Where they were
On bombing anniversary, runners, responders recall moment everything changed
THERE ARE MOMENTS in life that stay with you, whether you want them to or not. They're the ones etched into your mind's eye, the ones you can see, hear, smell and feel for days, weeks, months and even years later.
Where were you when ... ?
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The 118th Boston Marathon (April 21) will be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. Blog
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For these moments, that's an easy question. I was at home. I was at work. I was there ...
Depending on your age, the touchstone is different, but the effect is the same: The Kennedy assassination. The moon landing. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
All moments that resonate, that hold a special place in the social consciousness.
Where were you at 2:49 p.m. ET on April 15, 2013? Where were you when the bombs went off near the finish line of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon?
On the one-year anniversary of the attack on Boylston Street that killed three and wounded more than 260, ESPNBoston.com talked to nine people who were on the scene or deeply impacted and asked them all that question. Their perspectives represent a range of experiences people had that day: a runner who finished, and one who was stopped; a civilian first responder and his wife; a medical tent volunteer; members of Boston police and emergency medical services; the former mayor; a spectator turned survivor.
These are their stories:
DAN MERCURIO HAD just crossed the finish line, completing his second Boston. A local kid, Mercurio worked for the dean of students at his alma mater, Boston University, and felt a close connection to the marathon because of all the years he'd seen it course by BU.
He didn't know, he couldn't have known, just how close the bombings would hit to home.
"The timing really couldn't have been worse for when I crossed the finish line," he said. "It was just seconds later, I hadn't even gotten my medal yet and the first bomb went off. First it was just shock -- no one was sure what had happened. There were a lot of people standing by me who thought a pipe had burst or a gas cover or one of those things had popped off, or it was somebody shooting a firework off or just some hooligan doing something stupid.
"I hadn't even gotten to the tables [in the chute beyond the finish line] yet. I had crossed the finish line and gotten maybe 30-40 yards, and I was going very slowly because I was waiting for a friend of mine who was [running] behind me. And then the explosion went off and it was at first just initial shock. All the runners, we all turned around -- hundreds of runners were coming across at that point -- and we were all turned around, like looking, kind of stunned like 'What was that?' When the second one went off, it clicked in everyone's head that this was planned, this was staged, this was an attack of some kind and we all turned to run.
"And when you've got hundreds of runners who've just finished a marathon, our legs weren't necessarily working all too well to then go from zero to starting to try to sprint out of the area, because we thought something else was gonna happen, too. So there were a lot of people falling on each other, so there was an initial chaotic minute where everyone was trying to sprint out of the way, kind of in fear that we were in danger, which was really surreal."
JESSICA WRIGHT WAS just about to make the turn onto Boylston Street, entering the homestretch.
"So you're running down Commonwealth Avenue and then all of a sudden there was just a horde of people there," she said. "And you're very confused, and at first nobody really knows what's going on. So you keep running and you're trying to get around the group of people. I was very confused as to why everyone was stopping. And then we would ask people, and nobody really knew what was happening. So it was scary."
Wright, a senior at Harvard, was running her first marathon. A goalkeeper for the Crimson, her soccer career ended because of concussion issues, and she needed a new goal to shoot for. Running the marathon with the Harvard College Marathon Club seemed as good as any.
And all the grueling training runs, the hard work that goes into running a marathon, seemed about to pay off when the bombs detonated.
"At that point, everything was very chaotic," she said. "There was like a rumor of a bomb threat at Kenmore Square, so people were kind of freaking out. Because I was walking back away from the turn on to Boylston, so you're walking back toward Kenmore Square. I just remember being in a daze. They had run out of the cellophane wraps, I guess, so everybody was just freezing. A lot of panic. It was just crazy."
Wright had her cellphone, which she'd been using to keep track of her progress, but now it was useless. Couldn't call out. Couldn't receive any calls. Her father was at the finish line, waiting for her, and she was terrified about what might have happened to him.
"Nobody really knew what was going on, and nobody would say anything," she said. "And I felt like at the time, even the police officers weren't 100 percent sure what was going on. They were like, 'Wait 10 minutes and we'll get information to you.' And you're like, 'But I hear there's a bombing, someone tell us something!' And it was also scary because at that point if you're just gonna stop runners who have been running for that long, a lot of runners who aren't feeling their best at that point will collapse on you. So there were people just stopping and falling, and it was really terrifying."
WILLIAM B. EVANS was in the hot tub when the bombs went off.
He'd finished his 18th Boston in 3:34, met up with his wife and son and brought them home to South Boston, then headed to his sports club for a soak. An officer found the then-Boston police superintendent in the hot water and told him what had happened. Evans leapt from the tub and hurried back to the scene as fast as he could.
