It was surreal, this scene of explosion and chaos as some runners from the Boston Marathon neared the end of their race. Bombs went off, and dozens of people suffered injuries both minor and threatening. Three were killed, including an 8-year-old boy named Martin Richard, and over 170 were injured, some losing limbs, others being treated but in and out of consciousness.
One witness had it right. “Whoever did this,” he said, “was the embodiment of evil.” President Obama used the word everyone was thinking: terrorism. But whether it was an individual’s act of terror or an organized attack remains under investigation.
There were blessings in the midst of tragedy. Some victims were undoubtedly saved because they were close to several of the nation’s finest hospitals. Doctors out of town on vacation flew back on their own. Nurses worked double shifts. Local, state and national law enforcement moved quickly to action. And a country that knew unspeakable terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001, was supportive in its grief.
The pure evil of what happened was magnified by the image of that 8-year-old, Martin Richard, who had been waiting at the finish line for his dad. His face was by Tuesday afternoon known to most Americans and around the world. A sweet, smiling boy’s face in pictures became a symbol.
The country was in shock, but it was not a paralyzing shock. Within minutes, local police, state investigators, the FBI and other agencies of the federal government were in action and issuing the appropriate cautions to citizens.
Investigations are still in progress. First on the minds of most Americans was the question: Was this a terrorist attack intended to be some sort of horrid echo of Sept. 11? Somewhere in Pakistan, the Taliban said no.
The nation has hardly been complacent since the attacks that left thousands dead in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and security at airports and other mass transportation venues has been intensified. Osama bin Laden is dead. But ever present has been the concern if not the fear that somewhere, some day, another attack would come.
Whether Boston was that place, or whether this was the deranged and perverse act of an individual or a small group or something worse will come out. Yes, it will, and of that the assailants, the murderers of Martin Richard and others, may be sure that they will be apprehended and brought to justice.
Before all the answers are known, before the arrests and the trials, the president will lead the nation in mourning, and then to reassurance.
The Boston Marathon is an iconic sporting event, one that every year includes a number of North Carolinians, and indeed some were there Monday. The race is held in the city of patriots and Paul Revere’s ride and the Old North Church and so many symbols of the country’s founding, including the Freedom Trail. But among those historic memories now will be added another, the day of the bombings.
In this midst of this catastrophe, however, the strength of individuals, of a city and of a country came strongly in sight. The medical personnel. The police who reacted quickly and yet calmly. The citizens on the sidewalks who did what they could to help. The officials who calmed citizens with their orderly and steely response.
This is how a strong people and a strong country react. More than 200 years ago, this was a country bound together by a unity of purpose, a determination, a desire for freedom. On a Monday afternoon, in a city that was the scene of much of what created this nation, all of the strong virtues, the compassion, the strength and the faith that was so present those two centuries ago was in full and inspiring evidence.