Indian-origin journalist Fazil Khan killed in New York fire

Arul Louis (IANS)–

An Indian-origin data journalist died in a building fire in New York City despite firefighters’ heroic efforts to save the people trapped in the apartment building. The death of 27-year-old Fazil Khan (pictured above; photo courtesy Columbia Journalism School), a reporter for Hechinger Report, in Friday’s fire in the Harlem section of the city, was confirmed by the education-focused news media and India’s Consulate-General in posts on X.

According to the New York Fire Department, a lithium-ion battery caused the fire that injured 17 other people. Khan, according to the department, was one of five people seriously injured and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His alma mater Columbia Journalism School posted a message of mourning on its website.

Hechinger Report, a non-profit media outlet focused on education, said in an X post: “We are devastated by the loss of such a great colleague and wonderful person, and our hearts go out to his family. He will be dearly missed.”

The journalist organization, Investigative Reporters and Editors, posted on X: “He was a wonderful, talented member of the IRE community. He will be missed.”

In an X post, India’s Consulate General in New York said it was saddened by his death and gave the assurance, “We continue to extend all possible assistance in repatriation of his mortal remains to India”.

Khan was a graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, the Indian Institute of Mass Communications in New Delhi, and Delhi University.

Hechinger Report’s website said he worked as “a data reporter who is responsible for gathering and analyzing education data and collaborating with other reporters to expose inequality and examine innovation in education”. “I don’t know that anyone has ever made that positive a first impression on me anywhere, let alone via a tiny Zoom screen,” said Sarah Butrymowicz, Hechinger’s senior editor for investigations and Khan’s direct supervisor. “You could just tell right away that he was such a thoughtful person, really smart.”

The website said: “Though his time at Hechinger was short, he made a dazzling imprint on those fortunate enough to call him a colleague.”

The fire in the six-storey building trapped residents, three of whom hung out of windows and were rescued in a dramatic operation by firefighters who dangled on ropes outside the building to reach them and bring them down to safety. Meanwhile, other firefighters rushed into the building to help those trapped inside, some of them unconscious, escape the fire, Fire Department’s Chief of Operations John Hodgens said.

According to Khan’s LinkedIn profile, he had worked for Business Standard as a sub-editor and for CNN-News18 as a correspondent before coming to the US in 2020 to study at Columbia. After his graduation, he had worked at the university’s Graduate School of Journalism as an investigative fellow.

Hechinger Report added: “A talented coder, Khan was able to find creative ways to analyze and display information. When he and his colleagues began putting together the College Welcome Guide, which analyzed data from more than 4,000 colleges and universities to give prospective students insight into the culture and political atmosphere on campuses, the idea of making it an interactive tool seemed far-fetched. But using a free app with limited functionality, Khan augmented it to perform far more sophisticated analysis and presentation. At the time of his death, he was completing a project on school discipline data in partnership with USA Today.”

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