HOEXTER, GERMANY (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Hundreds of mourners packed a church in central Germany on Saturday to remember Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed on assignment in Afghanistan last week after a life spent between the chaos of war and the serenity of her rural birthplace.
Gannon recalled some of Niedringhaus' last words: "I am so happy." "You were so happy," the letter read. "Your heart knew no bounds. You wanted to help everyone." A black casket topped with a row of white flowers was surrounded by wreaths near steps leading up to the altar, where a large photograph of Niedringhaus was placed. Bells pealed before the start of the service, and mourners sang "We Shall Overcome" and heard a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
After the service, a procession of mourners walked a few kilometers along the Weser River to the local cemetery for her burial on a bright, sunny day. AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said Niedringhaus loved to capture calm when there was chaos all around her.
"And I believe that is why her pictures from terrible places resonated with so many people around the world," Carroll said. "She found their dignity. She found the quiet human moments that connected people in great strife to all the rest of us around the world."
The Rev. Berndt Mueller's sermon highlighted the two worlds between which Niedringhaus moved: major world events from wars to summits and sporting contests, and the tranquil farm life of central Germany.
"Restless Anja, spending her life between extreme poles," Mueller said. That same duality was present during the service, with family and townspeople sitting alongside reporters and photographers who travelled from around the world to remember Niedringhaus from shared assignments.
Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper in Hoexter at the age of 16. Her coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall led to a staff position with the European Pressphoto Agency in 1990. Based in Frankfurt, Sarajevo and Moscow, she spent much of her time covering the brutal conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
She joined the AP in 2002, and while based in Geneva worked throughout the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of the AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq, among many journalistic awards and honors for her work. In 2006-07, she studied at Harvard University under a Nieman Fellowship.
Niedringhaus was killed when an Afghan police unit commander walked up to the car where she was sitting in the back seat and opened fire after yelling "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great." She and Gannon were traveling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots in the eastern city of Khost, under the protection of security forces, when the shooting happened.
The unit commander, identified as Naqibullah, surrendered and government authorities are now investigating why he opened fire. AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon called Niedringhaus "a lighthouse guiding us to safety," and Carroll recalled her ability to show compassion in the face of tragedy and her talent in offering direction to young photographers.
"We are grateful for all that you have given us," she said. "And we will always hear your voice in our ears: 'nein, nein, nein, you can do better. I'm proud of you.' "