"That's when I saw the damage that the explosion made," the Boston police commissioner said. "The windows blown out. The marathon banners ripped apart. And we had the bodies lying right up there, by the Forum restaurant. To have run down that street less than two hours earlier and then to come back and see it was unbelievable."
But Evans had to put his disbelief aside and get to work.
"My role at that point was I met up with the commissioner [Ed Davis] and the chief, and we went back to the Westin [Hotel], where we set up the command post. We developed a game plan and at that point, I sort of became the commander on the street. We had to put the whole police department on emergency shifts, where we were working 12-and-12 and days off were canceled. We had to set up a perimeter around the 20 blocks to secure the crime scene.
"We had to, at that point, also make sure the bomb dogs went in and made the whole area safe because two bombs had gone off and we were just afraid another one might go off. So we had to render that scene safe, then surround it to protect the scene, and then slowly but surely and methodically process the scene. And we left the bodies there because we wanted to process the evidence that was on the bodies."
CHRISTINE LANDRY FELT the ground move under her in Medical Tent A.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Congressman Peter King join the debut podcast to discuss security at this year's Boston Marathon.
"You heard it, you felt it," she said. "I was actually kneeling on the ground at the time, because the tent is [set up] right on the street [outside the Central Library], so you're basically on the street. Kneeling on the ground, you felt the whole ground, the whole ground just shook right under you. We looked at each other and we were like, 'Oh my God, what was that?' Before you could finish the sentence, the second one went off. And then we knew.
"Within moments, not even minutes, moments, people started running -- I guess all the EMTs. I was at the back of the tent, where the EMT space was. And where I'm an emergency room nurse, they're all my friends. I know them all. That's basically who I hang with when I go to the tent, I hang with Boston EMS. So they ran like bats out of hell. They had radios. We didn't really know in the tent exactly what was going on at least for a few minutes. And then when they started bringing the patients in, the ambulance park site, where all the ambulances were, was on other side of the A tent. So every patient that came through had to come through the tent in order to get to the ambulances.
"So they just started running [the injured] in and it was just the shock of, 'Oh my God, this is really happening.' Like you're not sure what you're seeing. And then you see one patient. You see another patient. You see [the EMTs] come in and they're doing CPR. And you're like, 'This has to be it.' And it wasn't. They just kept bringing them in and bringing them in. And basically we did the best we could.
There was no time to really even take vital signs, to really do anything. It was just place tourniquets, grab as much gauze as you can and get it to EMTs. Because that's what they were looking for -- people were taking their shirts off, people were taking their belts off, using anything as tourniquets.” -- Christine Landry, nurse in medical tent
"[We] grabbed gauze, tried to do tourniquets on anybody who was missing limbs. We had Band-Aids and IV fluids, so that wasn't really what those patients needed at that time."
Landry, a longtime ER nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, has seen gruesome injuries before. She's seen people missing limbs. She's seen people with burns. But she'd never seen anything like this, in a volume like this, in a setting like this.
She was amazed at the speed things moved around her. As EMTs and first responders started bringing patients in and then rushing them out to waiting vehicles, someone had reset the tent -- scrawling signs reading "Triage A," "Triage B" and "Morgue."
"They announced over the loudspeaker, 'Anyone who has Level Trauma I experience, please stay. Anyone who doesn't, please leave,'" she said. "So they said 'Take all your bags, take everything.' So in seconds, the pens emptied out. A lot of the patients, the runners that were there, grabbed their stuff and left. And we still had quite a few runners that were too sick to leave that we had to take care of. And we had a large amount of patients coming in.
"Patients, their families, people were screaming, people were in shock. It was, it was chaos, complete chaos.
"We basically just jumped in and did what we could do. There was no time to really even take vital signs, to really do anything," she said. "It was just place tourniquets, grab as much gauze as you can and get it to EMTs. Because that's what they were looking for -- people were taking their shirts off, people were taking their belts off, using anything as tourniquets. We didn't really have a large supply of tourniquets. We were basically ripping sheets apart, we weren't prepared for that kind of disaster."
JAMES HOOLEY WAS at the back of Medical Tent A in the EMS command center.
"When we heard the first blast, it kind of gave us all pause," the chief of Boston EMS said. "I kept thinking that it sounded like a detonation. And then I scrambled for a minute, probably like everybody, trying to come up with some other reasonable explanation for what I just heard. And six, whatever, so many seconds later you heard the second explosion and then the radios started going off, people reporting persons down and an explosion. So that quickly went from, 'Oh my God, could that have been ...?' to 'Yep, it was.' And then folks went to work."
