A Personal Eyewitness Perspective on Monday’s Bombings: The Bad and the Good, Silence and Solidarity

The quiet after the storm, Public Alley 440. To the left of the two dumpsters blocking the alley is the back of Marathon Sports, the front of which was wiped out by one of the bombs.

Before we get the meat of the post, I again want to thank everyone reading who helped me during the last week, sent along kind words, and offered to help. Solidarity is a term rarely heard these days, but it still matters and it helped greatly.

This is a difficult post to write and, for some, it will be difficult to read. There are people who desperately need heroic figures–and were invested in these figures before the bombings. But, as I often do, I am getting ahead of myself.

When I heard the first explosion, I didn’t realize it was an explosion. I thought, along with many others, that the bleachers collapsed or that something collapsed in the construction behind the Lenox hotel. When I reached the lobby, which is about fifteen yards from the corner of Exeter and Boylston (after foolishly taking the elevator instead of using the fire escape), I ran outside and then to Boylston. I didn’t see all of the carnage (I don’t see how one person could have), but I saw enough.

There were a lot of confused people who didn’t know where to go, others were completely distraught. There were a lot of people running towards Boylston street so I went there. Someone asked me where “Comm Ave” is, so I told them, and started telling people how to get to Commonwealth Avenue and then to turn right (I was just thinking of getting them to the Common as was the case during the transformer fire, it didn’t occur to me that there were medical facilities at Dartmouth and Commonwealth, even though I had walked by them a couple of hours earlier). A couple people had completely shut down so I helped them get moving again.

Others ran to help the injured. One friend, whose privacy I will protect, saw people fleeing down the alley that ran behind the Marathon Sports store (the front of which had been destroyed by one of the bombs; alley shown above), and without regard for his own personal safety, ran after them and got them turned around and headed down Exeter towards Commonwealth Avenue. Shortly after that, the police told us to get inside, so we returned to the lobby. Then we were told to leave the lobby since another explosion would turn the glass windows into a storm of shards and shrapnel. I stayed in my apartment for about ten minutes, maybe longer, and then the BPD evacuated the building. And by evacuate, I do not mean the way you react to the standard fire drill or college false alarm. You grab a phone, keys, wallet and a coat (if you’re still thinking that clearly by that point) and you run.

It was a hard Monday afternoon.

That brings me to the bad. As afternoon turned into evening and the temperature dropped (it was a cool day to begin with), no one came to Commonwealth Mall to help. No one from the city, from the mayor’s office, from Councilman Ross’ office, or the Red Cross. When I read stories about how organized the response was, I didn’t witness that; in fact, I witnessed the opposite. We were left to fend for ourselves. The mayor’s hotline was useless, and no civilian leadership was present. People were shocked and did not know if we could return to our homes–and desperately wanted to return. People who needed medicine, such as insulin, had no idea what to do. We had nothing but the clothes on our backs. A care station half a mile away does not help, especially if you are elderly with medical devices. Several of us stayed with an elderly neighbor with medical conditions late into the night until we made sure she reached a hospital. We should have had help from city leadership (the rank and file BDP and EMS were superb), but we did not, so we did what we could instead.

In the days that followed, my neighbors and I received no response from any of our elected representatives. You would think this is Rascal King 101: send some ‘heelers down to the affected area and do whatever you can to help. Contact constituents on your mailing and email lists who live in the crime scene perimeter and find out how they are doing. Announce that you or representatives are headed down to the area (or nearby if there are safety concerns) to speak with residents.

Even though this was the focal point of the attack, the proverbial ‘ground zero’, none of that happened. Nothing.

But what is truly disgusting are all of the progressive stalwarts who have no difficulties contacting me by phone, email, and mail when they need my vote–or want my money. Yet somehow when we needed them, they were unable to contact us. We were abandoned and told nothing, and thanks to the lack of information, were unable to make any sort of long term plans. From my particular perspective, the progressive heroes did not do anything to help us. That includes Menino, Sen. Warren (yes, that Senator Warren; I’m really glad I gave to her exploratory committee early on…), and Rep. Capuano, along with local elected officials. There was no one to advocate for us: there was not even a forum in which to file complaints*. Phone calls were not returned.

In other words, they did not even have the minimal decency to bullshit us, which would have at least acknowledged our existence; we were completely ignored and forgotten. It was as if they didn’t even realize that people lived there (by the way, I did not read anything about this in the media coverage, though I was unable to follow much on Tuesday). The one official who eventually returned my phone call didn’t even know where my building was in relation to the blast, even though I had left my address. (Got Google?) We were reduced to the sorry spectacle of organizing a twitterbomb–which might have had some effect–to get any notice, any redress of grievances.

In short, they abandoned us.

People, including many regular readers who lean left and admire those people, will not want to hear this. They want to believe–they need to believe the plucky, resilient storyline. Some, no doubt, will attempt to blame the victims. But someone needs to recount what actually happened, even if only from one particular perspective, since these types of events define the content of one’s character.

