Over 170 people were injured in the blast with area hospitals such as Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital treating victims for lower extremity injuries. Because the bomb used was of a rudimentary nature, doctors have said that such materials as shrapnel, nails and ball bearings were discovered inside of the victims’ bodies. It has also been reported that surgeons performed at least 10 amputations of limbs. Currently, there are 17 people still in critical condition and 25 people in serious condition.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said: “This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here … this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war.”
“Somebody’s leg flew by my head,” a spectator, who gave his name as John Ross, told the Boston Herald. “I gave my belt to stop the blood.”
The legendary race coincided with the city’s 238th annual Patriots’ Day which marks the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and is considered a festive holiday in Boston. Close to 24,000 runners from around the world participated in the 26.2 mile race, which attracted huge throngs of onlookers, especially near the finish line.
According to Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, the first two explosions occurred nearly five hours after the marathon began – about 50 to 100 yards apart. A third explosion occurred near the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in the Columbia Point section of Dorchester, several miles southeast of the marathon’s finish line, at around 4:15 p.m. Police could not say if it was related to the earlier explosions.
Witnesses heard booms that sounded like two claps of thunder near the finish line inside the Fairmount Copley Plaza Hotel, according to multiple local reports. Video of the scene showed a number of emergency crews in the area tending to victims and blood on the ground near the finish line.
“I saw two explosions. The first one was beyond the finish line. I heard a loud bang and I saw smoke rising,” Boston Herald reporter Chris Cassidy, who was running in the marathon, told the newspaper. “I kept running and I heard behind me a loud bang. It looked like it was in a trash can or something…There are people who have been hit with debris, people with bloody foreheads.”
Thus far, no suspect has been named in the case but according to the New York Post, a 20-year old Saudi national on a student visa is being guarded at an area hospital as a “person of interest.” According to an AP report, police searched his home in the Boston suburb of Revere late Monday evening and investigators were seen leaving the apartment he shared with a roommate early Tuesday carrying brown paper bags, plastic trash bags and a duffel bag, A source close to the investigation has stressed that the person of interest is not a suspect and said he suffered serious injuries in the explosion.
“This will be a worldwide investigation,” Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Boston Field Office Richard DesLauriers said at a Tuesday morning news conference. “We will go to the ends of the Earth to identify the suspects responsible for this despicable crime.”
At this juncture it remains unclear as to whether the bombs were the work of a homegrown or foreign threat, but in Washington, both President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called the attack terrorism.
“Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror,” Obama said Tuesday morning. “We will find whoever harmed our citizens and we will bring them to justice.” Obama added emphatically, “The American people refuse to be terrorized.”
The FBI, along with state and local police, is appealing to the public for tips, as well as cell phone pictures and videos that might bring forth credible evidence about precisely who perpetrated the heinous attack. The Pakistani Taliban, which has threatened attacks in the United States because of its support for the Pakistani government, denied any role in the marathon bombings Tuesday.
In response to a reporter’s question, Police Commissioner Davis said that there had been two sweeps of the marathon route by bomb technicians before the blast, but he noted that there is open access to the area.
Meanwhile, cities across the nation are on high alert following the deadly explosions. From New York to Washington and Los Angeles, additional law enforcement officials were dispatched to monitor landmarks. Police also urged the public via social media to report any suspicious packages or activity to authorities. Across the pond, the already-robust security for the funeral of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was also intensified.
In New York, authorities deployed so-called critical response teams – highly visible patrol units that move in packs with lights and sirens, – along with more than 1,000 counterterrorism officers. Highly trafficked areas like the Empire State building, Rockefeller Center, the United Nations and the World Trade Center site were being especially monitored.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the police department was fully prepared to protect the city. “We’re stepping up security at hotels and other prominent locations in the city through deployment of the NYPD’s critical response vehicles (CRVs) until more about the explosion is learned,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said on Monday.
Transit and port officials in New York and New Jersey were on heightened alert at bridges, tunnels and on rail lines between the two states, as well as on New York City’s subway system and commuter rails.
In Washington, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urged the American public ‘to be vigilant and to listen to directions from state and local officials.
