Boston bombings cut deep

2013-04-16 07:43
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Boston Marathon blasts

Two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon has killed two people and left more than 100 wounded.

kalahari.com

Simon Williamson

Even though I live in Chicago, the bombings at the finish of the Boston Marathon cut deep, like it did for most people who live in America.

Although, miraculously, only three people have died, scores were injured, and TV networks made it very clear that there were masses of casualties, a fair portion of whom (some estimates as high as 25%) faced amputations due to the injuries. Although these numbers are likely to change in the short-term, they present an awful tragedy.
 
According to the Wall Street Journal five other undetonated devices were located by security officials, prompting a question by a journalist at an evening press conference: “are you confident you have found all the devices?”, which the officials could not definitively affirm.
 
By far the scariest aspect of events from around 15:00 on Monday afternoon was not knowing how many bombs were going to go off. The first two went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon within seconds of each other, and an hour later one allegedly exploded at the JFK Library, around six miles (9.6km) away [this later turned out to be a fire incident].

A few hours after the initial explosions, police commissioner Ed Davis said that every package or parcel along the 42.2km race route was being treated as suspicious.
 
‘I realised something more sinister’

South African Hayley Goodwin Parry lived the experience, and was in a nearby hotel when the bombs detonated.

Via email she told News24: “When I heard the first explosion I wondered whether it was a finishing gun of sorts but when the second blast followed shortly (they shook the building) thereafter I realised it was something more sinister.

“At that point we saw the smoke and then we saw the first casualties being wheeled down the finishing stretch in wheelchairs and on stretchers. One lady had lost her hand. There was a lot of blood. It was awful.
 
“Within minutes of the bombs going off I watched the police tearing the branded 'John Hancock' banners from alongside the final stretch away from the metal bannisters to check there were no more explosive devices hidden there.”
 
Who was targeted

One of the most emotional aspects for me was just who was targeted. The bombs went off when most of the elite runners were in. The Boston Marathon - one of the oldest and grandest of its kind - is difficult to qualify for.

Runners must run a marathon within a certain stringent qualifying time within a few months of the race. For example, a man aged between 18 and 34 must have run a marathon previously in under three hours and five minutes. A woman in the same age bracket has three hours and 35 minutes.

A man aged between 60 and 64 only has three hours and 55 minutes. This marathon runs a host of elite athletes. The only other people who partake in the race do so for charity, or because they qualified through marketing at the marathon, or because they work for the city.

The bombs, having gone off well after the top runners finished - at four hours and nine minutes - were therefore likely targeting the joggers and their supporters who were running for enjoyment, or to raise money.

Yup, charity workers and their supporters at the finish line were the target. Reports claimed half the runners were still out, which would mean over 13 000 and their friends and families were milling around the course or at the finish.
 
Race held on Patriots' Day

Another awful aspect is just how this tragedy will affect Boston. The Boston Marathon is such a big deal to the residents of the city, and was aimed precisely where it could hurt so much. The race is held on Patriots’ Day, a public holiday, which commemorates victories in early battles of the American Revolutionary War.

The Boston Red Sox baseball team traditionally play their match really early on this day so that fans at the stadium can leave when most of the runners are still out. In order to get proper context, I asked my friend Shannon Wright, who lived in the city for eight years, what this day was like:
 
“I loved [supporting] because it was such a parade of humanity: elite athletes, weekend warriors, people running for causes. I remember one year an older man was pushing his quadriplegic son in a wheelchair.

“Dads and daughters run together, as do groups of friends. I remember rolling out of bed, pulling on a fleece jacket and grabbing a beer, and running down to the edge of campus to scream and whoop and cheer for the runners. I got a lot of sweaty hugs! Some of the runners cried, some of them blew kisses, some just stopped to take it all in. It was such a high.

“And it felt so safe and communal and almost patriotic, that this was the best of who we are: pulling for each other, pushing each other to greatness. And everyone had a part to play, even if it was just drinking in the morning and cheering on the runners. Boston takes great pride in the marathon.”
 
Child, 8, killed

The government at all levels sprang into action. Public transport was shut down. Cars were being stopped at roadblocks all over the place. The airport was closed. The FBI and the National Guard were called in.

President Barack Obama said that whoever was responsible for this attack would be held accountable. The rest of the USA was on alert: police in NYC flooded Times Square, and SABC US correspondent Sherwin Bryce-Pease said on Twitter that there was high police visibility - “NYPD taking no chances!” In Washington, DC Pennsylvania Avenue was closed. Officials in Los Angeles and Chicago indicated there would be a larger police presence than normal at high-profile locations, and transport centres.  
 
Amongst the hustle and bustle of a government getting to work in sorting out the disaster, and the masses of media personnel investigating and reporting from the empty streets of central Boston, came an awful detail. One of the first two recorded fatalities was an 8-year old child. In the early evening a third fatality was added, confirmed at a 21:00 news conference by the police.

Inspiration in midst of tragedy
 
Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who was bedridden in the morning because of a broken leg, was up and about and in action. And the Boston Globe was setting up a portal so that stranded people could find those who were prepared to offer up space in their houses.

A Google Document was set up so that people could post searchable messages saying whether they were alright, and where they were; normal communication lines were overwhelmed.
 
Naturally, the vibe in Boston is low. Goodwin Parry said, “The mood here is calm, but sad. Some people have hunkered down and others are trying to continue as normal… As for us, we feel incredibly grateful we are all okay. We will take stock tomorrow.”
 
In spite of the horror of Monday’s events, there was some inspiration.
 
Right in the eyes of tragedy, when people should have been running away in expected fear, the courage of average human beings was on full display. Runners who had not yet finished the race when the bombs went off ran to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood.
 
When the first blast went off, people bravely ran towards it to help tear down a fence so that people in the vicinity of the explosion could escape.
 
Towards a bomb.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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