Pulitzer-winning reporter who covered Colorado military deaths in Iraq dies at 53

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jim Sheeler, a former Rocky Mountain News journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his extensive and compassionate reporting on the families of Colorado service members killed in the Iraq War and the man tasked with notifying them, has died. Sheeler, who was also an author, was 53.

Sheeler died last week at his home in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, according to Case Western Reserve University, where he taught journalism and media writing. The cause of death was not immediately determined, the school said Wednesday. Sheeler’s 12,000-word “Final Salute” won the feature writing Pulitzer in 2006 and was expanded into a book of the same name that received a National Book Award nomination two years later.

In 2016, Sheeler won Case Western’s Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Rocky Mountain News photographer Todd Heisler, center, and writer Jim Sheeler, right, joke with one of the subjects of their Pulitzer Prize feature story and feature photographs, Katherine Cathey, and her son, Jimmy, during a meeting at the newspaper to mark the Pulitzer victory on Monday, April 17, 2006, in Denver. Cathey’s husband, James, was killed while fighting as a U.S. Marine in Iraq. The story and photographs focused on a contingent of U.S. Marines who have the task of notifying family members after a service member dies in action. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Sheeler was a Houston native who majored in journalism at the University of Colorado and started out at the Boulder Daily Camera. He wrote for the Boulder Planet weekly paper and the Denver Post before joining the Rocky Mountain News in 2004. Early in his career, he often worked on obituaries and would cite his experiences as a guide when he began writing about the war, which began in 2003, and its impact in the U.S. For a year, he followed U.S. Marine Major Steve Beck, whose job was to inform families of the deaths of service members stationed overseas.

Pulitzer judges praised his “poignant story on a Marine major who helps the families of comrades killed in Iraq cope with their loss and honor their sacrifice.”

Sheeler’s books also included “Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives” and he contributed to an obituary writing guide, “Life On the Death Beat.”

He is survived by his wife, Annick and their son, James.

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