As Chaos Reigned, Harvard Students Banded Together to Offer Protection and Support

ByNaji Filali

As a New Yorker, Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings rekindled memories and emotions I had resolved to keep buried over a decade ago, a chapter of my life I never wanted to relive. Images of friends and loved ones suffering over their losses and New Yorkers expressing a fear to leave their homes were inescapable for weeks on end. Within days of the tragedy, though, Boston, like New York, persevered and healed together.

In the aftermath of Monday’s incident, Bostonians confirmed the strength of the city, the country, and Americans everywhere in the face of adversity. Acts of kindness by civilian first-responders, ample donations to the recovery effort, and words of support expressed in sports complexes and on city blocks nationwide helped slowly pull back the bandage placed over the city at the beginning of the week.

On Monday, Harvard cancelled evening classes as the city mourned and students frantically browsed the Internet in a search for updates about friends, family, and answers from the media.

On Tuesday, we reflected as a community. Moments of silence and vigils were held and administrators offered their support.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we refocused on school and work with the hope that the week would simply come to an end. Pres. Obama came to Boston to reassure us all that justice would be forthcoming. For the first time, classes and extracurricular events reassumed their original feel and academic purpose, not as a means of diverting attention from the severity of reality. Though the perpetrators remained at large, the city sought a return to normalcy as it banded together to push forward.

Thursday evening shattered any hope for normalcy. Instead, chaos reigned, and this time much closer to home for Cantabrigians. Harvard’s emergency news system sent countless emails and text messages to the community about the situation as it unfolded, and students took to social media to admonish friends to stay in their dorms.

No longer than an hour later, news of a carjacking and violent firefight raging from Cambridge to Watertown paralyzed the student body. Emails flooded inboxes over listservs and Facebook buzzed with updates as students observed the scene. Students in Harvard Quad dorms on Garden Street reported sounds of explosions and gunfire, packs of countless police cruisers flew down nearby streets at high speeds, and students were prohibited from leaving certain campus buildings as Harvard University police secured the Yard and waited for updates.

In the midst of the chaos in the early morning hours, students remained together with friends and roommates in their rooms or common areas, tuned into police scanners, social media, and local and national news coverage. In almost a replication of Monday’s response, students banded together in support to provide both comfort and a sense of security.

By the time many went to sleep around 1 or 2 a.m., one suspect was reported to be in custody and the other appeared pinned down. When I woke up around 9 a.m. this morning, however, the greater Boston area was indistinguishable from a highly militarized state. The second suspect managed to escape the police and could be anywhere in the area. Schools across the areas were closed and all activities cancelled. Streets were sparsely trafficked and police cruisers easily spotted. Our inboxes were cluttered with updates and urgings from school administrators to stay inside all day. Family called for the second time this week to ensure the safety of loved ones. It was déjà vu and a harrowing experience.

With the closing of mass transit and the pervasive state of emergency, Cambridge and Boston were no longer vibrant hubs for cultural and economic exchange. Now, the area was a crime scene. A weekend that was intended to put on a bright face and welcome prospective students from the Class of 2017 was turned on its head. Students who want to get a glimpse of Harvard life will instead bear witness to a school and city in lockdown.

It is important not to be myopic during this flurry of rapid developments, though. If Monday is any indication, the city will not stay this way for long. The remaining suspect cannot remain undetected for long among a hypervigilant population, and once he is found, the city will finally be able to close the book on a sad week in its history.