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Bill Stewart (d. June 20, 1979) was a reporter for ABC news in the US who was summarily shot by Nicaraguan government forces while reporting in Managua in 1979.[1]

Stewart was originally from West Virginia, and was a 1963 graduate of Ohio State University. An experienced foreign correspondent, Stewart had been in Nicaragua for a month reporting on the civil war between the American-backed government and the leftist Sandinistas.

On June 20, 1979 Stewart was travelling in a van in the capital city of Managua with his camera crew when they were stopped at a checkpoint run by the Nicaraguan National Guard, the main force of President Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The van was marked as a press vehicle as a precaution. [2]

The young lieutenant in charge of the checkpoint saw Stewart peer out of the passenger window and came and ordered him out of the vehicle. Stewart was accompanied by Juan Espinosa, his interpreter. Stewart held a white flag and official press documentation from the Nicaraguan government. While Stewart was escorted a few meters away from the van his cameraman, Jack Clark, began filming the scene. Clark filmed as Stewart was forced first to kneel and then to lie face down on the ground. The lieutenant then put his rifle to the back of Stewart's head and fired, killing the reporter instantly. Espinosa was killed moments later.

The video footage shocked colleagues at ABC, and it and the other US networks ran the footage in their evening news broadcasts. Over the next few days the footage was broadcast repeatedly in the United States and around the world. This horrified the American public and ultimately caused the US government to turn openly against Somoza's tottering regime.

Before the shooting, Nicaragua had been a controversial subject. Most US officials argued Somoza and his regime must be kept in power as a bulwark against Communism. The dramatic surge in public anger following Stewart's murder made that position untenable. Support for Somoza was withdrawn and he was toppled less than a month later on July 19.

There was never any explanation as to why Stewart had been shot. The lieutenant disappeared. It is assumed that the soldiers knew Stewart was an American reporter. But at that point with the regime collapsing the soldiers were tired, angry, and badly led and may not have appreciated or cared about the damage the killing would inflict on the regime.

The U.S. government refused to help ABC and Stewart's family bring his body back[citation needed] to the United States; eventually, the West German government stepped in and made the arrangements.[3]


A fictional version of his life was told in the 1983 theatrical film, Under Fire, starring Gene Hackman.[4]

See also

  • Ben Linder, an American engineer killed in Nicaragua a decade later, also enraging many American people.

External links

References

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