. Cyndy
    2014/08/17

    Very sorry for your loss. Our love to you and to Simone’s friends and family.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Cyndy!

      Reply
  4. Lega Medcalf
    2014/08/17

    Thank you for sharing his life with us, what a remarkable young man, my heart goes out to his family.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Lega, I also have been feeling so sad for his family and companion today. There were hundreds of people at the funeral and the family was surrounded by people and activity, but this weekend must be so difficult and my heart goes out to them.

      Reply
  5. Adri
    2014/08/17

    I am so sorry you lost your friend and colleague. You have certainly honored him with a beautiful tribute. During Bart’s years with NBC News he too lost friends. I was always struck by the spirit of the men and women, yourself included, who go to the world’s hot spots in order to find the truth and bring it to us at home – we of the cozy, warm and safe beds. It seems the battles will never end, and so the reporters will always be out there, in harm’s way. Only the dead have seen the end of war.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Adri- I knew you and Bart would be able to relate. At the funeral, Simone’s mother read a beautiful letter she received from a Palestinian woman, mother and history teacher who wrote that she had lost family in the conflict. The letter said, “I am very touched by the loss of Simone Camilli. He could have chosen to stay, like many other journalists, in a peaceful place. His humanity pushed him to Gaza.” Also, Ylva, Simone’s companion said that in her last Skype conversation with Simone he said he had to go make a pasta dinner for all the team in the AP Gaza office. That is what Simone was like — generous, sharing, sociable and caring. Gosh, if I keep on writing, I am going to start crying again.

      Reply
  6. Nam
    2014/08/17

    This is such a beautiful eulogy to Simone . For most of us, conflict is just news and it’s true ugliness is only experienced when we lose someone close to us. I hope his soul rests in peace and this never ending conflict finds a resolution soon.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      I too hope this never ending conflict finds a resolution soon, but I am not optimistic. I almost hate to buy a newspaper or watch the news these days, the whole Middle East seems to be collapsing into violence, and then there is Ukraine etc etc. It is a discouraging period, but we need people like Simone willing to go out there and find the truth of what is happening, I am just so sad he lost his life doing it.

      Reply
  7. Millie
    2014/08/17

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend and colleague. You honored him beautifully and made him real to us. I offer a prayer for all…for strength and peace.
    Riposare in pace Simone.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Millie, you are very kind.

      Reply
  8. Elizabeth
    2014/08/17

    Thanks, Trisha, for sharing this storyteller’s story with us. I’m not sure what might make it possible for people to stop fighting one another in the troubled places in the world (which includes Ferguson, MO), but telling the stories of individuals is a way to bring us closer to one another.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Elizabeth. I agree getting to know people, learning about their lives and telling their stories can only help.

      Reply
  9. Nancy Rockwell
    2014/08/17

    Achingly beautiful, Trisha. What a vibrant, talented man – full of beauty. His photos are arrestingly so. And so sad to think of his little girl losing him before she barely knew him. So much heartache in your office, too. I am glad you went to the service, despite all the reasons you have not to take on one more thing. May you find in this some wisdom and peace, for all the storms you yourself have been going through, all the dangers that are present in every day.
    Gaza is such a tragedy. And everyone, every player, – Israel, Palestine, US, Europe, Arab world, could make it stop. But no one will. The truth tellers, like your friend, are vital now, and lose their lives in the midst of it.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Nancy. The funeral was in the small Tuscan town of Pitigliano where Simone’s father is Mayor. Interestingly it was a very traditional Catholic Mass (although I am not sure Simone was particularly religious). His Dutch companion Ylva stood up and gave a moving speech for Simone and his mother and father spoke as well. There were not many dry eyes in the church. After the ceremony, again according to Italian small-town tradition, we all walked in a procession behind the coffin to the cemetery. It was so beautiful and dignified and very, very sad.

