CHICAGO (WLS) --James Foley, a slain American journalist killed by Islamic extremist militants, made his mark in Chicago long before covering foreign conflict as a journalist.
He was a teacher in the Cook County Jail Boot Camp Program.
Friends say he was compassionate and wanted to help those who needed it the most. And that commitment, they say, is what drove him to cover conflicts in the most dangerous parts of the world.
He was well aware of the dangers involved in covering foreign conflict. Two weeks after Foley was released from 44 days in captivity in Libya, he spoke to students about the experience at Northwestern, where he graduated with his master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism.
Many of his family, friends and colleagues questioned his decision to go back overseas just months later to continue covering foreign conflicts.
"He felt like this was his job, this was his passion," said John Foley, James' father.
"Jim was just innocent and they knew it, they knew that Jim was just a symbol for our country," said Diane Foley, James' mother. "And it's that hatred that Jim was against."
Not long after returning to work, he was captured in Syria and held captive for 20 months until the chilling video of his murder by Islamic terrorists surfaced Tuesday. Several of his former journalism professors at Northwestern grew close to him and say Foley's commitment to covering stories overseas was deep.
"Jim was willing to go places and do things that most people are not going to do, including me," said Stephen Garnett, a Northwestern professor.
"He wasn't a cowboy out there saying, 'I'm some macho war correspondent,'" said Ellen Shearer of the Medill School of Journalism. "He was doing it because he just felt the stories were important."
Kari Lydersen met Foley in their Pilsen neighborhood several years ago before he switched careers to pursue journalism. But she could see his commitment to helping people then.
"That same bravery and drive that brought him around the world, people here in Pilsen saw that in him too just acting on a local level," Lydersen said.
Illinois senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk both spoke about Foley Wednesday offering their condolences to his family. They also both say they believe the U.S. should not back down.
A spokesperson for Foley's employer, the GlobalPost, says the publication received a ransom demand and a threat to kill Foley last week. The publication turned the threat over to the White House.