Monrovia – Michel du Cille, a three-time Pulitzer prize winning photographer who was barred earlier this year from teaching a workshop class at Syracuse University over fears that he had Ebola after covering the outbreak in Liberia, even though he had been declared Ebola free, has died. Michel du Cille, 58, was pronounced dead shortly after 10pm at the Phebe Hospital in Suakoko, Bong County.
Du Cille who was on his third stint of Ebola coverage in Liberia arrived in Monrovia at about 4am Monday, December 8, 2014, on Royal Air Maroc for another two week stint. He had come to Liberia on two previous assignments with Post reporter Lenny Bernstein. This time, he was paired with Justin Jouvenal. “It is a really big loss,” Jouvenal said Thursday night.
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A FrontPageAfrica Editor who was working with the pair explained that du Cille fell off at about 5:42 pm upon return from the village of Quewein in Grand Bassa County, where he covered an outbreak of Ebola that has led to about 14 deaths in the village.
“Michel walked two hours and thirty minutes from the Border Town of Gbonmah between Bong and Grand Bassa Counties to Quewein in Grand Bassa County,” Samwar Fallah explained. “Quewein is off the road from Maimu in Bong County, where one has to drive 1 hour and 15 minutes on bad roads and park the car and walk two hours one way to Quewein.”
Continued Fallah: “Michel walked to Quewein and shot several photos and upon return from Quewein right before getting into Gbnomah Town, a few meters away from the parked car and fell to the ground and could not talk.” MSF staffers’ constructing an isolation center in Gbnomah rushed him by ambulance to the Tokpapoipolu clinic about 30 minutes away from Gbnomah where nurses said he needed oxygen which the clinic did have. Nurses there recommended that he be taken to the Phebe Hospital about two hours thirty minutes away.
Nurses at Tokapoipolu gave a paper to du Cille’s colleague Jouvenal, but instructed him not to open it until they could get du Cille to the Phebe Hospital where a doctor who received the paper announced that du Cille was already dead. du Cille had just wrapped up his first assignment in Ebola-stricken Liberia along with his fellow Washington Post reporter, Lenny Bernstein when he received an invitation from Syracuse University to speak about his experiences in Liberia. That invitation was later rescinded because of fear of ebola.
A “pissed off” du Cille slammed Syracuse for the revoked invitation, telling News Photographer Magazine: “I just got off the phone with [Dean Lorraine Branham], and I am pissed off. I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead, they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria.”
Syracuse University Dean Lorraine Branham told the magazine that she had not known that du Cille had been in Liberia until students raised concerns about their safety. “This morning I learned that he had been at the CDC, I learned that he had been back 21 days, and I learned that he had been traveling with the [CDC] director, so yes, I knew,” Branham said Thursday.
“But even knowing that, it’s my responsibility to protect the students. 21 days is the CDC’s standard, but there have been questions raised about whether the incubation period is longer. I knew that parents would be upset. And at the end of the day my concern is about the students.”
du Cille has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He shared the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography with fellow Miami Herald staff photographer Carol Guzy for their coverage of the November 1985 eruption of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano. He won the 1988 Feature Photography Pulitzer for a photo essay on crack cocaine addicts in a Miami housing project.
The feature portrayed the decay and subsequent rehabilitation of a housing project overrun by the drug crack. du Cille shared the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull, for “exposing mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, evoking a national outcry and producing reforms by federal officials.”
Despite the fallout, du Cille returned with Bernstein to Liberia for a second stint of reporting focusing on how planting and harvesting seasons were disrupted when Ebola hit the farm belt in June. du Cille was a Photo Editor for The Washington Post from 1988 until June 2005, when he became the Post’s senior photographer.
He credits his initial interest in photography to his father, who worked as a newspaper reporter both in Jamaica and in the United States. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism from Indiana University and a Master’s in Journalism from Ohio University.
On Thursday, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron issued the following statement to The Post’s staff: “I am deeply saddened to report that Michel du Cille died Thursday afternoon while in Liberia documenting the tragedy of Ebola.
“Michel collapsed during a strenuous hike on the way back from a village where he and Justin Jouvenal were reporting. He remained unconscious, and was taken to a nearby clinic, where he had difficulty breathing. He was then transported to Phebe hospital, two hours away, where he was declared dead by doctors.
“Michel had returned to Liberia on Tuesday after a four-week break that included showing his photographs at the Addis Foto Fest in Ethiopia.
“We are all heartbroken. We have lost a beloved colleague and one of the world’s most accomplished photographers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Michel’s wife and fellow Post photographer, Nikki Kahn, and his two children. “Michel died at 58 doing the work he loved. He was completely devoted to the story of Ebola, and he was determined to stay on the story despite its risks. That is the sort of courage and passion he displayed throughout his career.
“He earned three Pulitzers, but his reward was in his mission as a journalist. He was an eloquent witness to history, and he told the story of humanity – moments of joy and moments of struggle against overwhelming tragedy. We will deeply miss this man of soaring talent and limitless passion.”
Du Cille was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He worked as a photojournalism intern at The Louisville Courier Journal/Times and The Miami Herald in 1979 and 1980 and joined the Herald staff in 1981.