‘They picked the wrong city to scare’

A sense of compassion and strength has brought communities together in the aftermath of Monday’s attacks on Boston


The bar is quiet at first. Most, except for one rowdy table, are nursing a postwork drink, engaging in a little conversation with a neighbour or having a quiet word with friends tucked away in a booth. Given the past days, particularly in Dorchester, the Boston suburb that is one of the most Irish neighbourhoods in the US, it’s reasonable that few at Eire Pub, at the corner of Adams Street and Gallivan Boulevard, at 5pm on Thursday want to talk about what happened on Monday.

Suddenly, the looping television news on screens around the bar has something new to report after days of few developments and reruns of horrific images of Monday’s bomb blasts near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. The volume is turned up.

One drinker is quickly on the phone, asking a person at the other end of the line to record the press conference, the first in two days updating the investigation into the worst attack on US soil since September 2001.

Rick DesLauriers, the FBI chief leading the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170, opens by saying that investigators have been “working around the clock” since the bombings on Monday. “Oh yeah, around the clock,” the loudest man in the bar shouts sarcastically at the television. But soon even he, like the rest of the bar, is silenced.

The images of the two suspected bombers caught on surveillance videos from a business on Boylston Street, the scene of Monday’s devastating blasts, flash up on the screen. It is chilling to watch the images of two men carrying backpacks. Inside those bags, possibly, are the pressure- cooker bombs filled with metal shards, ball bearings and pellets that, when detonated, become flying debris that can maim and kill.

The youngest victim, Martin Richard, who was just eight years old, lived around the corner from this pub. The blasts also killed Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager whose freckles and red hair gave away her Irish roots, and Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China.

The images of the victims have been running on television screens and in newspapers for days. Now, after a blizzard of speculation and forensic analysis of amateur footage circulated online by internet sleuths, investigators have officially released photographs of people who may be the bombers. To some in the pub, knowing that investigators at least have faces to identify is comforting.

“I would expect, based on those photos, that someone will recognise them and call it in over the next couple of days. I think they’ll get them. They know they are on the run now,” says Dennis Mannix, a former police chief in Natick, a town west of Boston through which the marathon passes every year.

It seems Mannix may be right; publishing the photographs could have smoked the suspects out. Late on Thursday night and early yesterday morning a shoot-out took place between two men and police, following the killing of a campus police officer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology hours earlier. The men were the suspects in the images. One of the men died after a shoot-out with police.

Sitting in the Eire Pub, Mannix is wearing a blue and yellow Boston Marathon top. Before this week runners wore them with pride to show the achievement of having run in a race they had to qualify for. This week they wore them as a sign of solidarity.

In an emotional speech in Boston on Thursday, President Obama captured the defiance that could be seen across Boston this week, drawing an analogy between the never-ending fight against violent acts and the marathon runners’ spirit to keep going until they cross the finishing line.

“On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall – we know that,” he said.

“And that’s what the perpetrators of such senseless violence, these small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build and think somehow that makes them important, that’s what they don’t understand.”

Mannix’s marathon jacket is well worn. He ran only once, in 1978, finishing in 3:43:00. That time would have put him well out of danger’s way this year: the first bomb exploded on Boylston Street at 4:09:00, the second 12 seconds later, about 100m away.

The bombs were timed, whether intentionally or not, at a point in the race when most novice marathon runners would be finishing, after four hours.

“It is bad, what happened, but it could have been worse,” says Joe Cruz, a 43-year-old scientist who was half a mile from finishing the race when police blocked him and thousands of others after the blasts.

Cruz is not a marathon runner; he entered the race to raise money for charity in honour of his late father. He doesn’t know if he will try again to complete the annual marathon, which started in 1897 and is popular the world over. “It is an international event,” says Mannix. “If you are going to run one marathon, you would want to run it, because other than Athens it is the first one.”

Mannix, whose father emigrated from Castleisland in Co Kerry, grew up on Carruth Street, where Martin Richard lived. The boy’s family home is no more than a three-minute walk away, one house up from the corner with Van Winkle Street. It is a beautifully restored family home with a driveway big enough to kick a ball in.

Blooming magnolia and cherry blossom trees dot the surrounding streets. Only a police car parked outside gives away the Richards’ house and reveals a little more of the most heartbreaking story of Monday’s attacks: a lost son, a badly wounded mother and a little girl who had to have a leg amputated.

