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A flag sits on a barricade on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Boston. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Ball bearings and nails killed an 8-year-old boy and two other people this week. Not in Baghdad. Not in Omagh.

In Boston.

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.

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.

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.

Before the Blasts: Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, left, and Lelisa Desisa, of Ethiopia, right, pose for photographers after winning the women's and men's division of the 2013  Boston Marathon. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Before the Blasts: Rita Jeptoo, of Kenya, left, and Lelisa Desisa, of Ethiopia, right, pose for photographers after winning the women’s and men’s division of the 2013 Boston Marathon. (Charles Krupa/AP)

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.

Photos: Boylston Street After The Blasts

Tags: Boston, Boston Marathon Bombings, Security

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • Clint Cavanaugh

    “Ball bearings and nails killed an 8-year-old boy and
    two other people this week. Not in Baghdad. Not in Omagh.

    In Boston.”

    True, but does that really make it any worse? My heart breaks no more or less for the children–and men and women–in Baghdad, Darfur, Syria, etc., etc., etc. The hateful violence that continues to plague our world reminds me that no matter how fancy my phone is, we don’t seem to have evolved much.

    The poor people who got hurt at the Marathon at least have the advantage of world-class hospitals–five of them–within a mile of where this atrocity occurred. As they heal, they’ll have clean sheets and the medicine they need, physical therapy and state-of-the-art prostheses.

    Yes, we need to focus on what happened at the Marathon and try to find the beasts who made the bombs that changed so many lives–all of ours, really–in an instant. But I think this should also make us more aware of and stronger in our resolve to fight against all hate crimes; against humans everywhere, against animals, against our beautiful planet. We can’t just sit back and shake our heads about any of this. We need to fight it every day in the small ways we can. Be kind to strangers, let people know, in a constructive way, when they do something that doesn’t add to the common good, step out of our comfort zones once in a while and focus on someone else’s problems rather than our own.

    Evolution doesn’t happen in one, fell stroke. It happens in little, almost unnoticeable increments. I hope that this act of terror doesn’t make us go farther into our shells, but rather brings us out; makes us not more fearful, but more aware; and makes our resolve to fight for good and right and humanity everywhere, stronger.

    Love,

    Pollyanna

  • sjw81

    “Ball bearings and nails killed an 8-year-old boy and
    two other people this week”. really? i thought it was two muslim terrorists pretending to be assimilated americans who murdered that poor little boy and maimed hundreds of others.

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