Ball bearings and nails killed an 8-year-old boy and two other people this week. Not in Baghdad. Not in Omagh.
The twin explosions near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon turned the annual Patriots’ Day celebration into a crime scene, the biggest in the city’s history. Pressure cookers, run on timers, exploded, leaving three people dead and more than 100 people gravely injured. I keep thinking about the two police officers I saw about two hours before the elite runners crossed the finish line. They were walking two beautiful black labs that were sniffing along both sides of Boylston Street. At one point one of the dogs barked at the other one. But I guess they didn’t detect anything.
At 1:45 pm EDT I was in the sea of runners who had just crossed the finish line. It’s always the last thing I do before I come back to the station to report on the results of the race. And for most of the 15 years I’ve covered the race my stories have almost always been about the winners, with an occasional piece about how the weather affected the runners. That happened last year when the temperature soared near 90 degrees. But Monday, as I was about to join Radio Boston for a marathon segment, we saw the first TV pictures. I went back to Copley Square.
The scene there was chaos. People were streaming away from Boylston Street. Thousands of runners had been stopped before they finished the race. They didn’t know where to go. Families were trying to find their runners. Folks were hugging each other. “One of the bombs exploded at Atlantic Fish,” someone told me. There were workers from that restaurant standing on one corner. They weren’t talking. Dozens of runners had taken refuge in the Neiman Marcus near the finish line. “When the explosions happened,” one of the clerks told me as he let me charge my cell phone, “people just started running into the store.” Then suddenly, before my phone was charged, police evacuated us from the store.
The runners who didn’t finish the race were disconnected from their stuff. They had placed it in yellow bags out at the start in Hopkinton. Those bags rode school buses back to the finish, but the explosions upset all the normal logistics of the marathon. I heard stories from runners who had left airline tickets, identification, car keys in those bags, and they didn’t have access to them until the next day. Of course any inconvenience paled in comparison to that of the families of the people killed and injured.
When the bombs exploded, some people charged into the smoke, not away from it. I can’t imagine what they saw. But what I saw that day, and in the days after, will stay with me the rest of my life.
Earlier in the day, I watched Lelisa Desisa, wrapped in one of those silver post-race blankets, emerge from the medical tent after his victory. There were hundreds of people behind a police barricade and they started applauding a man they had probably never even heard of. But he was their champion. Desisa walked over to the fence and raised his arms, saluting them.
On Tuesday, the day after the bombings, I stood at the top of Boylston St., where it intersects with Arlington, right by Boston’s Public Garden. The sky was so blue, like it was on 9/11. I was near the edge of the huge crime scene perimeter, standing at one of those police barricades. There was a heavily armed Boston police officer facing me. Except for a woman wearing a blue and yellow 2013 marathon jacket, no one else was around. “You guys did a great job yesterday,” the woman said to the officer. He nodded and replied, “thanks.” The street behind him was deserted.
Boston Marathon Bombings
Three people were killed and more than 170 injured when two bombs exploded on April 15, 2013 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Cognoscenti Contributors Respond
- Kevin Donovan: Explosions Sounded Like Cannon Fire
- Jim Walsh: They Picked On The Wrong City
- Robin Young: Our History Will Be A Guide For The Future
- David Ropeik: Why Terrorism Works
- Eileen McNamara: The Redemption Of The Man In The Cowboy Hat
- Alex Ashlock: The Scenes I Will Remember
- Sharon Brody: Suddenly Calling Boston Home — With A Vengeance
- E.M. Swift: Spectator Sports Will Never Be The Same
- Anita Diamant: After The Bombs, Pop-Up Landmarks Of Consolation And Solidarity
Related Coverage from WBUR, NPR and AP