I Was At the Boston Marathon Bombing, This is My Story
If you know Boston at all, you know that the first hints of spring are the happiest times of the year.
The shorts come out, the bikers come back, the Red Sox start strong, and you get one perfect day to celebrate all this, with a holiday reserved just for Bostonians: Patriots Day, locally known as Marathon Monday.
I've been in Boston for every Marathon Monday since 2007, and as an LA transplant to this fair city, I've relished this holiday, when schools are closed and the Common is open for large iced Dunkin' Donuts coffee and a cool breeze.
Monday was like any other Marathon Monday, except that for the first time, I was working. I started a job at the Boston Globe in January, part which is working on the blog and social accounts for RadioBDC, the online streaming radio station.
RadioBDC hosted a Marathon Watch Party yesterday, right near the finish line, on Boylston Street at a restaurant called Forum, about 40 yards from the second blast. I was there.
We had been there since about 8:30 a.m., milling around and posting updates to Boston.com and Twitter. DJ Adam 12 was interviewing runners and supporters on the street. Our photographer, Ethan Long, and I took silly photos in the Photo Booth at the party, at about 2 p.m.
Then I heard a noise so loud, I was positive the building was coming down on me.
It's a bombing - Holy crap.
At first I thought it was a gun shot. But it was too loud. Still, people yelled, "Get down! Get down!" as if it were guns. The party-goers were ushered outside by the nice bouncer who had showed me the fire exit when we had a cigarette in the alley together earlier in the day. There was another boom, suddenly, and smoke, and the worst smell I've ever breathed.
I knew it was a bomb when I smelled it. Acidic, deep, and dark. It smelled like a cannon on the tall ships I visited in middle school.
I grabbed my purse, went further into the bar to grab my laptop, and turned to follow the line of people outside.
There was no jostling or pushing, but it was pandemonium in the fire alley. People were running in all directions, and while I knew the general direction of the blast, I wasn't sure yet what to do. I called the Globe and yelled to my editor, "What do you know?"
He had no idea what I was talking about. I said, "There was a bomb. I'm in an alley behind the bar. There was a bomb at the Marathon." I looked around and found Ethan.
I looked him right in the eye and said, "Grab your camera." And we started running.
The alley collided with Exeter St. We turned right, went back onto Boylston, and without thinking, began shooting pictures. There were stretchers, there was blood everywhere, there were guns on cops. The barricades had been flipped over, and there were bodies on the ground.
I saw a man who looked like he was wearing cut-off shorts, except the back sides of his pants were flapping out behind him, and his bare legs were covered in blood. I saw a woman being carried away, and it looked like her leg was gone – but it was so bloody, I couldn't be sure.
The sidewalk was dotted with streams of red spots, zigzagging over the bricks. We kept clicking away. There were no people we could help … Every body in sight was surrounded by a clump of police and good Samaritans. We could only document it.
Boston Police started pushing us back, and when I waved my pass and said, "Boston Globe! Globe!" they yelled, "There are probably more bombs! MOVE BACK."
That's when I realized that it was a terrorist attack. It's odd I didn't think of it before. I guess I didn't put two and two together, that "bombing" equals "terrorism," but at that moment, I felt surges of anxiety and adrenaline, in equal amounts.
Ethan and I were pushed back to the corner of the alley we had come from, and while most civilians had left the area at full speed at that point, or had poured onto Newbury Street behind us, I looked at our fellows on the corner, and was happy to find familiar faces:
Chris Faraone, whom I had become friends with at Occupy Boston and who is my favorite Boston reporter, had been on his way to meet me at the RadioBDC party. He was now standing next to me, pen over ear, and Twitter at the ready. Garrett Quinn, a Mediaite and Reason magazine blogger and very close friend, sauntered up as well. Fancy meeting you boys here at this disaster, I thought.
Brothers in arms and chargers
It was about 3 p.m. at this point, just minutes after the bombing.
The four of us (Chris, Garrett, Ethan and I) moved back onto Newbury Street. A friend who is a pedicab driver called to make sure we were safe, and told us he overheard two cops talking, saying that it had been a suicide bombing.
The newsroom called.
I described what we had just seen, and relayed everything, down to the most minute detail – anything I could do to help, I thought. I was being passed from person to person in the newsroom. They asked Ethan to set up a UStream, but our phones were close to death. His was at about 20% and this was going to finish it off, but he did it. I started sending my cell phone photos to the news desk.
And then, thank god, there was Adam 12, the RadioBDC DJ who had been out on the street at the time of the blasts, with the rest of our crew. Stephanie, a member of the Street Team, was crying, frantic. Adam looked so bewildered and so happy to see us. He said he had gone looking for us because by the time he got outside, we were gone – we'd already run over to take pictures
They decided to try to leave the area. I wanted to stay to see what happened next or if I was going to be needed at all.
Twitter became urgent. Were there more bombs? No one knew. Three dead? Two dead? Twelve dead? No one knew. Was there a bomb at the JFK Library? No conclusive answers at all. We kept moving. My phone couldn't hold calls, but was ringing off the hook. Text messages, Facebook posts, and tweets from all of our phones made an odd orchestra of robot noises.
My editor texted, asking if we could get interviews on the livestream.
I saw a women wearing a medal and an aluminum blanket being half-carried by what looked like her whole extended family. I went over to ask if she was ok. She was. Did she see anything? Did she want to talk about it? No, she didn't.
