WATERVILLE – Alfredo Corchado felt numb when he returned as Mexico bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

The journalist had been away as a 2009 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and realized — after years of investigative reporting that resulted in multiple death threats from Mexico’s ruthless drug cartels and gangs — that he no longer wanted to put his life on the line.

But that changed on Feb. 1 this year, when he went to check out a case in which 13 teenagers had been gunned down. The hitmen had been wrongly tipped off that the teenage birthday party was for a group of rival gang members, resulting in the execution of innocents while the survivors hid in closets and underneath bodies.

“I will never forget the day of the funeral, the sight of a dozen hearses on that street, the sight of coffins, the wailing from parents, friends, brothers and sisters,” Corchado said. “I’m grateful that it was a rainy day, because I felt so angry that I was able to mask my running tears with raindrops. And on that sad morning, I broke my silence and found my voice again.”

Corchado’s telling of that story came Sunday night in front of a packed crowd at Colby College’s Lorimer Chapel, where he accepted the college’s 2010 Elijah Parish Lovejoy award.

Colby President William “Bro” Adams said the award, which recognizes journalists for fearlessness and freedom of the press, was given to Corchado by a selection committee because he was deemed “the most intrepid reporter working the most dangerous beat in the Western Hemisphere.”

Corchado, 50, said he would accept the award, but “on behalf of the love I feel for my profession and the enormous respect and admiration I have for those reporting in the line of fire,” especially his colleagues in Mexico.

In fact, Corchado said the award would honor more than 60 Mexican journalists murdered in the last decade, including nine this year and one just last week.

Corchado said he’s no braver or more courageous than his Mexican colleagues. He talked about the award as a chance to highlight the plight of his fellow reporters, who face complex choices involving corrupt government officials, censorship, bribery and the threat of death in the course of reporting. Mexico, he said, is today among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists — on par with war-stricken Iraq and Somalia.

Born in Durango, Mexico, Corchado was raised in California and Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1987 and has received honors from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

He now lives in Mexico City, and is writing a book due out next year, with the working title “Midnight in Mexico,” about his experiences.

For Corchado, reporting has involved an ongoing quest to strike a tough balance, to report fairly and extensively on the region’s chaos and corruption while also staying alive during “the bloodiest period in Mexico since the 1910 Mexican Revolution,” he said.

“We must find a way to balance fear vs. silence,” Corchado said. He said he could not strive for that balance without the support of the Dallas Morning News, many of his colleagues and his longtime girlfriend, Angela Kocherga, border bureau chief for Belo television in Juarez, who attended the Lovejoy ceremony.

Corchado said he was looking forward to spending several days in Maine and at Colby during fall, his “favorite season of the year.”