For Hooley and EMS, that meant running toward the booms, the cries of fear and pain and the possibility of further danger.
"Because we had had two explosions, we knew there was a secondary device and there was really no reason not to expect that there weren't more," he said. "Law enforcement was certainly aware of that risk and they wanted to get us and the patients out of there as quickly as we could. And we wanted to get them out because of the seriousness of their injuries.
"I wound up going to the front of the tent, and then up to the first blast site and later down to the second one. From my focus as the EMS command, it was more to start getting out, making sure that notifications got out to hospitals in Boston that we had a mass casualty event, that there were multiple trauma victims and to also summon additional resources."
The Boston EMTs and paramedics sprinted to the bomb sites, surveyed the injured and sorted them by severity. They applied tourniquets, improvising where necessary, and directed bystanders and civilian first responders on how to do likewise.
The goals were simple: Stop the bleeding, then start the extraction.
"Because we do have a large transit system and an airport here, we do have to do annual disaster drills that could involve anything from crashes to explosions or whatever," Hooley said. "Because of that it was pretty well-rehearsed, so when all of a sudden you were presented with hundreds of people injured ... I'm not saying it was easy, but there wasn't a whole lot of people that had to be told what to do. It was like, 'Do the best you can for as many as you can. Sort them, get the sickest or the most grievously injured out first.' Those are a lot of the basic principles that people followed. People improvised when need be.
"Typically you may not send two critical patients in one ambulance, but when you're wheeling through that first wave of patients where we had 30 people basically labeled as red, or critical, yeah, you put two in a truck and send them off."
CARLOS ARREDONDO WAS in the grandstands in front of the Copley Library, holding an American flag in his right hand as he tried to take a photo with his left.
When the bombs went off, he didn't hesitate. He ran.
"When the explosion happened, I decided it was time to go to the other side and help out the people that really got hurt," he said. "I had no doubt."
While others ran to safety, Arredondo ran to help.
"At [that] moment I think I was prepared to do it, in my own way," he said. "Maybe today, I'm in a different position, dealing with the whole trauma itself. But at the time, I felt what I saw was a really catastrophic event. [It] showed right there, from what I was seeing and hearing, people got hurt really serious. There was no time to waste, [so I wanted] to go and help out any way I could."
He made it across the street and started trying to tear down the metal barrier, set up to keep the crowd from the course and now serving only to keep the medical personnel from their patients.
"The first thing I did was breaking down the barrier," he said. "But not only that, I break it down and immediately I went around trying to do what I can. But when I was near Jeff Bauman, I hear somebody saying 'It's time to make tourniquets,' very loud. That was a medical personnel right there on the site, ready to tell us what to do. That's when pretty much I went into the floor, and I reached for a sweater and I ripped it apart and I passed it along to this medical personnel who was next to Jeff. And he started working on that.
"And then somebody else passed a second piece of clothing. And right there I assisted [the medical personnel], briefly grabbing [Bauman] underneath his leg, and [the medic] tied both of the tourniquets."
Once the tourniquets were on, Arredondo hoisted Bauman into a waiting wheelchair pushed by a student athletic trainer and ran beside it toward Medical Tent A. That's when a photographer snapped the famous photo, Arredondo in his cowboy hat holding the end of a tourniquet on what's left of Bauman's right leg.
"At one point, that particular side of the tourniquet got caught up in the wheel when we started running in the street," Arredondo said. "So we ended up stopping for a moment, the young lady who was pushing the wheelchair and myself stopped to rip it off from the wheel. And I redo it one more time right there and then we continue pushing [him toward] the ambulance."
MELIDA ARREDONDO LOST sight of her husband in the seconds after the blasts. But she knew where he was.
"I was sitting a little farther up in the [grandstands], so the stampede [started] especially after the second one. I was concerned that I was gonna get stepped on or that the stands would fall, because they were wobbling an awful lot," she said. "So I sat down, and a gentleman who had been a first responder -- he was a fireman from New York, he was standing with us -- I grabbed onto him and said, 'Please help me down.' Once I got down I looked over where Carlos was and I knew that he was already in there. Because that's his way. He's always been a helper.
"I went to stand in a place [by the Central Library] where I knew that Carlos would find me," she said. "So I stood there about not even 10 minutes, maybe a little over 5 minutes. After he had assisted Jeff, he saw me. He was coming from the ambulances, where he had left Jeff. And we hugged.
"And when really I looked at him, he had blood all over himself," she said. "So from there, I got him to the medical tent so he could at least get somebody else's blood off of him. I was concerned about him being drenched in someone else's blood. And then there were some people there, we spoke to a couple reporters. We were both very anxious. The two of us were shaking involuntarily."
