On April 15, 2013 the meaning of one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious sporting events was forever altered. At 2:50 in the afternoon, a pair of homemade bombs detonated in the heart of Boston, tearing apart concrete and steel as effectively as they did flesh and bone. A flash of orange light, a billow of smoke and the concussion of explosion heralded in the temporary reign of frightful chaos. In that instant countless lives were forever altered as broken glass mingled with spilled blood. However, that was the last thing that went according to plan for two tin pot terrorists.
What was supposed to be a triumph of fear and bedlam became instead a tale of heroism and unity. These two husks of human beings, in their hubris, had woefully misjudged the character of the place they called home and the people they called neighbor. Their hatred had blinded them to the nobility of the proud people of New England and beyond. What follows is a chronicle of those events seen from the perspective of one who grew up on the route of the Marathon and in the shadow of the buildings shaken by those blasts.
When the fist bomb detonated there was the initial rush of fear and confusion, you can hear the terror in the screams that followed the blasts. But look again at the footage and you’ll see more people running toward the blast sites than away. Police officers, firefighters, runners and civilian spectators alike rushed headlong into the danger, mindless of any peril to themselves. The only thoughts of these heroes were for the victims they saw laying in the streets.
Carlos Arredondo was standing in a VIP section near the finish line handing out miniature American flags to National Guard runners with Run for the Fallen Marine; an organization whose purpose is to honor Marines killed in the line of duty since the 9/11 attacks. One of the bombs exploded right in front of him.
“My first instinct was just to run across the street and start helping people,” he would later recount. Without a moment’s pause, he sprang into action, rushing to help Jeff Bauman who had lost both of his legs. Arredondo is the man famously seen pinching off Bauman’s femoral artery to keep him from bleeding to death. He helped control the bleeding and stayed by the man’s side, holding his hand until help arrived.
A shaken Arredondo called it “a horrifying scene.”
Matt Patterson, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and current firefighter for the city of Lynn, was in a nearby restaurant when the first bomb went off. His experiences have taught him not only how to recognize danger, but also how to meet it head on.
“I knew it was bad when I heard it. Anybody who served knows that feeling. I knew it wasn’t right. It’s a very specific sound.” After pushing people away from the windows, Patterson ran outside to see a little boy “laying in the street.”
Without regard for the potential of additional blasts, he leaped over barriers to get to him, “I had tunnel vision – he was all I saw,” says Patterson. “He had a complete amputation of his right leg. He said his name was ‘Shawn’ or ‘Shane.’ He was in such shock, I don’t even think he knew how hurt he was. I just kept trying to prevent him from looking down.”
Knowing time was of the essence, Patterson asked fellow bystander and hero Michael Chase for his belt to use as a tourniquet. Together they carried the boy to paramedics before heading back into the devastation that was Boylston Street. Patterson’s bravery and skill brought him across the path of many that afternoon, including an 8 year old boy who would survive and a 30 year old man who lost the lower half of one leg.
“We made him a tourniquet from a shoelace,” Patterson recounts.
These were but a few of the immediate acts of heroism in the face of terror that day. In the days to follow a spirit of unity and defiance would spread from the epicenter of the twin blasts across the country and around the world. Collectively we grieved as the pictures of eight year old Martin Richard were spread on Facebook; blessings, prayers and remembrances for the boy numbered in the hundreds in mere hours. As the initial burden of grief subsided, we found the strength of quiet anger and the resolve to see justice done.
As a nation, we took solace in the small things, the quirks unique to Boston and the steps that marked a return to normalcy. Yankee fans smiled and danced to the Red Sox anthem Sweet Caroline in their home stadium. In the first public performance our National Anthem in Boston after the attacks, Bruins fans shook the Garden with a rendition as stirring in its spontaneity and authenticity. The term Boston Strong became the rallying cry of unity as an injured nation worked to make itself whole once again.
For the first time in a long time Americans cared about each other again. All of the other daily trifles and petty disputes seemed to dissolve, if only for a while. In a welcome change of pace, there was unanimous agreement about what needed to happen next; we wanted justice. Within days, we’d have it. And when it happened, a joyous cry erupted from the streets of Boston. The perpetrators of these heinous acts were either dead or in custody. Their failure was complete.
What they didn’t know, could never know was that they were doomed from the start. As a people, we’re easy to hate, we get that. We live in the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever known. Our tastes are extreme and our appetites insatiable. Like every member of our species, we surely have our flaws. However, despite all that, there is a greatness that has always flowed through the people of America and it is not dried up. We are as capable as ever of laying aside our petty differences and shallow indulgences to rise to any occasion.
To those motivated by hateful extremism, this much is clear; our buildings can be razed, our bodies laid to waste. We can be hurt. What was on full display during that terrible week in April, however, is that we cannot be terrorized.
This article is written in remembrance of and dedicated to who lost their lives in the Boston Marathon Bombings: Martin Richard (8), Lingzi Lu (23), Sean Collier (26) and Krystle Campbell (29)
We pray that your families find peace in this world as you have found it in the next.