Relief. That was the feeling that rushed over every Bostonian on Friday night. It was the end of a long week in Boston history. Patriot’s day is a holiday predominantly celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolution. To those who venture to Concord, reenactment battles start the day. It’s also a day on which the city stops to go out and watch and support the thousands of runners who aim to finish the grueling 26.2 mile run from Hopkinton to Boston, Mass. Every year, I would sit on Heartbreak Hill, either as a volunteer or spectator, to cheer on runners over the hardest stretch of the course.
For the runners, it’s a monumental accomplishment, as the Boston Marathon is one of the most prestigious in the world. It’s an event that is very special to every Bostonian, and to me, it’s always an uplifting day.
The Marathon is a display of true mental and physical strength. It does not discriminate and it brings out the best athleticism in people. Many run for the first time after raising thousands for charity, and the physical toll the race takes on many of its participants make one wonder why people even run at all. It’s an amazing sight to watch people of all ages run side by side and support each other, regardless of their background. It’s a race that has no boundaries.
Marathon Monday seemed like any day, but in the afternoon, about four hours into the race, two bombs exploded at the finish line. I was horrified when I turned the TV on. In front of my eyes were the same streets I grew up on. Just one street over from the event is a popular shopping area; Copley Square, the location of the finish line, is a center for hotels, shopping and the Public Library.
Boston is such a small city; only two short blocks away are the Commons. It’s just such a beautiful old city with so much character and history, and it’s hard to imagine such a place being attacked. I couldn’t help but cry as I watched the scene unfold. I was sitting at school, my phone wasn’t working with a Boston area code (617), and reaching my parents’ and friends’ cell phones was out of the question. As the Marathon was both a holiday and a major event, I had no idea if any of my family even decided to go to the event that day. I knew that a few friends were running, but wasn’t sure of their bib numbers. And then, as I logged into social media, the photos of blood, lost limbs and crying runners started to emerge.
One photo at the time stood out to me. The person photographed, who was later identified as Jeff Bauman, played a vital role in identifying the suspects. In the photo, Bauman sat in a wheelchair, aided by two other men in a state past shock. Both his legs were missing. His bones stuck out, and his flapping, charred skin blended with blood. It was a photo that could have come out of a war zone, yet it came from my hometown. Along with the rest of the Boston community, I was shocked as I watched what was unfolding. But one thing stood out to me: the immediate bravery and strength of those on scene. Through the confusion and chaos, there was a strong sense of pride. I was proud to see how quickly people responded and put their own lives at risk to save others. Runners stopped to help fallen spectators and other runners. First responders, volunteers and really anyone who could, helped. A beautiful day turned into an ugly site of carnage and blood in a matter of seconds.
I just couldn’t understand why Boston, of all places, was hit, nor could I understand why the marathon was targeted specifically. A marathon isn’t a political or religious event. It’s an event that celebrates the human spirit, and that’s exactly what these bombs tried to hit. The bombs went off, but what unfolded after wasn’t complete panic; it was a scene of hundreds of people running to help. It was people working side by side to stop bleeding, hold crying children and stand together as a city.
And for the hours that followed, my city responded in a way that was unprecedented. Through Google Docs, a signup sheet was created to provide housing for runners who couldn’t get back home. Those who weren’t able to complete the race ran on the parallel street, past where the finish would have been, and kept going for another two miles to the hospitals to donate blood. Those who passed the finish line distributed fluids, blankets, and did whatever they could to aid others. Continuing into the next day, tributes from all over the nation poured in. The support was overwhelming. The whole time, all I wished was that I could be there, lending a hand to my city. What I felt during this was miniscule compared to the feelings of those who were on those streets.
In the following days, I was glued to my laptop and the TV. I constantly monitored my Twitter feed and refreshed news outlets for any information. In a time of desperation, chaos and the need for answers, the media had failed me. Information just wasn’t being checked. On Wednesday, CNN reported that a suspect had been arrested, while other sources didn’t have the same story. In a time with so few facts, I was more than disappointed to see major news organizations using false information.
