“It was amazing how many emails we got saying, ‘We hope he’s well,’ ” said a spokeswoman for the organization, Welthungerhilfe, one of Germany’s biggest agencies specializing in emergency and long-term aid. She remembered him as a “great colleague,” and “vibrant, full of life.”
His kidnapping prompted a huge response, she said. “He had friends all over the world.”
As those friends and colleagues learned now that Mr. Lo Porto, 37, along with an American hostage, had been killed in a United States counterterrorism operation in Pakistan three months earlier, they recalled a driven and experienced aid worker who was drawn to those in need. Italian opposition parties used news of his death to criticize the country’s leadership and its involvement in the Middle East, and some of his supporters questioned whether enough had been done to secure his freedom.
Expressing his grief for the death of “an Italian who dedicated his life to the service of others,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said in a statement that President Obama had informed him of the death. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs then contacted Mr. Lo Porto’s family.
Mr. Lo Porto was hired by Welthungerhilfe in October 2011 to manage a sanitation and clean drinking water project in Pakistan after the heavy floods that began in 2010. He was kidnapped a week after he arrived in the country.
He wasn’t afraid because he’d already lived in Pakistan and this was a tranquil area, so he felt secure. He was mostly anxious to start the project. It had taken so long to get the paperwork ready.
He was taken hostage with a German colleague who was released last October and still works for Welthungerhilfe, said the spokesperson, declining to give details about their captivity.
With a background in philosophy and a degree in peace and conflict studies, Mr. Lo Porto had worked in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and he had also worked in the Central African Republic.
Like any experienced aid worker facing difficult situations, he knew what he was doing.
In the years since his abduction, nongovernmental groups had lobbied regularly for Mr. Lo Porto’s release, appealing to the government and the president to “break the silence” that surrounded his case. But no one ever responded. Italian television newscasts relayed video of friends and supporters holding “Free Giovanni” banners, part of other efforts to liberate him.
Welthungerhilfe did everything it could to win Mr. Lo Porto’s release, and the Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said in a statement that his ministry “made every possible effort to track down” Mr. Lo Porto “and return him to his dear ones.”
“The conclusion, unfortunately, was different, as a result of the tragic and fatal error of our American allies, acknowledged by President Obama,” the minister added. But the responsibility for his death and that of Warren Weinstein, the American hostage who was also killed, “lies entirely with the terrorists,” the statement read.
Members of the opposition latched on to the announcement to call for Italy to pull its troops, who number about 700, from Afghanistan, where they are part of the NATO-led mission that has been there since 2001.
Questions were also raised about the three-month lapse between Mr. Lo Porto’s death and its announcement, seen by some as a sign of Italy’s low international standing.
“Why must we learn of the death of one of our aid workers from the head of a foreign government?” members of the opposition Five Star Movement wrote on the party’s website.
“Our government doesn’t know how to protect Italian citizens. He was the victim of a useless war.”
In Palermo, Sicily, Mr. Lo Porto’s hometown, a day of mourning was announced. His family had never lost hope of seeing him alive, Ms. Romanelli said. They grieved privately.
“We always believed that there was a great possibility that he would be freed, especially after his colleague had been let free,” she said. “That negotiation had gone well, so we thought he’d be freed, too.”