An American photographer killed in a Russian attack on the town of Grozny died while doing what she loved - capturing images of human drama, her family and friends say.

Cynthia Elbaum, 28, was decapitated during an air attack Thursday morning on a residential neighborhood in the breakaway Chechen capital. At least 23 other civilians were killed in the shelling.Elbaum was inspecting the damage from the third straight day of Russian air raids when a warplane fired a rocket into a crowd.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Friday expressed condolences to the Elbaum family and also urged other journalists to leave Chechnya "for considerations of personal safety."

"The comfort comes from knowing she wanted to be there," said her father, Barry Elbaum.

Elbaum, who was of Russian descent, earned a degree in Russian studies from Smith College in 1988 and was fluent in the language. She lived in New York and was on at least her sixth visit to Russia, working free-lance.

"She told me she thought she would be going back and forth for the rest of her life," said high school friend Wilson Beebe.