And that content is simply this: even if they are better than the alternatives, they are not worthy of the people they purport to represent.

Which leads us to the good. The rank and file of the Boston Police Department were exemplary. Not because they took reasonable risks–that’s the job. Not because they were a symbol. Even as they were exhausted, angry, and confused themselves, they were decent, humane, and demonstrated a respect for personal dignity. When they escorted us, later in the week, at one point, into the building to get some clothes, medicine, and so on, the police told us they appreciated our cooperation and apologized to us. More than one officer told us they couldn’t even imagine not being able to return home. I am humbled by how they treated us during the last week.

A group that has not received the credit they deserve were the marathon volunteers. I personally saw several who, at risk to themselves, helped the wounded and confused. Others made sure that the marathon runners who hadn’t finished had blankets and water. And there were so many kind people in Back Bay. One friend who lives on Marlborough street, where many of the runners who hadn’t finished wound up, opened up his house and gave hundreds of runners water and access to a bathroom. Others brought food and water to the runners, and let them use cell phones so they could tell their families they were unharmed. And others helped us with clothing to stay warm and a place to sleep. There was much kindness that day. Solidarity is an old-fashioned word, but it is the appropriate one.

As I often write, in Boston, there is never a dull moment. Some of those moments are awful, but most are good. Monday afternoon, the residents of this old city rose up and decreed through right and decent action that all would not be lost. They said that, if we were willing to remember the common weal, decency would prevail over barbarism, that cruelty would be defeated by compassion. That well- and hard-earned truth will sustain us. It tells us that soon we shall be more than the murders and dark memories, and that peace and affection will be returned to their rightful places in this torn city.

(Some impressions from earlier this week.)

*Late Saturday morning, the mayor announced that this website to collect information had opened. If you know someone who has been affected by the bombing, please send them that information.

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8 Responses to A Personal Eyewitness Perspective on Monday’s Bombings: The Bad and the Good, Silence and Solidarity

  1. NewEnglandBob says:

    My daughter is an ER nurse who volunteers every year in the medical tent for the marathon. She, along with the other dozens of nurses and doctors, were about 200 feet from one of the explosions. They knew right away what happened and they were fearful of their own safety. Some of them fell apart emotionally but most stood their ground and began treating the victims. One problem is that they had no pain killers because they didn’t need them for the thousands of dehydrated runners. They did get help via the EMT and ambulance people. The group of volunteers from my daughter’s hospital had arrived by train and subway that morning. After treating the victims, they had no way to get out of the city. Their hospital and an ambulance service sent an ambulance from Lowell to bring them back to that city. My daughter had to throw away her pants and sneakers when she got home because they were blood soaked. The shock hit her group that night and in the following days as they began to realize the horrors they experienced and the vivid images that they had blocked returned to them.

    • How is your daughter doing now? The EMS were another group I should have noted for their superb behavior.

      • She is back in the ER. First day back she had a tough case where they had a tool that cuts open by laser and she and another nurse froze for a moment from the smell. The hospital offered therapy to all who went. It will take a bit of time, but they will be OK.

  2. evilDoug says:

    Here in Calgary, when people are forced to evacuate a building, it is quite common for city transit buses to be provided as very temporary shelters. They at least provide some respite from the elements (important here if it happens to be -30°C in the winter) and a place for focused info and care activities. Obviously this wouldn’t be practical for very large numbers of people, and it isn’t practical for very long, but it is a good stop gap measure. I don’t know if Calgary has one, but it seems to me converting one or two buses to 20-stall portapotties would be sensible for any city with enough money to have roads to drive them on.
    Your politicians, like so many of their kind, seem to have demonstrated again that they aren’t of much use except for flapping their gums. The employees , the civil servants, that often bear the brunt of cost cutting campaigns are the people who actually DO things. Right wing politicians seem to regard it as their duty to make the world safe for money. I expect better from the left.

  3. Camp Other says:

    I am so sorry to hear what you’ve been through. No one should have to deal with any of this, and you and others in the area should have had some emergency teams help you during the hours and days following the bombing.

    I don’t know who is usually responsible for helping in this situation beyond the mayor or the Red Cross – for example, what about CERT/Ready Boston? I don’t know who makes the call to mobilize CERT, but it seems like the kind of group who would spring to action in a situation like the aftermath of the bombing.

    I don’t know if buses would have been the right solution for this situation – maybe busing people to a temporary shelter which was patrolled by police and tended by CERT and had a pipeline for seniors/disabled to get needed care would be, though. And if the concern of the police/FBI is that they wanted to evacuate to ensure that buildings near the bombing site were clear of additional bombs, then they could have systematically checked buildings and let evacuees return to them block by block rather than wait for a solid all-clear after a day or two.

  4. Hah; with Warren, maybe she’s still such a bumbler that not all her staff is in palce.

  5. Pingback: Questions Boston City Officials and Representatives Need to Answer | Mike the Mad Biologist

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