THE MAYOR WAS bedridden, recovering from surgery two days prior, when the first bomb went off.
"My security ran into my room and said to me, 'Mayor, a bomb just went off at the finish line,'" Thomas M. Menino said. "And I said to him, my security person, I said, 'Get the police commissioner on the line. Let's find out what's going on.'"
Within seconds, the five-term mayor of Boston was on the phone with then-commissioner Ed Davis trying to figure out what was happening.
"He didn't have much information at that point," Menino said. "And then the second bomb went off at the Forum. ... There was a lot of uncertainty about [what was happening]."
Though the 70-year-old mayor was in a lot of pain, having fractured his right ankle just three days before, he knew he had a role to play.
"I had some of my staff from my office [with me], [and] I was using my hospital room as my office," Menino said. "I had Dot Joyce, my press person, right there, and Mitch Weiss, my chief of staff. I said to him, 'The first thing is we've got to stay calm and get a message out there that we're in control of the city,' and ensure the people of that. And ask for people to stay calm during the whole situation and the following days if we had to."
After learning that a makeshift command center was being set up at the Westin Hotel, Menino checked himself out of Brigham and Women's Hospital -- against doctors' orders -- and headed for Copley Square.
You're the mayor, you have to reassure people that we're in charge, we're not going to let the terrorists run our city. My job was to show the people that I was willing to be out there supporting them and giving them the best information I could in troubling times.” -- Thomas M. Menino
"I met with the governor, the commissioner of the City of Boston police department, the head of the state police, the FBI and some other agencies," he said. "We discussed the issues that were before us and then we did a press conference later that day."
Although he was in a wheelchair and his speech, never the envy of other politicians, was labored, Menino took part in the session with reporters. He said he felt he needed to be there, to show people the city he'd led for 21 years was in good hands.
"You're the mayor, you have to reassure people that we're in charge, we're not going to let the terrorists run our city," he said. "My job was to show the people that I was willing to be out there supporting them and giving them the best information I could in troubling times."
AS MUCH AS anyone, Karen Rand struggles with the memories of that day. She thinks about the what-ifs, the could've-beens and the should've-beens.
She remembers checking her messages. Then she remembers being on the ground after the first explosion, hearing screaming all around her, crawling to her friend despite the pain in her left leg. She told her friend she was scared, and tried to hold her hand.
But their hands slipped apart.
Her best friend died that day. And she lived.
What if they had stuck to their original plan, kept walking and been safely inside when the bombs went off? What if they had been standing just a few feet in one direction or the other?
Why did Karen Rand live, while Krystle Campbell died?
There is no answer, there will never be. And she's accepted that now.
A year later, when she thinks of Krystle, it brings her peace.
"I talk about how it changed my life, being a little bit more grateful and slowing down a little bit more and trying to see the more positive things in life than the negative," she said.
"I also feel so much calmer. I feel like when you're caught up in the regular pace of life and you work and you have kids and your life is so busy and it's so hectic and you feel like sometimes your blood pressure is way up here," she said, raising a hand up, up, up. "Everything for me is so much calmer."
In the 12 months since she lost her leg and her best friend, Karen has healed, rehabilitated and learned to walk again. Through a chance encounter, she's used her experience as an amputee to help a 15-year-old girl in El Salvador get to the United States, where she's received treatment and been fitted for a prosthesis of her own.
Karen also has a new last name. In March, she married Kevin McWatters, the man she was at the finish line to see.
Kevin will be headed down Boylston again soon, running the marathon one last time, to finish what he started last year, and to put it all behind him.
"I don't want to let them terrorists win," McWatters said. "Like [David] Ortiz says, not in our bleepin' city. No way, I'm going back. Just one more time, just so I can just complete it because last year was gonna be my last year.
"I just want to go back and finish it just for my mental health."
Karen won't be there; she has no interest in going back and reliving it all. She's moving on, not looking back.
"I feel like I'm just over getting caught up in it," she said.
But all of the other people ESPNBoston.com talked to will return to Boylston Street on April 21. Mercurio and Wright are running again. Evans and Hooley will man their stations. Landry will be back, volunteering in the medical tent. Menino will be back, though he's not sure where. And Carlos and Melida Arredondo will be by the finish line, cheering on the runners.
Every one of them remembers vividly where they were that day, a year ago, at 2:49 p.m. They understand they'll likely never forget it.
None of them knows exactly what to expect on April 21. They know the day will be fraught with emotion, thick with memories that will mean something different to each person.
But in the end, the only way to know for sure what it will be like is to be there.
"It's going to be a day to gather together and cheer and remember," Arredondo said, "and try to figure out where we are and where we're going at that point."
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