The events and aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., this past week has left many Americans stunned. The idea that in 2017, white nationalist marches are storming college campuses and turning deadly is nothing short of heartbreaking. Katie Couric, who spent a tense three days and nights in the city so close to her heart, knows the feeling well.
The seasoned journalist has deep ties to the city, having graduated from the University of Virginia. Her late sister Emily was also an alumna of the school, and the Emily Couric Cancer Center at UVA is a testimony to her life.
As protests and counter-protests began to break out on Aug. 11, Couric and a team of producers captured the environment in her upcoming National Geographic series. In a new essay and short film for Nat Geo, she reflects on witnessing the escalation of violence in Charlottesville.
"[Charlottesville has] become the symbol of where we are, as Americans in 2017, and it breaks my heart," she wrote. "But it also fills me with hope."
This hope drove Couric to talk to everyone she could over the course of her time there, whether they were counter-protestors or members of the "alt-right."
"During the three days I was in the city I saw intense hatred and bitterness that provoked outrage and anger. But I also saw kindness, compassion, and generosity. Amid the sound and the fury, I saw Muslim, Jewish, black, and white protestors with arms linked forming a human chain."
Couric also witnessed the immediate aftermath of a car being driven into a crowd of counter-protestors, an act that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others on Aug. 12.
"We ran four blocks east, passing an armored vehicle and threading our way amid ambulances to find paramedics and people being carried away on stretchers," she wrote. "I remember watching in horror as a woman received chest compressions as she was being taken away."
While her experiences were jarring, to say the least, Couric's reflection offers a better look inside an important moment in history.
"At the scene of the accident, I saw strangers comforting relatives of the injured with a fierce compassion—as though they were family members. I saw pastors and pedestrians running toward a scene of chaos not knowing what else was about to happen but determined to help," she wrote.
"That day Charlottesville stood up against hate, white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and misogynistic rhetoric and said: this is not the world we live in or want to be a part of."
Go here to read the entirety of Katie Couric's essay, and watch the short film her team put together for National Geographic above (warning: it includes graphic language and disturbing footage).