Some thoughts on the Marathon Bombing

With the past week’s tragic and dramatic events now a part of history, life in Lowell can start edging back to normal. The primary for the special election for the U.S. Senate is a week away (Tuesday, April 30) and conflict at the city council meeting will grab center stage for some. During the crisis, I found it hard to write blog posts: things unrelated to the bombing seemed trivial and things about the bombing were coming in overwhelming waves from other sources. Best to stay silent. Before moving on, however, I wanted to post some observations from the week past, more for archival purposes than anything else.

News of the Boston Marathon bombing arrived at 3 pm last Monday, Patriot’s Day. More than a decade after 9/11, my first reaction when told there had been an explosion at the Marathon wasn’t “terrorist attack” although that reality set in quickly enough. The death toll was quickly set at 3 and the injured at 50. My expectation was that the former number would creep upwards but it did not (from bomb injuries, at least). But the number of wounded did rise with the final figure around 170. Given the packed surroundings, it is amazing more were not killed by the two explosions, but that is attributable to the construction of the bombs (at ground level, they propelled shrapnel outward not upward, causing massive injuries to legs but few to vital organs) and the instant availability of top quality medical care at the nearby marathon runners’ tent.

As is often the case, connections to Lowell were soon established. The photo of a gravely injured Lowell High student being treated by two bystanders dominated the Tuesday front pages of both the Boston Globe and the New York Times. A surprising number of the injured were from Greater Lowell or had close ties to this area, and there was Ed Davis, a calm, authoritative voice throughout the crisis as Boston’s police commissioner.

Wednesday was spent reading of the victims, of those who responded to them first, and speculation about who had done it. One website had pre-explosion crowd photos with every isolated male with a backpack annotated as the possible terrorist. (As someone who routinely carries a backpack, I found this crowd sourcing exercise a bit creepy and while possibly of some assistance, also a source of potential harm to the reputations of many innocent bystanders).

Thursday was the interfaith memorial service featuring President Obama. As is so often the case (in my view) his public remarks struck the right note of comfort to the injured, defiance to the perpetrators, and inspiration to everyone else. After the service the President visited victims hospitalized at Mass General.

Throughout the day on Thursday, the media spread the word that the FBI had photos of the bombers and would be releasing them to the public soon. That happened in the late afternoon: it was a video loop of two men striding relaxed but purposely down the sidewalk in column, the first with a black baseball cap and a black backpack squarely strapped to both shoulders (Suspect #1), the second with a white ballcap worn backwards, with a grayish colored pack slung casually over his right shoulder. Still photos were grainy but good enough to be recognized. I went to bed at about 10:30 p.m. with no further news.

Waking up early on Friday (4:30 a.m.), I immediately glanced at my phone for overnight news. Two emails from my son Andrew who now lives near Harvard Square in Cambridge immediately grabbed my attention. The first was at 11:41 p.m.: “There was just a shooting near MIT. Some injuries. No threat here.” The second at 2:06 a.m.: “I’m sure you’ll see all the details when you wake up. Eventful night. They’re not done sweeping the area of Watertown, but it’s a lot less chaotic than it was. I think I’ll be going to bed soon.” The first thing that popped up on my computer was Facebook. I locked onto Andrew’s feed: “There was a shooting around MIT. Then there was a car hijacked in Central. Pursued by police. I heard sirens then turned the police radio on. I heard explosion and gunshots in the distance from my room…they’re now saying grenades and automatic gunfire in Watertown. Second officer down.”

News came rapidly after that from the TV and the computer. The Marathon bombers had been identified as two brothers from Cambridge. One of them was now dead, the other on the run. The news Friday morning was that they had ambushed and killed an MIT police officer, robbed a 7-11 (an erroneous report), hijacked a car and been stopped by police in Watertown where a massive firefight ensued. An MBTA police officer had been badly wounded in the gunfight, one of the terrorists (Suspect 1) had been killed, and Suspect 2 had escaped.

By 6:30 a.m., Governor Patrick had shut down the entire MBTA and the communities of Watertown, Cambridge, Newton, and several others were all locked down which meant people were to remain at home and business were not to open while a massive manhunt was conducted. Within minutes, the lockdown was extended to the entire city of Boston. Here in Lowell, the work day continued uneventfully, but all eyes and ears were trained on whatever “breaking news” source was available. An Amtrak train in Norwalk, Connecticut had been evacuated and a bomb squad in Buffalo was searching a car with Massachusetts plates. But nothing really came of it.

Twelve hours later, exhausted and disheartened elected officials and police announced at a press conference that the suspect continued to elude them but that the lockdown was lifted and the MBTA was back in business. With that announcement, the local TV news morphed into Diane Sawyer and the national news, something I hadn’t watched in months. She broke for a commercial at 6:50 p.m. but when the commercial ended, the local news anchors on channel 5 were back on screen, telling of breaking news in Watertown. Suspect #2 had been located hiding in a boat stored in a yard just outside the day’s search perimeter. Gunfire broke out and then faded. Wave after wave of police of all types arrived. At 9:00 p.m., they announced that Suspect #2 had been captured, alive but badly wounded.

Since then and continuing has been a mix of stories about the terrorists and their motivations and actions and other stories about the victims, their funerals and their recoveries. For most of us, returning to work today will be a chance to share accounts of consuming the news of Friday night and sharing nuggets of information picked up over the weekend. I suspect that those involved in K-12 education who are just returning from a week of vacation will have a different experience. With the news profiles of the younger terrorist all reporting that he was a fine student, an excellent athlete, a good friend and many other superlatives, those who work with and educate young people must be struggling with the question of what makes someone who by all appearances was a “good kid” morph into a murdering terrorist and how can that transition be identified, diverted and derailed?

2 Responses to Some thoughts on the Marathon Bombing

  1. Linda Copp says:

    It must have been horrific to read Andrew’s post! I cannot image how worried and upset you must have been knowing all this was unfolding in your son’s neighborhood. I read Andrew’s post, shortly after he posted it, and then proceeded to put on the television where Carol and I listened to a reporter Laura, on channel 4, who was following the police trying to figure out what was going. However, we swtiched then to channel 7 to find they had reporters actually trapped in the perimeter with the police from there on in, I could not go to bed and watched the unfolding horror, unbelievable as it seemed throughout the night. Finally, 7 broke the news that these were indeed the bombing suspects they were seeking. Still, it all seemed like this could not be real, and yet, was all too real! I will never forget this chapter in the tragedy. I find myself resentful of media outside of our local reporters giving the details of what took place here and as if national media are sufficient spokesmen of what we endured, though I cannot say why it troubles me and angers me as it does. However, I do find that conversely, I feel even more connected to Boston and every citizen of MA as if we are one entity, the very fabric from which our forefathers sprang.

  2. Linda Copp says:

    In my above comment, I left out this significant word, NOT. The sentence should have read: I find myself resentful of media outside of our local reporters giving the details of what took place here and as if national media are NOT sufficient spokesmen of what we endured, though I cannot say why it troubles me and angers me as it does.

    However, I do find that conversely, I feel even more connected to Boston and every citizen of MA as if we are one entity, the very fabric from which our forefathers sprang.