Boston | 15 April 2013
Two bombs explode at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three, injuring more than 260, and reintroducing America to terrorism at home.
Terrorism. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, we’d watched it happen around the world. Bombs that tore apart commuter trains in Madrid on 11 March 2004, killing 41 and injuring over 2,000. Fifty-two killed and 400 injured in the 7/7 suicide bombings on the Underground and a bus in Tavistock Square in London in 2005.
We’d watched it almost happen here. An attempted bombing on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam as it was landing in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. A smoking car discovered in Times Square on 1 May 2010—a failed car bombing in the heart of Manhattan.
We knew it would happen again someday. Here, in America.
And on a beautiful spring afternoon in Boston, that day came. At 14.49 on Monday, 15 April 2013, as runners were crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon, an explosion occurred just yards away. People started running. Thirteen seconds later and 210 yards (190 m) away, another explosion tore through the crowd, some of whom were running from the first blast.
As with the September 11 attacks, it was unclear at first what had occurred. While “terrorism” crossed everyone’s mind—such is the world we now unfortunately live in—everyone also held on to a hope that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t an attack. Maybe it was just an accident, a malfunction of infrastructure. Facebook and other social media were flooded with such sentiments.
We soon figured out that, indeed, terrorism it was. But no one could predict the crazy week that lay ahead for our nation.
INVESTIGATORS SOON IDENTIFIED THE SUSPECTS—two of them, brothers, born in Chechnya but whose family had immigrated to the United States as refugees in 2002—and a massive manhunt got underway. Before we knew their names and their stories, however, they managed to kill a police officer and take a man hostage in a carjacking on 18 April.
The police officer, Sean A. Collier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s police department, was shot and killed for his gun as the suspects sought to further arm themselves. They could not, however, take the gun because of the holster’s retention system. Officer Collier was 27 years old.
The pair then carjacked a man named Danny in Boston’s Allston-Brighton neighborhood. They held the driver, a Chinese national, hostage and forced him to withdraw $800 from an ATM—the maximum the machine would allow. The car’s owner escaped while the suspects stopped at a gas station; he ran across the street to another gas station and asked the clerk to call 911. His phone remained in the vehicle, allowing the police to track it. Later interrogation revealed that the brothers had “decided spontaneously” to go to New York and may have been planning to bomb Times Square, and they needed a car to do it.
Shortly after midnight in nearby Watertown, in the early morning hours of 19 April, a virtual battle between the suspects and police occurred: an estimated 200–300 rounds of ammunition were fired and at least one further bomb and several crude grenades were thrown. Eventually the older brother ran out of ammunition and was tackled and apprehended by police. The younger brother drove the stolen car toward the police and ran over his brother, killing him. The surviving brother sped off in the stolen car but abandoned it a short time later and fled on foot.
Watertown residents received calls from law enforcement instructing them to remain indoors and shelter in place. A 20-block search area was cordoned off as police went door to door, looking for the terrorist. Watertown and several adjacent cities were locked down while police hunted for the suspect and the nation watched. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority halted all transit service in the Boston region; Amtrak service to and from Boston was suspended. Logan International Airport remained open under tight security. Universities, schools, business, and other facilities remained closed. One of America’s largest urban regions was brought to a standstill, as were the lives of its millions of residents, while police hunted for a single suspect.
That evening, outside the search area, a Watertown resident stepped outside and noticed that the cover on his boat in his backyard was loose. He looked into the boat and saw a body lying in a pool of blood. He called the police.
That evening we went to the home of a couple in our branch who had invited us for dinner. While they got dinner ready, Susan and I watched television coverage of police zeroing in on the suspect in a boat in a backyard. Authorities surrounded the boat and verified the suspect’s movement using a thermal imaging device on a Massachusetts State Police helicopter. When the suspect started poking at the tarp on the boat, police began launching a large volley of gunfire at the boat, stopping only after the superintendent on the scene called for a ceasefire. Police moved in and apprehended the suspect, who was unarmed.
Celebrations spontaneously erupted in Boston’s streets. Residents were free from the terror that had gripped them for an entire week. Boston’s nightmare had come to an end.
THE SUSPECT’S CAPTURE WAS NOT THE END OF THE STORY for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. The bombing had claimed three lives:
- Krystle Marie Campbell was a restaurant manager from Medford, Massachusetts. She was 29.
- Lü Lingzi (吕令子 in Chinese) was a Chinese national and Boston University graduate student from Shenyang, Liaoning. She was 23.
- Martin William Richard was from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. He was 8.
According to the Boston Public Health Commission, 264 people were treated at 27 local hospitals. At least 16 people lost limbs, at the scene or by amputation in a hospital, and 3 lost more than one limb.
But stories of heroism and charity abounded. Some of the runners crossing the finish line continued running to medical facilities to donate blood for the victims. Hotels near the bombing site were forced to close, leaving hundreds of visitors without shelter; residents of Boston and nearby communities opened up their homes to provide accommodation. Across America and around the world, people in ways small and big showed their solidarity with Boston, uniting behind the slogan Boston Strong. Muni buses in San Francisco flashed the slogan on their destination signs. Here in New York, the wall of the Brooklyn Academy of Music was illuminated with “NY ♥ B”. The Yankees played “Sweet Caroline”—a song closely associated with their archrival Boston Red Sox—at a home game in Yankee Stadium following a moment of silence for the victims, as did organizers of marathons in Hamburg, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden.
Once again, our nation and much of the world were united in the face of terrorism. Once again, all is quiet now, and the suspect sits in jail awaiting trial. But we sit and wait and watch, hopeful that it will never happen again on our shores but virtually certain that it will—wanting to ask if, but forced to ask when, where, and by whom. And never quite understanding why.
A crazy week in America
The bombings on Monday, 15 April, began a weeklong series of events that were almost unbelievable to those of us watching from afar.
- The Boston metropolitan area, the 10th largest MSA in the country with more than 4.6 million people, came to a standstill as law enforcement searched for suspects at large.
- Martial law was declared in parts of the Boston area as police cordoned off a 20-block search area and zeroed in on one of the suspects.
- False identification of suspects. The New York Post ran a front-page photo of two men, spectators at the finish line, that the paper said were being sought by authorities. In reality, they were not suspects. Among others wrongly identified as suspects was Sunil Tripathi, a 17-year-old Brown University student. Mr. Tripathi’s body was found floating in the Providence River on 23 April. It is unknown if his death was connected with the false accusation.
- The suspects’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, became a national folk hero for his frank comments to the media on his nephews. When asked what he thought his nephews’ motives were, Uncle Ruslan replied, “Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves. These are the only reasons I can imagine of.”
- An enormous explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, on 17 April, two days after the Boston event, killed at least 15, injured more than 160, and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings.
Some of the text in this article has been adapted from the Wikipedia article, CC BY-SA 3.0
This article appeared on pages 22–23 of Issue 11 | July 2013.