James Foley's parents: "He was courageous to the end"

Last Updated Aug 20, 2014 4:25 PM EDT

ROCHESTER, New Hampshire -- The parents of an American journalist slain by Islamic State militants say their son died a hero for revealing the stories of oppressed people in war-torn lands.

James Foley, who was freelancing for GlobalPost and other media outlets, was abducted in 2012 and held for nearly two years. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posted a video showing his murder on Tuesday and said they killed him because the U.S. had launched airstrikes in northern Iraq.

GlobalPost President Philip Balboni said the news service received an email "full of rage" last week in which Foley's captors threatened to kill him. Balboni said the White House was aware of the threat, but no negotiations took place.

Diane and John Foley addressed the media outside their Rochester, New Hampshire, home on Wednesday. It was an appearance where wrenching grief over their son's death mingled with shaking laughter over his life.

Diane Foley says her son was courageous to the end and called his death "just evil."

John Foley says the family is holding up but that it feels like a bad dream.

President Obama said he spoke to Foley's parents by phone before his nationally televised address from Martha's Vineyard and told them "we are all heartbroken at their loss."

CBS Boston reports that the Foleys, who spoke to the media for almost an hour, said they are also expecting a call from Pope Francis.

"We thank God for the gift of Jim. We are so, so proud of him," Diane Foley said.

"So many people were praying for Jim," she said, adding that they pray their son's values help bring the country together in a stronger way.

John Foley said their son was "driven by the suffering of the children" in his reporting from Syria.

"He was a courageous, fearless journalist. The best of America," the Foleys said of their son.

The Foleys said their message to the people behind his death is: We beg compassion and mercy for the other captives.

"How do you make sense of someone as good as Jim meeting such a fate?" Diane Foley said.

She said some of his three siblings were "mad" when he decided to go back, but he "felt compelled."

Foley's brother Michael said, "there was a lot of value in what he was doing."

Diane and John Foley said their son wouldn't consider himself a hero but would say he was just doing his job.

John Foley likened his son's return to Syria after being taken captive once before to firefighters who go back into a burning building.

"He was not crazy. He was motivated by doing the right thing," he said.

The Foleys said they did not learn of their son's death directly. "We found out like everyone else," Diane Foley said.

"We believe he was a martyr for freedom," John Foley said. "He was courageous to the end."

"It's not difficult to find solace," John Foley said. "We know he is in God's hands."

He said it is now up to others to "pick up the gauntlet" and carry on their son's work.

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