“We know that unfortunately 30 percent of terrorist attacks had Jewish institutions as secondary targets,” said Paul Goldenberg, director of the Secure Community Network, which oversees security for American Jewish organizations. “However, I must stress that there is absolutely nothing here that indicates any connection to an attack on the Jewish community. But based on history, we are standing vigilant for at least the next 48 hours.”
The chief doctor at the hospital where many of the wounded are being treated gave particular credit to the Israelis for training his team in the proper response methods to such mass attacks.
“About two years ago in actual fact we asked the Israelis to come across and they helped us set up our disaster team so that we could respond in this kind of manner,” said Alastair Conn, Chief of Emergency Services at Massachusetts General Hospital. Earlier in the interview Conn was asked, “Would you characterize these as almost something you would see in a military setting?”
“Oh absolutely, absolutely this is like a bomb explosion that we hear about in the news in Baghdad, or Israel or some other tragic place in the world,” Conn responded.
One of the standouts among the multitude of first responders who were already on the scene to aid marathon runners in need of medical assistance was New Jersey physician Martin Levine. “We heard the explosion. We saw the plume of white smoke begin to rise,” the Bayonne doctor related. “I turned into the tent reflexively and said, ‘Make room. Get rid of everyone that can leave. We’re going to have casualties.’”
Helping elite runners with recovery near the finish line when the explosions hit, Dr. Levine immediately rushed toward the wounded. “There was blood everywhere,” he told NBC 4 New York. “And the most striking thing was that either their feet, their legs, or parts of their legs were missing or extremely gouged. There were huge open wounds in the backs of people’s legs.”
Martin said he realized that some extra material had most likely been packed in the explosives. “The muscle mass in the backs of everyone’s legs was literally cut as deep as it could go, or the leg was severed at that spot,” he said.
Levine and other volunteers made the on-the-spot decision to use the lanyards from their marathon credentials to tie tourniquets around the bloody wounds they were encountering. Despite the immediate trauma of both explosions, they ran to care for the wounded. “There was a thought that, ‘There is a second bomb. Was there going to be a third?’” he said. “But you don’t stop. You can’t stop.”
Chabad shliach Rabbi Mayer Zarchi had his own unique perspective on the tragic event. At the booth he had set up near the Boston Marathon’s finish line Monday morning, he had been giving out literature and putting on tefillin with men passing by. He stepped away for a coffee at a nearby cafe with some neighbors, and as they exited the coffee shop, there was a tremendous explosion. “People just started running away from the center, from the finish line,” Zarchi recalled. “I’ve never seen anything like this before – the nature of the carnage, you can’t really articulate it in words. It was unreal.”
After the attacks, runners and supporters couldn’t get through on their cell phones, so Zarchi opened his Chabad house, a condo located three blocks away, and let them use the landline to call around the US and abroad so their loved ones would know they were safe. He handed out water until he ran out, then put out tap water and tea and headed back to the streets to see what else needed doing. There were helicopters everywhere, he said, and swarms of tactical officers on hand. “Everything was closed off,” he said.
Around six o’clock, Rabbi Zarchi made his way to Massachusetts General Hospital, about eight blocks away from the apartment, where some of the victims had been taken. Zarchi, who also has chaplain credentials, went and spoke to victims’ families. He returned to the hospital later in the evening to see how the surgeries were going, how the people with missing limbs were faring, and what the families and friends of those injured might need. “It’s a truly human tragedy,” he said of the day’s events.
More than just being about the marathon itself, the rabbi said, the message is that the forces of good will ultimately prevail, even in the face of those who would seek to destroy city life. “Good will rise higher, and ultimately swallow them up in the force of goodness,” asserted Zarchi.
Rabbi Yosef Zaklos of Chabad of Boston was also at the marathon putting on tefillin with Jewish runners. “We heard a loud boom. The second one I saw a fire ball go up and obviously heard it–it was horrific,” he related. Rabbi Zaklos said that there were visible signs of security measures being taken by the Jewish community in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, but that community members are attempting to resume their daily life as normally as possible. “There’s definitely a larger security presence,” Rabbi Zaklos noted. “The school my children go to sent out an e-mail saying that there would be extra police posted outside.”
Amidst all the anxiety, Rabbi Zaklos said he was doing his best to provide support through prayer or any other possible means. “They seem like little things but in the moment they are important,” he remarked.
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