Reflecting On The Boston Marathon Bombings

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A makeshift memorial remains at Copley Square in Boston, Tuesday evening, May 14, 2013 almost one month after the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line. (Elise Amendola/AP)
A makeshift memorial remains at Copley Square in Boston, Tuesday evening, May 14, 2013 almost one month after the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line. (Elise Amendola/AP)

WBUR's Alex Ashlock has been reporting on the Boston Marathon for more than a decade. He has this look back at the Marathon bombing and its aftermath:

Every Boston Marathon offers possibility. An incredibly fast time, a surprising winner.

So, as I walked down to the finish line on Monday April 15, it was possibility I was thinking about. Mainly that Shalane Flanagan of Marblehead might become the first American to win the Boston Marathon in decades.

“I was a little girl just north of here — like 10 miles north of the city — and dreamed of running this race,” Flanagan said. “And it’s finally here, and I couldn’t be more excited. I have to contain it.”

It was a beautiful spring day. The crowd was already gathering along Boylston Street.

I watched a couple of bomb-sniffing dogs doing their work.

I took a picture of the international flags flying right near the finish line.

A few hours later, thousands at the finish line cheered the winners.

Shalane Flanagan finished fourth.

“I am extremely happy that I fulfilled a lifelong goal of mine,” said Flanagan. “I dreamt of winning. I dreamt of a laurel wreath on my head, and it didn’t happen, but that’s the reason why goals are big and they’re hard.”

After the post-race press conferences, I waded into the crowd of runners who had just finished their marathons.

It’s something I do every year, because it just feels so good to be around them.

I came back to the newsroom, but before I could even report on the results of the race, we started to hear the reports and see the pictures.

There had been explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon.

I rushed back and stayed downtown.

Several hours later, it was dark. I walked back to the newsroom in shock.

The next morning, thousands of runners felt the same way. They were just walking the streets, searching for perspective.

“It’s something you have no control over, it’s bittersweet, it’s just a very unfortunate situation that happened yesterday, and you just feel badly for the people who were injured and the three who lost their lives,” said Susan Ramirez Lowe from Williamsburg, Va. “When you put it all in perspective, we’re very lucky.”

“I will come back,” promised Loni Fox. She came from Canada to run her first Boston Marathon. Hers was a sentiment that was echoed by many runners that day. “This will not stop the world from living. Otherwise we’ll all be hiding in our houses, right?”

Quickly, makeshift memorials sprung up at the barricades around the crime scene downtown.

People brought teddy bears, Red Sox hats, their marathon bib numbers and thousands of running shoes.

“I work right around the corner,” said John Borgia of Malden. “So, I’ve been here all week. I just can’t seem to not come by here. I don’t know, some sense of peace or, I’m not sure what it is but I can’t stay away.”

Three days after the bombings, late on Thursday night, I got a phone call. The bombing suspects had killed a police officer.

I drove to Watertown where the suspects had been in a shootout with police.

One suspect was dead, the other was still on the loose.

Helicopters hovered over the neighborhood. There was an incredible police presence. The tension was palpable.

“We believe these are the same individuals that were responsible for bombing on Monday at the Boston Marathon. We believe that they’re responsible for the death of an MIT police officer and the shooting of an MBTA police officer. This is a very serious situation that we are dealing with,” said State Police Colonel Timothy Alben.

Watertown, Boston and many other communities were on lock down, but right after it was lifted that Friday night, the second suspect was found hiding in a boat and taken into custody. The crowd in the Watertown neighborhood celebrated.

All of this had happened in less than a week.

On Monday, April 22, there was a moment of silence in downtown Boston.

There was a huge crowd and the silent moment actually stretched on for several minutes.

“It’s just a week exactly since the bombings occurred,” said Colin Diver, who was two blocks away when the bombs went off. “And in that sense, it’s a way for us to put that behind us and look forward.”

The days after the bombings became weeks, then months.

The makeshift memorials were collected and curated with a care you would see in a museum.

They were placed in Copley Square just yards from where the bombs exploded.

“It united Boston, proud to be a Boston police officer,” said Officer Paul Perry, who kept watch over the Copley Square memorial. “I feel bad for the kids. They targeted me, I’m a target, not some 8-year-old.”

The 8-year-old was Martin Richard, he was one of the three people killed in the Marathon bombings.

His cross stood beside the others in Copley Square.

On June 25, those crosses and the other items were taken away, to be cleaned and archived.

“I don’t know, I just wanted to see it,” said Kellie Cullen, who stopped at the memorial for one last look during her morning run. “It’s just so tragic.”

The Boston Athletic Association has been organizing the Boston Marathon for more than 100 years.

“We, like everyone, are trying to make sense out of that horrid, horrible set of events. At the same time, we are extraordinarily grateful for the actions of first responders, of medical people, of our volunteers, of the spectators, of all the people who moved so quickly to respond amidst all of that horror for which we all feel so terrible. At least there is a sense of gratitude in seeing the kind of reaction that it engendered,” said Executive Director of the BAA Tom Grilk. He and everyone in his office were still trying to come to terms with what had happened.

The 118th Boston Marathon will be run on Monday, April 21, 2014. Again, like it does every year, it will offer possibility.

This segment aired on December 27, 2013.


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