‘Boston strong’
Like most families in Dorchester, the Richards have strong ties with Ireland. Bill Richard is well known for his work in the community. His wife, Denise, works at a local school. Seven-year-old Jane, now badly injured, goes to Irish-dancing classes. The people of Dorchester came out in force for a candlelight vigil to mark the loss of their boy.

“Dorchester is a really tight and close community; it is so pulling together after what happened. Seeing that little boy’s face is just so devastating,” says Mannix’s wife, Maureen, sitting next to him in the pub.

In a week of unforgettable images of terror and tragedy, one stands out in Dorchester: the photograph of Martin holding up a poster he had made, reading “No more hurting people – peace.”

Bostonians chose to post similar statements along the city’s streets this week. On the security cordons blocking the streets around the Boylston Street bomb sites, and on walls around the city, are messages of support, “Stay Strong Boston” and “Boston, you’re our home” matching the electronic “Boston Strong” signs put up by the city authorities along highways.

Stories of random acts of kindness and gestures of support circulated all week: marathon runners rushing to give blood for victims, stranded visitors unable to access hotels being put up by locals and wifi password protection being removed so people could make vital contact with loved ones.

“I feel like everyone has come together,” says Shannon Dwyer, a 19-year-old student at Emerson College, just blocks from the site of the explosions. “We were walking around today, and there was a guy walking a dog with a sign just saying, ‘Come pat our dog.’ ”

Shock and anger
Bostonians have refused to lie down in the face of the attacks on one of their city’s biggest days, second only to St Patrick’s Day in terms of celebrations. “If they picked a city to scare, they picked the wrong city,” says Dan Corrigan, a 28-year-old medical student from south of the city, at a candlelight vigil on Boston Common on Tuesday.

Corrigan, who ran on Monday, says he was stopped less than a mile from the finish by the blasts. He had planned to run only once, but this week’s events make him want to enter one more time. “This is an awful thing that has happened, but people are getting ready to run again.”

Michael Lonergan, Ireland’s consul general in Boston, says the attack has left the city with raw emotions. “People have reacted in two ways: one is shock that this could happen on Marathon Monday; and that has turned to anger over how someone could plant bombs in Boston with so many people and children watching and the scale of the horrific injuries.”

At Greenhills Irish Bakery, opposite the Eire Pub, Paul Hutchinson, a plasterer from Co Donegal who has been living in Massachusetts for 14 years, says the perpetrators “messed with Boston’s big day” when its people “come out of hibernation”, leave winter behind and mark the start of summer.

“I was in London after the docklands bombing, I was in Donegal after the Omagh bombing, and I am here. The reaction has been same,” he says. “There has been a sense of compassion and strength that has brought communities together.”

Even New Yorkers, bitter rivals of Bostonians in sport, put aside their differences. The normally deeply partisan fans at Yankee Stadium sang the Boston Red Sox anthem Sweet Caroline on Tuesday night.

“We stood by New York after 9/11 and New York stood by us,” says Randy Brooks, a 47-year-old correctional officer in Dorchester. “We are not Bostonians: we are Americans.”

As well as being the most Irish city in the US, Boston is also one of the most proud, home to many of the famous acts of the American Revolution and the traditional heartbeat of the country’s patriotism. In the absence of a clear motive or claim by a group during the week, speculation was rife that this may be a reason why the city was attacked, if this was indeed a homegrown terror act and a political statement.

The possibility of a right-wing group choosing to attack Boston because of its broad-church liberal tradition and revolutionary past could stir anger in US political circles.

“You could speculate on why they targeted it. It is a high-profile event,” says Mannix. “Is it about [the marathon] being on Patriot’s Day and that an anarchist would have done it? Who knows?”

Locals are quick to rubbish claims that Boston has been immune from the terror New York City and Washington have suffered. Both aircraft that were flown into the World Trade Center’s towers in September 2001 left from Boston’s Logan Airport, and many Bostonians were on the flights. “So it touches home – 9/11 always touches us,” says Brooks.

But the popularity of the Boston Marathon is such that the aftershock of Monday’s bombings was felt across the US and farther afield. “This isn’t just about Boston,” says Lonergan, “but a shock and horror story across America.”

At the makeshift memorial at Boylston Street and Arlington Street, marathon runners speaking various languages and with a range of US accents pay their respects. “I will be back again next year,” says Steve Bramlett, who is 56, in a Mississippi drawl. “You cannot stop living because these things happen – that is what they want you to do.”