Where Were You When the Bombs Went Off?

By John Liam Policastro

As Boston bands together after Monday's terrorist bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, few details have emerged about the twin blasts that killed three and injured 176 others. On Tuesday, people started finding their way around a city that feels palpably different than days before. To get a sense of how Bostonians are dealing with Monday’s terrorist attack, I walked the city’s streets and talked to people about where they were when the attack went down and whether or not they feel safe.


Rebecca, at the Boston Conservancy

VICE: Where were you when the blasts first hit? When did you realize it was a terrorist attack?
Rebecca: A half hour earlier I was on the scene, right by Max Brenner’s, right there. Then I walked down Newbury, less than a half a mile, but we were one down, so I didn’t see it. I was standing there, and I heard it. Honestly, the first thing in my mind was, A bomb went off.

You knew immediately?
Yeah. I knew it wasn’t right. It was terrifying. I knew it was bad. I looked at my friend, and we ran. Everybody started scattering and screaming.

It’s so packed down there that time of year, too.
We managed to get out before a lot of other people. But as we were crossing the street, a huge flood of police were coming down. At that point, we were just trying to get to her apartment.

We don’t know much, obviously. But in your opinion, who do you think might have done this?
I have no idea. We really should be taking time to remember those who were lost and mourn with them before we start pointing fingers.

Do you feel any less safe today than you did Monday morning?
The way it was handled and how quickly it was taken under control, I feel very safe in the city. I am happy to say that I live in Boston.


George from Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Newbury Street.

VICE: Where were you when the blast first hit?
George: Two blocks east of the finish line. I just finished the race.

Congratulations.
Thanks.

When did you first realize this was not some freak accident, and it was a terror attack?
I don’t know. We were all confused by it.

You were emotionally drained, I would guess, from running.
Yeah, we all were. We heard what sounded like cannons going off, boom boom. And we saw the smoke going up in the air. We were still far away enough that we didn’t panic or see the commotion. I walked up to a police officer and he didn’t know what was going on. I guess it was after we got out of our cattle cars, our crowd-control carts, where we were at, and started getting away from other runners. That’s when we heard all the emergency vehicles.

Do you have any thoughts on who might be behind such an act? Domestic or foreign?
No. I was thinking maybe it’s some looney like that Newtown guy, but with bombs instead of a gun. It could be like that. When it first happened, rumors started circulating really quick. It could be a gas line or something like that, but no. It all happened so quickly. You have every kind of thought in your head. You’re just hoping everything’s all right. There was a building that had televisions in it, across the street from Boston Common. We all gathered there, and that’s when the news crews got there. They were as clueless as we were. They had cameramen on the scene, but they had no answers.

No one knew what was going on. It was one of the most crowded days in the city, so that just added to the panic.
Yeah, and all of a sudden the cops said the subway closed, and that was how I was getting home.

After you’d just fucking run a marathon.
Yeah.

Do you feel any less safe in the city today than you did Monday morning?
No. It makes you question things, but I felt OK. I heard there was a possibility of other bombs in the city so it makes you think a little bit, but the National Guard is guarding the subway. I feel safe. The police are everywhere.


John, student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy

VICE: Where were you at 2:50 Monday, when the bombs first hit?
John: I was working at CVS.

When did you realize that it was a terrorist attack?
Not until my parents called me.

Asking if you were OK?
Yeah.

Do you have any idea or personal opinion on who may be behind this?
I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t know. Everyone assumes stuff. It’s really hard to tell who did what.

Do you feel any less safe in the city today than you did Monday morning?
I have my doubts and everything, but I still have to go to school. I still have to do all of this shit. I guess not.


Jan, on Commonwealth Avenue.

VICE: Where where you exactly, when the first blast struck the marathon?
Jan: I was a block from... I was on Huntington and Exeter, my husband and I were going to the finish line.

That’s very, very close. When did it first occur to you that this wasn’t an accident, it was a terrorist attack?
We heard the first explosion, and I said to my husband, “What was that?” And we were shocked. Then the second one, and I knew without a doubt something was wrong.

We don’t know much now, but when you realized it was an attack, did you think it was a foreign or domestic group? Did you have an opinion on who was behind it?
No, just something’s wrong.

