Skip to main content

Slain Japanese journalist's partner tells of grief at Syria killing

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
September 6, 2012 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Veteran war reporter Mika Yamamoto was shot dead on assignment in Syria.
Veteran war reporter Mika Yamamoto was shot dead on assignment in Syria.
  • Veteran war reporter Mika Yamamoto was killed while working in Syria last month
  • Her partner Kazutaka Sato was just meters away when she was shot
  • Sato believes Yamamoto was targeted because she was a foreign journalist
  • He says he will not find peace until he knows what happened to her

(CNN) -- Mika Yamamoto's first day in Syria would also be her last.

A veteran war reporter, Yamamoto had accepted an assignment to cover the increasing violence in the country last month, as she had in the past in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans.

Kazutaka Sato was her partner both in and out of work -- they both worked for Japan Press, an independent television news provider. He was just meters from her when she was shot.

Sato had covered many war zones with Yamamoto and describes her passion for journalism.

"I think it was her firm belief that you can stop a war with journalism ... she would also turn her attention to children. I believe she wanted to tell the world how they are hurt, dead and bruised in their hearts."

Japanese journalist killed in Syria

Rebels battle for 100 feet in Aleppo
Powell: Syria intervention complicated
CNN crew helps injured child in Syria

Sato says he is not coping well with her loss and the only way he can find peace is to learn exactly what happened to his common-law wife.

He says they were in the besieged city of Aleppo with the rebel Free Syrian Army when he saw 10 to 15 men walking towards them. "At first I thought it was the Free Syrian Army, and we were on the same side so I held up my camera and started shooting. It was then that it happened."

Sato describes seeing one man in an olive green helmet, which made him think they were from the Syrian Army, but there was no way to be certain. As he turned and ran, he heard gunshots, followed by an automatic weapon firing. "I thought I was going to be hit and that's when I was separated from Mika," he says.

For the next hour he tried to find her, believing she was fine. "At no point did I think that she had died," he says.

"I asked a rebel fighter where Mika was. He told me, 'She's at the hospital, go and see for yourself.' At that point I pretty much imagined what had happened to her... On the first floor of the hospital, in the lobby to the left on a stretcher, I saw a body wrapped in a sheet. And I knew then it was Mika."

Video of slain journalist's final hours

Sato believes Mika was targeted because she was a foreign journalist. He says one of the armed men had shouted, "There they are, the Japanese," but it is difficult to determine exactly what was said from the video that captured her final moments.

Sato watches that footage -- filmed by Yamamoto when she was hit by the bullet -- for the first time. "In the video she's alive," he says in a quiet voice. "I don't know how I'm going to deal with this, I can hear her voice."

He has asked the Syrian government through the embassy in Tokyo to look into her death but says he holds little hope for an answer.

"I need to know what happened to her," he says. "Mika was the best part of my professional and personal life. She was my right hand, my left hand, my everything. I have no idea what to do now she's no longer here."

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.