I thought, "Ok… That's ok." But then, out of nowhere, her brother/boyfriend/male companion lunged at Ethan, screaming, "Is that a fucking camera? Get that out of here!" Another young woman pounced as well, crying hysterically. "They tried to kill my sister! And you're filming her? You're sick! You're sick!" She tried to slap Ethan before being carted away by the man.
Ethan looked ready to cry. We weren't trying to hurt anyone. And we both felt awful and scared. That was the last on-camera conversation I tried to get. Chris and Garrett were reporting and tweeting down the street.
We moved on together, walking down Exeter to Commonwealth Ave. and turning right, toward the Common.
My phone battery was at 10%, and Ethan's died, valiantly attempting to stream, but ultimately failing. Garrett needed to charge as well. We stopped outside BarLola, a Tapas restaurant, and plugged into a lucky outdoor outlet.
A marathoner came up to ask us for a cigarette. His name was Matt, he said, from Tewksbury. "I gave up smoking years ago. But if there was a time…" Ethan gave him a Marlboro Red and I lit it. Another man, also wrapped in a foil blanket, approached us.
His name was Frank, I think, and he was 60-something years old. "Do you know anything? What happened? They say it was a bomb? My wife was in the bleachers near the finish line. I can't reach her. Do you know anything?" My heart stopped. Oh, fuck, I thought. This man's wife is probably dead. Garrett had a charge, and texted the wife. She was at home, safe and sound. I sighed. I hugged Ethan for the first time since the blast.
Thousands of runners began to meander past where we stood. They had been diverted, they told me, and were being funneled toward the Common.
I started to become uncomfortable tweeting information.
It was so unnerving, not knowing what was happening. If I tweeted that the marathoners were heading to the Common, would I be putting them in danger?
We live in a time where social media is so powerful that the line between helpful and hurtful is sometimes just a pixel. A comma, one character, can make a difference. So in a time like this, even as a blogger, how responsible is it to tweet everything you hear? Can I tweet what I hear on the police scanner? Can I tweet what a friend hears and sends to me? I wasn't sure.
I needed a break. I needed to sit. I suggested we go inside.
Boston, my home sweet home.
BarLola was the most fitting place for us to end up yesterday, for me, at least.
It was the first restaurant I ever went to in Boston, where some cousins took my father and I when we toured Suffolk after I had been accepted. Since it was the only place I knew then, it became my go-to place for fine dining for birthdays, celebrations, dates and parent visits. It was the place I took my boyfriend and best friend for dinner the first time I ever got paid for writing, at 19 years old. It was the first place I ever loved, in the city I love so deeply and now call home.
We missed the press conference at the Westin, because we couldn't get across the barricades. We watched it inside the bar, and I borrowed a phone charger from a nice waitress. Commissioner Davis and Governor Patrick said everything we wanted them to say. Just enough so we felt informed, but they didn't go overboard.
But I was scared. And jumpy. Adrenaline was almost killing me. I tried a glass of Sangria, while I waited for Ethan to attempt to upload his photos via another Globe reporter's laptop. But the sweet alcohol is just making me more hyper, and the angry cook keeps yelling at me when I bring the glass of sangria into the back to check my phone.
"I'll tell you one more time..!" He warns me.
Suddenly it seemed all the reporters on this side of the city were in this one bar with us. Still, although I felt safe, I didn't feel comfortable. We had to keep moving.
Ethan and I decided to try to get a cab to Morrissey Blvd. (Globe headquarters), or make it to the student paper offices at Suffolk University, on Beacon Hill. We try to call our parents again, as the sun starts to set, and finally the calls go through. My mother conferences in my sister. Ethan speaks to some family.
The National Guard is staging at the Common, and we see streams of motorcycles, cruisers and buses careening between the Public Garden and the Common. But people were milling about. It was almost as if nothing had happened, but then, the Facebook and Twitter notifications wouldn't stop.
We passed a black man dressed in Union garb in front of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial by the State House. For Patriot's Day. Oh, right. It's "Patriot's Day," I reminded myself that the symbolism made the situation almost worse.
It was about 5:30 when we got to Suffolk and begged the campus police to let us in. Finally, we could sit, and upload, and see the news.
On BostonGlobe.com, a video from the finish line began with the BOOMS I had heard just moments before I knew we had been attacked.
Every time I heard a BOOM on the news, I jumped. I asked Ethan to turn it off.
I looked at the photos I had taken. On the big Apple screens, I saw what I had been sending to Boston.com. I saw the blood splatter I had walked in, and I began to see others' photos as well.
One photo of a sidewalk devoid of bodies, but covered in shards of glass, pieces of paper, and puddles of blood made me nauseous and I had to go outside.
The Donahue building on Suffolk's campus is across from a lovely garden, which backs up to one of the oldest churches in Boston. There are some flowers there, circled by iron benches, and the stone wall casts a friendly shadow. I stood in the middle of the circle and looked into the lobby of the building. It was starting to get dark, and the periwinkle sky made the fluorescents in the lobby extra bright on the lone policeman.
I looked up at the top of the stone church, and I looked up at the sky, and I said "thank you" to no one in particular.
Soon after, a friend gave me a lift home, understanding that I didn't want to ride the T through downtown. I'm still scared.
I wanted to cry when I got in the car and heard the replay of the BOOM on WBUR, but I held it in.
It wasn't until I removed my t-shirt and turned the water to the hottest it could get and curled up on the floor of my shower that I realized I had lived through a terrorist attack in Boston, on Patriot's Day. On Marathon Monday.
I sobbed for what felt like hours. I examined each of my long toes, dripping in water - not blood. I have never felt so lucky, and so whole, while simultaneously feeling blown apart. Like Boston.