"He was as much a humanitarian as he was a journalist," said his father, John Foley.
His mother, Diane, said he was fearless, courageous, and had a "great love" and joy.
Foley was kidnapped in Syria in November, 2012. It was reportedly unknown who took him, until Tuesday when a video called "A message to America" appeared online and showed Foley on his knees, speaking what appeared to be a forced, prepared statement. A masked man who claimed to be from the Islamic State militant group ISIS stood next to him and then beheaded him.
The group claimed they killed Foley as retribution for airstrikes Obama recently launched in Iraq.
The FBI is still working to officially authenticate the video.
James, who his parents called Jim, spent time working in the Teach for America program, and could have done anything with his life, but "felt compelled to bear witness to people in conflict," Diane said.
His parents said that President Obama called them earlier in the day Wednesday. During the news conference, his parents said that the government did not say what officials had been doing to free their son.
"There was more that could have been done to save him," his brother said.
His parents asked ISIS to show mercy and compassion to the other captives, and asked the public to pray for President Obama and his administration as they navigate the situation in Iraq.
"Jim was just innocent, and they knew it," his mother said. "It's that hatred that Jim was against."
In Foley's hometown of Rochester, N.H., the community has come together to show support. Father Paul Gousee says it's very personal for the town.
"I know that this has international ramifications, but this is personal for us," he said. "And when one member of the family hurts, we all hurt. So we're all struggling.â
A local bar owner said Foley's friends have been stopping by and exchanging stories about the journalist.
"I've heard a lot of stories of how brave he was over there and how he helped a lot of people, including the other captives," he said.
There will be a special service at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester Sunday at 2 p.m. and another special memorial on Foley's birthday, Oct. 18.
© 2018 Cox Media Group.