When the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, who had been identified as suspected by Bauman had begun, local news coverage was my only source. Listening to both the police scanner and watching WCVB—Boston’s news channel—I heard the sounds of bullets and officers screaming at reports of grenades. Local news coverage provided the most first hand accounts, interviews and photos. When something important was mentioned, the reporter at the time would pause to let the viewers know it was being fact checked. There was a sense of raw feeling and emotion in the coverage. It was this Boston pride, thinking and sense of community that came through during the 24-hour manhunt. In a city so small, there is a sense of connection to the people around you. This is what we needed from the media. CNN has this compulsive need to always be first. All the major news sources do. But Bostonians needed the truth. “The Boston Globe” and WCVB did it right. The coverage of this event was perpetual and embarrassing for many news organizations, like CNN, which kept getting facts wrong.
False stories spread like wildfire on social media. A photo of a young girl who was running in memory of Sandy Hook was shared as it said she was the first victim. Another photo told the story of a man trying to save his girlfriend, to whom he planned to propose to once she finished. There were rumors of a Saudi national at a hospital, who got labeled as a suspect online. When authorities asked the public for all their photos and videos, thousands poured in. And while it was amazing to watch the support, the public took it upon themselves to figure out who the suspects were. It was exhausting watching the story unfold. I had no idea what to believe, and on Thursday night, I decided to just tune into the police scanner itself.
On Wednesday night, students on SBU’s campus held a candlelight vigil to reflect on the loss of life, not just at the marathon, but around the world today. More than 100 students showed up to just stand together and listen to each other’s experiences and feelings about the bombing. It reminded all of us that the hate and anger in the world doesn’t dominate the population. When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, I only saw a 19-year-old boy who had been misguided. There was a part of me that wondered how could someone raised in the U.S. could be led to believe such radical ideas? I personally don’t believe that Islam is so violent. Its teachings are poetic and teach the importance of doing good. It doesn’t reflect the fundamentalism we see many terrorists adopt. It doesn’t make any sense. Seeing a 19-year-old boy fall to the level of terrorism to convey a message is both scary and disappointing. As I stood with other Stony Brook students, I was reminded that we are all responsible for not spreading hate because of the actions of two people. The media immediately pushed thoughts of terrorists organizations, training camps, Islamic culture and the violent behavior of those living in Chechnya to the forefront, and it angered me to hear how quickly just one association led to a downward spiral of accusations. Although some may have made it clear these are just possible scenarios, the general public did not see them as such.
It’s understandable that facts can be wrong in a time of chaos, but journalism turned into social media by the end of the hunt. With one brother dead, and the other still in intensive care at the hospital, what comes next is still unclear. However, the marathon will continue as it has for the last 117 years. Over the course of this week, I’ve been amazed to see how channels, like WCVB, had the interests of the people in mind over larger organizations. During an attack, which is something the country hasn’t seen since 9/11, should have been covered with caution and extreme attention to detail. The lack of proper information just added to the confusion and fear many people had. It was hard to understand the timeline of events, and the speculations done by organizations, like CNN, were unnecessary.
The way the city and the people of Boston responded was admirable and quintessentially Bostonian. Finding words to describe the pride and loyalty they have to Boston is hard, but it was clearly shown through the celebrations on Friday night. While dancing in the streets, many thanked police officers and wrote messages of gratitude on the sidewalks. People understood the severity of the situation, and so when police suggested a lockdown, people stayed indoors voluntarily. It makes me proud to be from Boston. To see a whole community stand together and use social media, local news and each other to spread necessary information reminds me that the larger news organizations don’t have the advantage in these smaller cities. Boston officials, who knew all the winding paths of the city, had the advantage on the streets. In times like this, it’s necessary for news organizations to take a minute to verify what is going on and be able to admit when they don’t know certain information. I sometimes found myself questioning CNN on how it obtained certain information. Remember that news is not necessarily factual or accurate just because it may have a large brand name attached to it.
With this behind us, Boston will recover and continue to hold the marathon every year. I know it won’t stop me from supporting the race, runners and participating myself. It’s a special day for Bostonians, runners and to everyone who is a part of the day. This attack by two cowards won’t stop the spirit of my city or the Boston Marathon.