LOS ANGELES – Friends mourned the loss of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl as news of his death reached the San Fernando Valley, where Pearl spent his childhood.
The State Department confirmed Thursday that Pearl, 38, was killed by the Pakistani kidnappers who abducted him Jan. 23.
Caprice Young, a classmate of Pearl's at Birmingham High School in suburban Van Nuys, called the reporter's death "terrible news."
"He was a really great guy, really smart," said Young, now president of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. "I like to think Americans are safe when they go abroad. Obviously, he was not. It's terrible news."
Faculty, staff and students at Birmingham, where Pearl graduated with honors in 1981, observed a moment of silence after they were told of his death. The school also has established a memorial scholarship fund in his name that will go to a journalism student.
Yearbook pictures of Pearl show a high achiever who was a national merit scholarship finalist and a participant in the school's Knowledge Bowl academic competition.
Michael Saunders, 38, a classmate of Pearl's from elementary school through high school, said many of Pearl's peers looked up to him.
"I just remember he was very much a leader and very sharp, but no one ever said anything bad about him," said Saunders, a vice president of investments for UBS PaineWebber. "He was a popular, nice guy, but a little on the reserved side."
Classmate Diane Hirshberg said Pearl was intellectually "a level beyond" other students throughout elementary and high school.
"But he was definitely more of a well-rounded person, not someone you saw as being completely isolated and bookish," said Hirshberg, now an education policy analyst who lives in Berkeley. "He was always extremely smart, very funny, and one of the nicest people we were growing up with."
Among journalists who worked with Pearl during his time as a reporter in western Massachusetts, he was remembered Thursday as a driven and kindhearted man.
"Danny was young and just starting his career, but it was apparent right away that he was really good," said Ray Lamont, an editor at The Westerly (R.I.) Sun who worked with Pearl at The Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle in the 1980s. "Not only did he go after the big or deep story, but he was always able to get it. Everybody knew that someday he was going to get a really big story.
"But you never think that somebody is going to work on a story that's going to cost him his own life."
Pearl was "the kind of reporter who always had another phone call to make," said Lewis Cuyler, his former editor. He called Pearl a "brilliant, gifted reporter."
Clarence Fanto, managing editor of the Eagle, said the staff was "shell-shocked even though it's not a major surprise."
"We were all fearing the worst, but it does hit hard when the news appears to be final," he said.
Denver Post photographer Craig Walker, who worked with Pearl at the Eagle, recalled his colleague as a focused, ambitious journalist who made friends easily.
"He was very genuine," said Walker, who was reunited with Pearl in December when both were reporting from Pakistan. "He was the type of person when he asked you how you were doing, he waited for a reply and listened."
Steve Roulier was Pearl's roommate when they were rookie reporters at the North Adams (Mass.) Transcript in 1986 and 1987.
"He was on the city desk and I was the sports guy, but we just kind of hit it off and became good friends," said Roulier, who now works at Western New England College in Springfield.
"When I heard he died it was just a heartbreaking feeling," he said.