Surveying the Chaos at the Boston Marathon Bombing
The aftermath of yesterday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon had resulted, in the words of President Obama, from “an act of terror.” According to a local Boston cop on the scene, it was “a complete shit show.”
The cop, a close friend of mine who isn’t authorized to speak on the record, had been assigned a traffic detail along the Boston Marathon route, keeping overzealous and confused drivers away from the festivities. He works the marathon every year.
Then there were two booms, bleeding people, and a huge crowd to manage.
He was only a few blocks down Boylston Street when the bomb went off, but he estimates there were “about 10,000 people” between his post and the explosion.
Shortly thereafter, every discarded item—and there are lots in downtown Boston on Patriots' Day—became a suspicious package. Paranoia would rule the rest of the day.
Police started blasting suspicious packages with a water cannon, he says. “That scared the shit out of a lot people.”
There was a call about a suspicious package, he says, in front of the Rattlesnake Bar, a Boylston Street lounge known for its rooftop terrace and abysmal service. It was nothing.
The area needed to be cleared. The cop’s job became screaming at people to leave, quickly.
“A lot of folks, they were out-of-towners, and they wanted to get their stuff before they left the area, to which I would say ‘Well, we have reports of a suspicious package, do you mind getting it later?'”
The runners were corralled to the Boston Common, which meant that many of them couldn’t get their personal belongings that were on the buses that had traveled from the starting line, 26 miles away.
Many of the runners would spend the next few hours shivering on the Common and wondering what had happened.
Patriots' Day—or Marathon Monday, as it's colloquially known—is a big deal in Massachusetts. I was born in Brighton, a western borough of Boston, and grew up 60 miles west of the city.
On this date, the Boston Red Sox always play at home. The game always has an 11 AM start. This, coupled with the marathon, means the city’s atmosphere is usually upbeat and festive.
Put another way: there are many, many people who are very, very drunk very, very early because you cannot watch a baseball game sober. But the overall mood is happy and cheerful, something which is unusual for a town that spends much of its time acting like the angry uncle of America.
Along the home stretch of the marathon, the crowd is usually four or five deep. It is hard to press through the sidewalk throng.
Erin Glencross, a college friend of mine, was in downtown Boston to see her friend’s husband, Dave, complete his first Boston Marathon. She goes every year; last year we had run into each other on the same block as the first explosion. Dave had finished two minutes before the first bomb went off. Race officials were putting a marathon medal around his neck when a loud boom punctured the cheers of the crowd.
Glencross, a 27-year-old early-education teacher, had just ducked in to the downtown department store Lord & Taylor to try to circumvent the sidewalk crowds near the finish line when the first bomb exploded across the street. She thought it was a car accident. Then the second went off.
“That’s when we knew something was up.”
Glencross and her friends ran out of the department store only to find a crowd running toward them. Many were yelling "Bomb!" and there was lots of smoke. A few folks had minor scratches, but Glencross didn’t see any significant injuries. She couldn’t get a hold of Dave for 45 minutes because no one had cell phone service. The authorities may have cut service, possibly because they were afraid the explosions were being triggered with mobile phones.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” she says.
Cops led everyone to the Copley Plaza hotel, which was placed on lockdown for several hours. There were people who were crying. People screaming. Wild rumors of what happened. And lots of confusion.
Like many people in the city, Josh Weinberg had taken Monday off. He takes it off every year. The 27-year-old grew up in Ashland, a western suburb that is along the marathon route. He has watched the race every year since he was a child.
“It’s usually a joyous occasion. It brings a lot of people together. It’s a defining day for New England,” says Weinberg, who works in television production.
Like Glencross, he had ducked into Lord & Taylor along Boylston Street to avoid the packed crowds when the first bomb went off. He estimates he was about 300 feet away. He went outside. Some spectators were panicking and screaming, some were calm, he recalls. He then walked to a hotel bar; he doesn’t remember which one. He ordered a marathon-specific Sam Adams beer and watched the news. Once he heard it was two bombings, he left a half-drunk beer on the bar and walked more than three miles home, as public transit was paralyzed.
Amanda Riley was near the Lenox Hotel, concentrating on the gaggle of runners, trying to pick out her sister, Stephanie, who was about to finish her third Boston Marathon.
She was across the street from the first bomb, with her back to the finish line. She was trying to digest what had happened when the second bomb went off. She didn’t see the explosion. She doesn’t recall feeling its blast.
Along with the rest of her family, Riley, a 26-year-old who is getting her master’s degree, went into an alleyway near the hotel to get away from the scene.
She called her sister; this was before the phone service went down. Cops had stopped her less than a mile from the finish line. It took them three hours to work through the crowds and find one another.
Kids were crying and screaming. She didn’t see any of the blood and gore that would dominate the news cycle. She was told to stay away from trash cans, since it was thought that was where the two bombs that have so far killed three and injured well over 100 had been placed.
“All these innocent people were here to celebrate. It’s awful,” says Riley. “For people to train so long for this and for the day to be ruined, it’s just awful.”
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