Elián image, N.J. story win Pulitzer photo prizes

Al Diaz of The Associated Press, who captured the startling image of armed federal agents seizing the Cuban boy Elián González from his Miami relatives’ home, won a Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category 16 April 2001. Matt Rainey, a staff photographer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., won in the feature photography category.

“To be honest I thought I wasn’t going to win. What a sweet surprise,” Diaz said in a Miami Herald story. “I just thought I was doing my job. This is just awesome, unbelievable.”

The 29 June 2000 incident, which came at the end of a six-month legal and political standoff, and Diaz’s images sparked a national controversy.

The Miami Herald, where Diaz now works as a staff photographer, also won for its coverage of Elián González saga.

In the feature category, Rainey won for his photo story on the care and recovery of two freshmen who were critically burned in a 19 January 2000 dorm fire at Seton Hall University in East Orange, N.J.

For more than eight months, Rainey and staff writer Robin Gaby Fisher tracked the progress of Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos through their emotional journeys.

The other finalists in the breaking news category were Chris Gerard (a pseudonym) of Agence France-Presse and Rachel Ritchie of The Providence Journal of Rhode Island.

Gerard was considered for his photograph of a Palestinian youth triumphantly raising his bloodstained hands after two Israeli soldiers were killed. Meanwhile, Ritchie captured an image of a man walking through the crowd of a street festival after shooting four people 6 August 2000.

In the feature category, David Guttenfelder of The Associated Press and Marc Piscotty of the Denver Rocky Mountain News were finalists.

Guttenfelder was honored for his photographs of North and South Koreans visiting relatives they had not seen in half a century, as well as other images generated by the Korean governments’ reunification efforts. Piscotty’s entry was a selection of photos from a four-part series, “ThunderRidge: Real Life at a Suburban High School.”