Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that took the lives of three people and led to the murder of a fourth. 29-year old Krystle Campbell, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu and 8-year-old Martin Richard died at the scene. Several days later MIT police officer Sean Collier was gunned down by the same people who set off the bombs.
On that day, I was standing on a street corner just four blocks from the finish line. I heard a muffled boom and thought the finish line scaffolding must have fallen. I ran to my home a few blocks away to grab my press credentials and headed down Clarendon towards Boylston. The first familiar face I saw was then Fox 25 anchor Maria Stephanos. I stopped her and said, “Maria, what happened?”
Recently, I met up with Maria at that same spot. She recalls her husband was late crossing the finish line because his legs had cramped up. She was with their kids, waiting. Once they reunited they were walking away when she heard a big boom.
“I thought, ok, it must be a sewer cover, and I turned around and instinctually took out my phone.”
She quickly snapped a picture but was anxious to get her kids out of there. When she saw me, she said, “it brought me back to reality.“
And when I asked, “what happened?" she showed me the picture and said, “this is what happened.” I said, “Send me that picture.”
That picture shows runners looking up Boylston street at smoke billowing in front of Marathon Sports.
By the time I reached Boylston, police tape was everywhere. Helicopters, sirens and emergency vehicles screamed around me. I called into WGBH and several networks, describing what I saw and heard. People told me they had seen severed feet and legs, people lying in pools of blood.
For the next few days my colleague Jared Bowen and I walked around the police tape perimeter, seeking people wearing marathon jackets – we heard all kinds of stories. One woman said she was waiting for her daughter and when “the second bomb went off there was more mayhem than the first – there was a stampede – I was knocked to the ground.” Her badly bruised eye was evident. Another man told us “I was in the porta-potty, I opened the door and saw all the volunteers just sprinting away.” Getting emotional, he said, “I just grabbed everything and followed them.”
A mountainous memorial to the victims grew in Copley Square. Piles of sneakers, running paraphernalia, teddy bears, personal notes and flowers. Still, with the killers on the loose, there was a daunting sense of doom. People I interviewed felt helpless. One woman told me, “I want to jump through the TV and do something.”
It would be 10 days before people were allowed back into their homes, before shops reopened, before life in the neighborhood resumed some normalcy. But it was months before the neighborhood’s psyche healed. The memorial endured for weeks and was finally cleared away, some of it stored and preserved for later exhibition at the Boston Public Library.
It’s only been five years. In each year that's followed, preparations for the marathon have gotten more complex. The rules are stricter. No backpacks, no bags, no place to put an extra sweater or a water bottle. Copley Square closes earlier, the barriers go up earlier, the presence of police, Homeland Security, and undercover officers comes earlier. They prepare for the unknown, because who could have imagined the events of April 15, 2013?