NEW YORK (AP) -- Four New York Times journalists -- including two Westport natives -- disappeared while reporting on fighting in Libya, the newspaper said Wednesday.

Photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, both graduates of Staples High School in Westport, are among those missing. Hicks graduated in 1988 and Addario in 1991.

Fellow Staples alumnus Spencer Platt, also an '89 graduate and now a photographer with Getty Images photo service company, said that experience that both Hicks and Addario have gained in war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, should have prepared them for covering the strife in Libya.

"They're professionals," he said. "These are not naive young people. They've been through many conflicts, and I'm sure they know what they're doing."

Addario and Hicks in 2009 shared in the Times' 2009 Pulitzer Prize won by a team for international reporting.

Addario last September was named to "The 2010 O Power List -- 20 Women Who Are Rocking the World" by O, the Oprah magazine, and in 2009 won a $500,000 MacArthur "genius" award for coverage of events in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Editors at the Times said they last heard from the journalists Tuesday as they were covering the retreat of rebels from the town of Ajdabiya. Libyan officials told the newspaper they are trying to locate the four, Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a statement.

"We are grateful to the Libyan government for their assurance that if our journalists were captured they would be released promptly and unharmed," Keller said.

The missing journalists are Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid, the newspaper's Beirut bureau chief; Stephen Farrell, a reporter and videographer; Hicks and Addario. In 2009, Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban and later rescued by British commandos.

"Their families and their colleagues at The Times are anxiously seeking information about their situation, and praying that they are safe," Keller said.

Addario, Hicks and Platt, who all attended Staples in the late 1980s, mingled occasionally at local parties, according to an article about them written by Timothy Dumas in the March 2006 issue of Westport magazine. Hicks and Platt, once bitter enemies in junior high school, became best friends at Staples, linked by a passion for skateboarding, the article indicated.

Hicks earned a B.A. degree in journalism from Boston University, and Addario holds a B.A. in international relations and Italian from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Both periodically returned to their hometown over the years.

Hicks, in 2004, notably gave a lecture at the Westport Public Library in conjunction with the publication of his book, Histories Are Mirrors: The Path of Conflict through Afghanistan and Iraq," a compilation of his wartime photos.

The White House on Wednesday urged the Libyan government to refrain from harassing or using violence against journalists. Obama spokesman Jay Carney said the United States is firm in its belief that journalists should be protected and allowed to do their work.

Pro-Gadhafi forces have largely gained control of Ajdabiya after two days of relentless shelling but still face pockets of resistance in the city of 140,000 people. Habib al-Obeidi, a doctor at Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi, said that a colleague in Ajdabiya had told him 25 people were killed when pro-Gadhafi forces opened fire on civilian cars fleeing the city. That report could not be independently confirmed.

The breakdown in rebel defenses in Ajdabiya threatened to open the gateway to the long stretch of eastern Libya that has been in the control of the opposition, including Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the de facto capital of the opposition.

In September 2009, Farrell and Sultan Munadi, an Afghan journalist and interpreter who worked regularly with the Times and other news organizations, were taken hostage when they went to cover the aftermath of a NATO airstrike that killed scores of civilians in northern Afghanistan.

Munadi and a British commando died in the raid that rescued Farrell, a Briton. British forces said they had to leave Munadi's body behind because they were coming under such heavy fire.

In 2008, New York Times reporter David Rohde was kidnapped while trying to make contact with a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. Rohde and an Afghan colleague escaped in June 2009 after seven months in captivity, most spent in Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.