Confusion on the ground at Boston Marathon

Garrett Quinn Contributor
Font Size:

When I arrived near Copley Square immediately after the deadly bombing that rocked the 117th Boston Marathon, the area was a mishmash of marathon volunteers, runners, journalists, and first responders. Confusion reigned.

The bombing, which has so far taken the lives of three people (including eight-year-old Martin Richard of Dorchester) and injured more than 140, is now the focus of an intense local and federal investigation. Police have searched an apartment on Ocean Avenue in the suburb of Revere, according to multiple news sources, and removed two bags of potential evidence. The Revere Fire Department confirms that search on its Facebook page. According to the New York Post, that apartment belongs to a 20-year-old Saudi national who has been taken into custody. Other news reports say no arrests have been made.

None of this was known in the confusion right after the bombing.

Some complaints seemed mundane in the context. Friends and family of runners were distressed because they could not watch their runner cross the finish line. Runners were fretting because they did not know how or when they were going to get their things that they left in Copley Square. Reporters were meandering around trying to figure out how to get closer while at the same time looking for interesting folks to talk to. The occasional “How did this happen?” or “Oh my God!” peppered the air.

Meanwhile police appeared shaken by the deadly attack at an event where their biggest problem is usually dealing with a handful of rowdy drunks. The two bombs were packed with ball bearings and detonated at a low level which maximized leg injuries. One runner, a Rhode Island state trooper, told the Associated Press, “At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing.”

The police at the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury streets directed traffic and curious crowds, while a huge number of ambulance workers rushed by. Several police officers made their way over from Boylston Street and moved the crowd back another block to Commonwealth Ave,  two full blocks away from the marathon course on Boylston Street.

Runners cloaked in aluminum space blankets were trickling in, making their way down Commonwealth Ave. Marathon officials and volunteers were at a loss to explain what would happen to the runners still on the course. One told me that the marathon had been rerouted to Boston Common and another told me he had “no idea what was going on.” About an hour after I arrived, the heavily armored police presence around the perimeter had increased, particularly in the median. I walked with a handful of journalists down Boston’s grand boulevard when we heard a loud boom. It shook us and we immediately looked skyward for signs of smoke or fire, but it was a controlled explosion of a suspicious parcel by the Boston Police Bomb Squad.

There were so many runners wandering the streets outside Copley Square that they resembled an army of invaders with their universal-looking bibs and blankets. They were understandably upset, confused, and angry about what was happening. They were so close to completing their goal but the bombing forced organizers to halt the race at its 25th mile, near Kenmore Square. Some of them were still in shock and could not believe what was happening.

One runner came up to me while I was charging my phone on a patio that overlooked the street and asked me if I knew anything about his wife. His wife was in the bleachers near where the bomb exploded and he was very concerned. He did not have a phone so I used mine. It was no use trying to call her, though, as the phone circuits were overloaded with traffic. So I texted her. The period after the texts felt like an eternity. The man, in his late 60s, was so upset that he began to cry. I tried to console him. After a few minutes, his wife then texted back and said she was at home and OK. The man, overcome with emotion, thanked me and then went on his way to find his things.

As my phone continued to give me problems I decided that it was probably for the best to head back to start to file my stories. On my walk to the T station I came across several police officers carrying military style weapons and dressed in military fatigues. Blue lights were flashing everywhere and the city was empty on a day when it should have been bustling with celebrations.

Boston, along with its world famous marathon, has been changed forever.

Garrett Quinn is a Boston-based journalist.

Follow Garrett on Twitter at @GarrettQuinn