ItWhile studying anthropology at college, I found myself living in Costa Rica with an Indigenous tribe when I realized how much I wish I could have a camera. At the time, my big brother Brent had fallen in love with documentary film and was interning at Jon Alpert’s Downtown Community Television Center. Before long, I’d moved from Oregon to Brent’s New York apartment, sleeping on a lawn chair until it broke. Then, I moved on to the couch.
Alpert worked with us for many years, and we were often deployed in conflict areas after 9/11. Both of us were never looking to chase adrenaline. We were driven by characters. People who didn’t have voices and find themselves in difficult situations. We worked in Haiti, in Juárez, and in a Chicago high school for kids who had been kicked out of every other school. We made Dope Sick LoveFor HBO, two heroin-addicted couple lived on the street for many days, while we carried in new camera batteries. The Arkansas National Guard sent one member of its staff to Iraq. One stayed with the families, while one went back home.
Find out moreTipping PointTIME Studios produced a series of documentaries and a producer asked us to produce an episode about refugees. After making a documentary about young migrants from Central America, we went on to navigate what was believed would be the most hazardous place to work. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Europe was suddenly faced with its greatest refugee crisis since 1940. My job now was support, having given up traveling internationally after my son’s birth. Brent went solo, without any children.
Renaud talks onstage during The 74th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony 2015 in New York City.
Ilya S. Savenok—Getty Images for Peabody Awards
As Russian troops surrounded Kyiv, civilians in Ukraine scrambled to their aid. On March 13, he rode with his friend, the photographer Juan Arredondo, and a translator to a bridge. The translator informed them that there was another bridge further away. Juan and Brent rode along with Juan, a civilian. They were heading toward the front of the line and not towards the fleeing people when the translator refused to let them go.
My phone rang at 5:30 a.m. Juan kept shouting, “We’ve been shot!” I said, “Where’s Brent?” He said, “He’s been shot too. I’ve been pulled away. He’s still there.” Had he been wearing his body armor? Yes. He was shot in the armour or the face. I got no answer. That’s when I knew.
Later Juan told me he’d seen a bullet enter Brent’s neck. It was a fusillade that had been dropped from the roadside. That sounds almost like an ambush. Putin’s troops had been targeting journalists. Brent was the first American killed by Putin’s troops. He became an iconic figure.
I was astonished by the responses. Our family was moved by President Zelensky’s message that the people of Ukraine “are mourning with you.” What gives me the greatest heart, though, is how specifically and genuinely the people honoring Brent acknowledge the mission that drove him. One man who dedicated his entire life to sharing the stories of forgotten people was killed trying to get them.
It is also a great story. It would make my brother very angry if this were to happen in any other way. As I relate the contents of this article—speaking to a TIME reporter by phone from Warsaw, the first stop on the journey to collect my brother’s body—a camera is trained on my face. It’s held by a friend and colleague who rushed into the breach created by his death. This story will be told.
—As told to Karl Vick
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