Matt Lauer‘s firing from NBC News over allegations of “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace” took the world by surprise — including his Today co-host Savannah Guthrie.
The 45-year-old journalist, who has sat beside Lauer since replacing Ann Curry on Today in 2012, was said to be in total shock after learning of Lauer’s ousting, according to an insider at the NBC morning show.
“Savannah was hit especially hard,” a source tells PEOPLE. “She and Matt were incredibly close and she was blindsided by his firing.”
“During all the sexual harassment stories that began with [Harvey] Weinstein, Matt came down harsh on the accused, as did Savannah,” says the source. “And now to learn that Matt, your best friend, is participating in inappropriate sexual behavior too? It’s going to take her a long time to get through this.”
Guthrie opened Wednesday’s 7 a.m. hour holding back tears as she read a memo about the situation from NBC News chairman Andrew Lack.
“We just learned this moments ago, just this morning,” Guthrie said, visibly shaken. “As I’m sure you can imagine, we are devastated and we are still processing all of this. And I will tell you right now, we do not know more than what I just shared with you. But we will be covering this story as reporters, as journalists. I’m sure we will be learning more details in the hours and days to come, and we promise we will share that with you.”
“We are heartbroken,” she continued. “I’m heartbroken for Matt — he is my dear, dear friend and my partner, and he has been loved by many, many people here. And I’m heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story, and any other women who have their own stories to tell.”
“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? I don’t know the answer to that,” she added. “But I do know this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue, and it must result in workplaces where all women — all people — feel safe and respected.”
Hoda Kotb joined Guthrie in Lauer’s usual seat, calling it a “tough morning.”
“It’s hard to reconcile with what we are hearing with the man who we know, who walks in this building every single day,” Kotb said. “We were both woken up with the news, kind of pre-dawn, and we’re trying to process it and trying to make sense of it – and it’ll take some time for that.”
According to the insider, Guthrie’s strength in that moment was impactful for the whole Today staff.
“Everyone here was in a state a shock — from staffers, to guests, to the fans standing outside. It was a chaotic yet somber morning on set,” says the source. “How Savannah went on air with that statement, I’ll never know. Thank God she and Hoda were there to help guide the show this morning. They did a great job.”
“Matt was always the leader around here,” adds the insider. “This alleged behavior a total surprise to those of us who worked with him day-to-day.”
Lauer, 59, got his start at NBC in 1992 when he filled in as a newsreader on Today, becoming a co-anchor of the morning show in January 1997. He reportedly signed a $20 million dollar contract last year.
“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment,” Lack said in his statement. “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
“Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender,” he continued. “We are deeply saddened by this turn of events. But we will face it together as a news organization — and do it in as transparent a manner as we can. To that end, Noah and I will be meeting with as many of you as possible throughout the day today to answer your questions.”
A source told PEOPLE Lauer was fired after alleged inappropriate sexual behavior throughout 2014, including at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
An NBC staffer filed a complaint Monday “that was serious enough that he was terminated,” the source explained. “The accuser described inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace occurring throughout 2014.”
Reps for Lauer declined to comment.