      Reply
  10. Tom Lansner
    2014/08/17

    Trisha, thanks for this tribute to your colleague. Simone truly sounds like one of the best sort of journalists, who reported because he wanted to be in a time, a place… not simply because he was sent there…. I know he will be remembered by you, by his family, by his friends. Simone’s name will also be on the 2014 plinth at the journalists memorial in Bayeux, France…. http://thejournalistsmemorial.rsf.org/

    Here is a piece I wrote after visiting there a few years ago….
    http://www.themorningsidepost.com/2008/05/12/news-of-the-dead-to-come-a-note-on-world-press-freedom-day/

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/17

      Thank you Tom for sharing those websites. I had no idea and I am pleased to hear they exist and that Simone’s name will be added. I am sure my AP colleagues will be interested as well. I would like to visit the Memorial in Bayeux.

      Reply
  11. Debra Kolkka
    2014/08/17

    What a waste of a beautiful life.

    Reply
  12. Joan Schmelzle
    2014/08/18

    A beautiful story about a brave beautiful man. Thank you. While I had already read the news story about his death and funeral in “Italian Reflections Daily,” this tells me about the man and what he meant to his friends. May he rest in peace.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/18

      Thank you Joan, he was indeed a brave and beautiful man.

      Reply
  13. Ciao Chow Linda
    2014/08/18

    Oh Trisha – What sad, sad news. You certainly gave us a portrait of a beautiful and humble person who was expert at his job but was also one of the unfortunate casualties of covering a war-torn area. I admire his courage at wanting to tell the story to the world, but am so sorry for his grieving family and friends.

    Reply
  14. Chris/Germany
    2014/08/18

    Till now i did not known Simone Camilli.
    Now I know. And i will remember when i read his name once again.
    You, Trisha, did one of the most important things you can do for your friend by remember him and tell others what a good human he had been.
    Its a way to keep all the ones who had gone alive – in our minds.
    I wish you all the strength you need to handle your loss, Trisha.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/19

      Thank you Chris, you are very kind to me. I was not sure whether or not to write the blog post about Simone, but I was so sad and felt so strongly that I needed to do something to honor his memory that in the end I went ahead.

      Reply
  15. Kay
    2014/08/18

    Thank you for sharing this touching tribute to your lovely friend, Trisha. It hearkens back to those same memories of loss felt when Tim Hetherington died several years ago – the sense of how fragile life is, how short time is and how swiftly it runs. I look at Simone’s work at Opacomedia – especially the wonderful piece “About Gaza” and think that although his life was short, it was as meaningful as if he had lived to be a hundred years old for he touched many lives for the better while he was here. Thank you for sharing his life and your memories of him with us. My prayers are with you and with his family. Tranquilla a tutti.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/19

      Cerchero’ di essere piu’ tranquilla. Grazie Kay

      Reply
  16. Pauline
    2014/08/18

    Trisha – my deepest condolences for your loss. May he rest in peace.

    You wrote a very beautiful and moving tribute on him, his work, and his loves.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/19

      Thanks Pauline. I appreciate your support.

      Reply
  17. Katie
    2014/08/19

    Thank you Trisha. As a colleague of Simone’s I know well his “tranquilla style” which for me doesn’t come naturally. He helped me so many times get things into perspective. I will miss him so much. You capture him perfectly.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/19

      Thank you so much Katie — as you can probably guess from the post the “tranquilla style” does not come naturally to me either, that is why it was always such a pleasure to work with Simone. We will all miss him so much and it is a huge loss for AP.

      Reply
  18. Flavia
    2014/08/20

    I am so sorry Trisha for your loss. Your memories of him are so coherent with the pictures I have seen of him: sweet, unassuming, reliable.
    Hugs to the entire bureau from the bottom of my heart.
    Flavia

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/20

      Thank you Flavia!

      Reply
  19. Lauretta
    2014/11/08

    Just a late note to say I feel you on this loss and I am so sorry for the world that we lost another good one.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/11/08

      Thank you Lauretta.

      Reply

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