PITIGLIANO, Italy (AP) — Several hundred mourners packed the ornate cathedral of this hilltop Tuscan town on Friday to remember Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli as a committed storyteller who had found personal and professional contentment in the Middle East.
An image of Camilli, leaning pensively over the balcony of the AP office in Gaza with smoke billowing behind him, stood near the simple unfinished wooden casket that accompanied his body back to Italy, and which his family chose to retain in deference to his preference for simplicity.
“You might think he was a thrill-seeker. Simone wasn’t one of those,” said friend and AP colleague Chris Slaney. “His best work was filmed far from the front lines. He was proud of items which were simple, human stories well-told.”
Camilli was killed Wednesday in the Gaza Strip when leftover ordnance believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike blew up. Also killed was freelance Palestinian translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash, who was buried Wednesday. Four police engineers also died in the explosion and AP photographer Hatem Moussa was among three people badly wounded.
Video images made by Camilli were projected in the cathedral complex in Pitigliano, and mourners streaming to the funeral Mass were visibly moved as they paused to watch.
AP chief executive Gary Pruitt, speaking outside the cathedral, lauded Camilli’s commitment “to tell the human side of the story in a war” during nearly a decade with AP.
Monsignor Guglielmo Borghetti, bishop of Pitigliano-Sovana-Orbetello, remembered Camilli as “young, courageous, a passionate professional” and noted that Pope Francis had offered prayers for him this week from the papal plane on his way to South Korea.
“Simone died as a consequence of war,” Borghetti said.
Camilli’s father is mayor of the small town of 4,000, which was in collective mourning. The city canceled festivities marking the Aug. 15 Ferragosto public holiday and traditional funeral notices from local associations were posted on the sides of buildings.
Camilli, who was 35, is survived by his long-time partner Ylva van den Berg, their 3-year-old daughter Nour, his parents and two sisters.
Van den Berg told mourners the pair met on a Jerusalem street eight years ago this month, locking eyes as they approached one another. They started to talk.
“You talked about your work for the AP that you had just started, and you were so excited about,” van den Berg said. “By the end of the evening, I had simply fallen for you and we have been together ever since that evening.”
Van den Berg said Simone had found contentment in both his family and work lives in recent months as the family moved from Jerusalem to a new home in Beirut.
“I know you were so happy together with our family in these last months,” van den Berg said. “You felt the freedom to make the stories you wanted to make and you finally felt appreciated for it.”
Camilli’s father, Pier Luigi, spoke of how he was overwhelmed when traveling to Jerusalem to recover his son’s body to meet all the people who called his son a close friend, and who were impressed by his journalistic gifts and commitment.
“Everyone said Simone was such a special person,” Pier Luigi Camilli, a former journalist at RAI Italian state TV, said. He expressed wonder at “this discovery of a new image of my son, this boy — boy, at 35 years old. This man. I didn’t know him. We didn’t have time to notice how special he was. To lose a son is a pain that I don’t think can be equaled. I don’t think we understand it deep down yet.”
Camilli’s mother, Maria Daniela Vigna, read a letter written by a Palestinian history teacher who admired Camilli’s courage.
“‘I am very touched by the loss of Simone Camilli,'” she read from an Italian translation of the letter. “‘He could have chosen to stay, like many other journalists, in a peaceful place. His humanity pushed him to Gaza.'”
Vigna said she would travel herself to Gaza to honor her son’s memory.
“I don’t know how, but I have to go back there, to do something. Otherwise my life is over,” she said.
Abu Afash, a Gaza resident who often worked with the international media as a translator and news assistant, was buried the same day as the explosion in line with Muslim custom. He is survived by his wife, Shireen, and daughters Majd, 7, and Wajd, 2 1/2.
AP photographer Moussa is recovering in a Jerusalem hospital.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.