On July 12, 20 years ago, my brother Dan Eldon — a photojournalist working for Reuters — was beaten and stoned to death by a mob in Mogadishu, Somalia. He was killed alongside three of his colleagues trying to cover the aftermath of a UN aerial attack on a house where the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid was believed to be staying. More than 70 innocent Somalis were killed.
Survivors of the attack invited the journalists to cover the damage. Instead,the very people Dan and his colleagues were trying to help turned and killed them. Dan was just 22.
My big brother was my hero, my protector and my best friend. Amidst the sea of insane thoughts that filled my mind when I was told of his murder, the one that made me the most furious was the thought of Dan being afraid. Haunted by the shockingly violent end to his extraordinary life, I kept replaying the image of him running in terror, trying to put distance between himself and the frenzied mob, and then finally falling onto the dusty street. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being scared. He never showed fear. Not Dan. He was that young man who always exuded a sense of invincibility and confidence.
Growing up in Kenya he led me on endless adventures during his brief yet jam-packed lifetime. It was a journey that took him to some 40 countries, which he documented in a series of bulging travel journals.
Once I tagged along on a safari he led across four African countries with 14 people all under the age of 21 to deliver aid to a refugee camp in Malawi. I was 15. Our traveling companions Chris Nolan and Roko Belic documented our journey. I had no idea these naïve but bold young men would one day turn into famous movie directors. Jeff Gettleman, a college student from Chicago was on the trip. He is now a Pulitzer Prize winner and is the East African Bureau Chief for The New York Times. Elinor Tatum, now publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, was also on the trip, along with Hayden Bixby, the international director of the Cura Orphanage in Kenya.
Organized by Dan, that journey changed all our lives and solidified my brother’s mission statement for the adventure: “Safari As A Way of Life: To explore the known and unknown.”
It was exploring the unknown and trying to make it known to the rest of the world that led to Dan’s death. In the months before he died he made a name for himself covering the civil war in Somalia. Dan took searing images of the conflict’s innocent victims — skeletal children and starving men and women. His photos appeared in international publications including Newsweek and Time.
After Dan’s death, in an attempt to understand why he was willing to risk his life to go into a country at war just to take pictures, I came up with the idea for the film, “Dying To Tell the Story.” It was a documentary about front-line journalists like South Africa’s Peter Magubane who endured 362 days of solitary confinement for shooting a photograph of a policeman killing an innocent man. Or Christiane Amanpour, who took unthinkable risks as a young reporter for CNN in Bosnia. Directed by Kyra Thompson, the film was distributed by CNN to more than 120 countries.
Filming the documentary helped me finally understand why journalists, why my brother, why so many people’s sons, daughters and parents risk their lives to bring us the news. I learned that the journalists I interviewed had a higher objective for good, and by doing their jobs — putting themselves in dangerous situations and sharing stories of conflict and famine — they were saving lives.
I’d like to say the understanding helped take away the pain. It didn’t. The best I could do was curl up in bed each night and congratulate myself for achieving the impossible — making it through another day.
Instead, I channeled my grief into something positive. In 1998 my mother Kathy Eldon and I launched the Creative Visions Foundation to support other people like Peter, Christiane and my brother Dan who use media and the arts to tell stories that need to be told about problems that need to be solved.
Over the years we have supported more than 150 courageous individuals who have tackled social, environmental and humanitarian issues impacting more than 100 million people.
Their incredible achievements inspired my mother and I. In time, I found the pain of Dan’s death visited me less frequently and when the sorrow washed through me it wasn’t as deep or intense as it had been.
After Dan died, I was left alone. He was no longer around to take me on adventures. So now I initiate them.
On July 12 — 20 years after his death — we commemorated the sparks that Dan and his friends lit in others by dedicating the Dan Eldon Center for Creative Activism. Since we opened doors in Malibu two years ago, thousands of artists, musicians, social media creators and filmmakers of all ages, races, and cultures have mingled in a place that recognizes and celebrates the power of individuals to profoundly impact the world around them.
Out of the greatest tragedy of my life has come the greatest joy — the sense of connection, community and co-creation with lively spirits like my brother Dan, whose courageous storytelling is changing our world.
This month we are commemorating the more than 900 journalists who have died since Dan and his friends were killed. But through our work we are also keeping his passions alive.
Just the other day, my youngest son, Daniel Eldon Turteltaub, age three, looked at me with a furrowed brow. “Can I tell you a secret mama? Uncle Dan is here,” he said. I replied: “I know.”
Amy Eldon Turteltaub is the Co-Founder of Creative Visions Foundation, which supports creative activists who use media and the arts to highlight social causes around the world. Born in London and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Amy’s career in media began with the Emmy-nominated documentary “Dying To Tell The Story.” She was the associate producer and presenter of the film that wove the story of her brother Reuters photographer Dan Eldon, who was killed while working as a journalist in Somalia in 1993, with those of other journalists working in conflict zones around the world. In 2011, together with Julia Roberts, she was the executive producer of “Extraordinary Moms,” a 90-minute special that aired on OWN. She is also the author of four books including, Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and Remembrance.