Do you feel any less safe than you did Monday morning?
I’m very happy about the police and the first responders. Unfortunately, it takes something like this for me to really appreciate what we have. I’m walking down here, so I feel as safe as anyone can.


Anthony from the Back Bay

VICE: Where were you when the blast first hit the marathon? When did you realize it was a terrorist attack?
Anthony: I was down by Trader Joe’s.

So you were right near the blast site. It must have been chaotic.
I felt the tremors from the blast. There was one and then the second one—one after another.

Did you realize immediately that it was a terrorist attack?
At first, I didn’t know. I thought it was thunder or lightning or something.

We don’t know much about it yet. Do you think it could be a domestic, American group? Could it be a foreign group? Or does it not even matter to you?
It just seemed like it was some preplanned stuff, the way it coincided.

And did you say you were living down on Clarendon Street?
I stay there now with a girlfriend, yeah. I’m always in the general area.

Do you feel any less safe today than you did Monday morning?
Not really, because I don’t really know which way to go and which way not to go. Even last night I was up in the air about which way to go. I was scared I might run into another.


Brendan from Northeastern University

VICE: Where were you when you first heard about the bombings?
Brendan: I was at home.

And where do you live?
Springfield. I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. And when I heard some people were dead? It’s devastating.

How long did it take you to realize it was a terrorist attack?
Whenever I heard it on the news, that’s when I realized it wasn’t an accident. Before that, I was confused about what happened exactly.

There’s already been a lot of second-guessing going on. Do you have any suspicions of your own? People you think were behind it?
No. I definitely think it was some kind of attack. I think it was premeditated and planned out.

Do you feel any less safe than you did Monday morning?
I mean, yeah. Walking around Boston. I feel less safe with big crowds walking around. You don’t know who it is, you don’t know who they are.

I was at Fenway. I was scared to death.
Fenway, I would definitely be scared if I was there. I was thinking about that Monday.

Matt on Newbury Street

VICE: So where were you Monday when the blasts occurred, and when did you first realize it was not an accident?
Matt: I was on my motorcycle. I stopped. A gentleman told me that the shit had hit the fan in Boston. I thought it was a joke, at first, but then I turned the news on and we realized it wasn’t. I wanted to do something good for everybody today. So we went to the store and we bought about a hundred American flags. We went and we stopped at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, we passed about 40 flags out there, and we went to the Children’s Hospital, we passed out another 40 there, and we just came here and passed a bunch out here, just to bring the morale of people up a little bit. That’s all.

Did you have any idea of who could be behind such an act?
Of course. You think right away, you think al Qaeda or Muslims. But then you think to a few months ago, with the guy who thought he was the Joker.

Right, at the movie theater in Colorado.
What if it’s a white guy like me and you? If it was a white guy, or just an American, that would be even more fucked up. I’m hoping, leaning against that it’s someone from another country. That it wouldn’t be one of our country members.

Do you feel any less safe today than you did Monday?
No. I work in the city. I built half this city, I do all the roofs, I’m up on these roofs all the time in the summer and fall and spring. It’s what I do. It’s my home. This isn’t going to deter me at all.


Russ on Exeter Street

VICE: Where were you exactly when the first blast struck the marathon?
Russ: At home.

And you live in the neighborhood?
Right on Exeter.

When did you realize it was a terrorist attack and not an accident?
When we heard the first one and then the second bomb ten seconds later. My wife and I thought it definitely sounded like a bomb and not a gas explosion.

And given the day, and the people on the street...
We thought immediately that someone had planted bombs. We didn’t know who, or why.

We obviously don’t know that, but was there any thought in your mind of who could possibly be behind it? A domestic group, or a foreign group?
We thought of both, I guess.

Did you feel any less safe around here today than you did Monday morning?
I guess a little bit. Kind of anxious. My daughter’s school is right here, so they canceled school; I guess because they are concerned about if something else is going to happen.

Do you have any concerns for longer term repercussions? The marathon next year, or this area being a popular place to attack?
Yeah. I think it could happen anywhere, and for whatever reason it was Boston this time. I think it’ll be more in the forefront of your mind going forward. July 4 we have a big congregation. With an event like that, there will be tremendous security. The crowds are along the river, and they’re 600,000 strong or something. A lot of people.

Related - Surveying the Chaos at the Boston Marathon Bombing

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