by WRAL-TV Reporter Leyla Santiago
The day before we left, I sat on the couch in WRAL-TV Vice President & General Manager Steve Hammel’s office. Steve was to my left, Asst News Director Aysu Basaran and News Director Rick Gall were to my right. We briefly reviewed the plan and Steve fired off questions.
How long will this take? Where exactly are you going? Who have you talked to? How will we get to the children?
I had answers for all of them.
Then came, “How are you feeling?”
I blanked. That had not been part of my research. I made phone calls, sent emails, read articles. There had been no time to think about my feelings. The question, however, stuck with me.
On the way to the airport, I turned to WRAL-TV News Photographer Zac Gooch, “hey, how do you feel?”
“Tired,” he said.
We had only gotten a few hours of sleep.
I spent the rest of the 20 minute trip thinking about it. More than anything, I was nervous. Will we get what we need to tell this story well? How will I react when I see these children? How will they react when they see us? Are we prepared? The reasons to be nervous seemed endless.
Once we arrived, we faced plenty of unexpected challenges. Most of the land on the border is National Wildlife Refuge land. Border Patrol kicked us out and told us without permission, we were trespassing. We applied for a permit. It was denied. We asked to ride along with Border Patrol, but we couldn’t get a definitive answer.
“Your request has been forwarded to headquarters,” they told me.
The next day, “Your request is pending.”
It became increasingly frustrating to get the story. All the key players (Border Patrol, Police, Department of Public Safety, and National Wildlife Refuge) seemed scared to touch the subject in conversation, forget on camera.
Nearly two weeks later, I look back and realize nothing could have prepared me.
No one could have truly described the magnitude of the problem. No one could have described the people we would meet. No one could have described the fear and compassion we would witness.
Our goal was to capture all of it in this half hour documentary and enlighten WRAL viewers and our community. “The Journey Alone” aired Monday at 7pm on WRAL.
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Leyla Santiago for this capcom story & for these capcom photos.