Journalist Lara Logan: In the Line of Fire

updated 03/07/2011 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/2011 AT 01:00 AM EST

For two decades, Lara Logan has had a burning desire to get out in the field as a reporter-even if it meant putting herself in harm's way. "She has always been a maverick and done what people ask her not to do," says her godmother Liz Clarke, a journalist in Logan's native South Africa. "We all admire her. But she terrifies us because sometimes that can get her into trouble."

On Feb. 11 those close to Logan had their worst fears realized. While covering Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo's Tahrir Square for CBS' 60 Minutes, Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" when she was separated from her crew, the network said in a statement. According to one source close to Logan's relatives, the reporter, 39, has detailed what she called her "darkest nightmare" to family members in South Africa, saying her clothes had been ripped off and she was kicked, punched and sexually attacked. She went on to say she feared she would have been raped if a group of Egyptian women hadn't thrown themselves on top of her to protect her until soldiers finally intervened. According to the source, Logan also told her family the attack was so sudden, she had "no chance of escaping."

The incident came after days of violence toward journalists covering the turmoil in Egypt. Logan had already made it through one terrifying experience a week earlier, when she and her crew were detained, blindfolded and interrogated by Egyptian police. Accused of being Israeli spies, they returned to the U.S., where Logan told Charlie Rose, "I feel like a failure, professionally. It's in my blood to be there...[doing] the best reporting that I can."

An attraction to the front line had long set Logan apart. Just 17 when she went to work for South Africa's Sunday Tribune, she took on risky assignments, including reporting on a brutal double murder. "I told her she couldn't go because she was a student," says Clarke, who helped train her. "Next thing I heard she had already gone. She spent days with police, filing stories from the scene and did an amazing job."

Logan stepped in front of the camera when she joined Visnews, now Reuters, in '92, "working flat out around the clock, even sleeping in the office," she told South Africa's Fairlady magazine in '02. In 2002 she landed at CBS News, where she worked her way up to chief foreign affairs correspondent-and developed a reputation as fearless and outspoken.

In 2008 she had a son with her second husband, Joe Burkett, a U.S. federal contractor she began dating in Iraq while they were both still married to others. (Both couples were separated.) Their romance caused a tabloid sensation, but the couple remained unfazed. Logan, who gave birth to her second child, a daughter, last year, was similarly undeterred by criticism for continuing to report in dangerous areas. "She feels strongly about reporting on suffering," says a friend, noting that as a mom, "it's that compassionate female drive that compels her to tell these stories."

But for now, Logan is recovering at her Washington, D.C., home. "I think she's a lot more shaken than she wants people to know," says the friend. Still, pals doubt she'll be off the air for long: "She is passionate about what she does," says Clarke. "She will battle on."

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