A group of Massachusetts high school students happened to visit the famed Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday — just prior to the massive fire that engulfed the building.
Sadie Nacar, 17, was among 77 people from East Bridgewater High School who had just landed in Paris on Monday for a class trip.
She says Notre Dame, one of the world's most famous churches, was the main attraction of the day.
"I just loved knowing that we were in a building that for almost 1,000 years, has historically changed the lives of millions of people," she told WBUR over the phone.
Nacar says she was eating dinner with other members of the trip when she got a breaking news alert on her phone that the cathedral was on fire — and they were among the last people to have seen the building before it happened.
"The fact that we got to see it a couple hours before it burned down was kind of really eye-opening and sad at the same time because we knew that we probably were never going to see it like that again," she said.
Sixty-two students are on the trip, along with 15 chaperones, including science teacher and lacrosse coach Bill Silva. Silva says it's even more important now for the students to treasure their memories of the cathedral.
"We were trying to explain to kids that it's like — we think about the things that we have at home — what can we relate this to? Maybe something symbolically — the White House, the Smithsonian — something like that. I mean we don't really have buildings like this," he said by phone Monday.
As a child, Nacar's main association with the cathedral growing up was the Disney movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
But after witnessing Notre Dame in person, she says she realizes how profound losing the cathedral would be for Paris and for the rest of the world.
"Like I honestly never felt the importance of it until today — until I walked in there and saw everything, and the architecture. And that's why I'm so lucky and privileged to have been able to see it today," she said Monday evening.
Nacar and Silva both say they were struck by the pride and enthusiasm Parisians have for Notre Dame.
Silva now says it will be hard to shake the somber mood of their first day in Paris.
"I think it's going to be a different mood even in the city. I can't imagine what these people are going through right now," he said.
NPR reports that the fire broke out during Holy Week for the world's Roman Catholics. At least four masses a day take place at the cathedral.
Meanwhile, East Bridgewater's trip will go on as planned, continuing with a bus tour of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum on Tuesday.
With reporting by WBUR's Khari Thompson and The Associated Press.
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: eight public media companies, including The Public's Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.