by Joe Shea
April 17, 2013
DEATH AT THE FINISH LINE
BRADENTON, Fla., April 17, 2013 5:39am [Updated 2:17pm ET April 17] -- When a delayed IRA bomb exploded a few feet in front of me as I entered an already-bombed building in Northern Ireland in December 1981, I got a small taste of what people in Boston went through as two bombs exploded on Boylston Street in Copley Square at about 2:50pm ET and left three dead - including a little boy from Boston's tight-knit Dorchester community - and 181 injured, many grievously.
While all the firemen immediately ahead of me were buried under the rubble of an appliance store, I helped dig them out and all were released with minor injuries. I found myself in shock once they were pulled out of the broken stone facade, and I was about to pass out as my vision narrowed to a pinpoint when a nurse took my arm and took me to an ambulance.
Believe me, whether in nightmares or memories, it leaves an indelible impression. I can't tell you how many times I've awakened from dreams at night hearing what sounds like a .45 going off right beside my head.
But that experience pales beside what the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing went through. At least 17 are in critical condition this morning, and at least 10 suffered amputations, mostly of legs struck by ball bearings and other shrapnel that spread out from the blast at ground level. Three people are dead, but the only one that's been named is a little 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, from the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester.
As Martin and his family ran to hug his father as Dad finished the race, he was killed and his little sister lost her leg. His mother, fascing a brain injury, is in the hospital fighting for her devastated life. Krystal Campbell, 29, a restaurant manager from from Medford, Mass., who was living in Arlington, Mass. She was there to cheer on a girl friend's boyfriend when she died in the blast.
"Everybody loved her," Campbell's mother said as she wept at a press conference. "She had a heart of gold."
A third victim's next of kin was not yet contacted, and officials declined to identify the person. He or she is believed to be a graduate student at Boston University of Oriental extraction.
In other tragedies, separately, two brothers and two sisters both lost lower limbs in the blasts, doctors at Brigham & Women's Hospital told CNN.
Many will relate the bombs to the IEDs that have devastated so many of our brave troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with good reason. We haven't found a dead suicide bomber, so the bombs were probably detonated by cell phones. The FBI indicated in a Tuesday afternoon press conference that the shrapnel - carpenter's nails, BBs and ball bearings - were contained in common, kitchen-type pressure cookers with explosives, and stored until detonation in black nylon backpacks or duffel bags. That style of bomb has been used most recently in Iraq, India, Nepal and Pakistan, and was used in the attempted Times Square bombing last year. There were something like 24 such blasts on Monday in Iraq in a deadly religious civil war, and some 52 people died in those blasts.
But some will think our economy caused it. By the time the bombs went off, those "patriots" like Glenn Beck who have urged us to hoard gold saw their precious commodity fall by $140 an ounce, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 265 points. China's growth is slowing, with broad consequences for American corporations.
President Obama has vowed that whoever is responsible for these blasts will feel "the full weight of justice," and while his words didn't have the weight, gravity and anger of President George W. Bush's response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, they got the point across: We will scour the world to find the murdering bastards who did this, and we will see them die for their crimes.
It was a day of joy in Boston. The cradle of the American Revolution was celebrating its unique Patriots Day, commemorating the victories at Lexington and Concord, Mass., in 1776, along with the 3-2 victory of the Red Soz over Tampa Bay at Fenway Park, and the 117th Boston Marathon, where 26,000 runners gave their all to get to the glory, mayhem and death at the finish line.
We can only be grateful that the bombs went off, just 12 seconds and two blocks of Boylston Street apart, two hours after the first runners had finished. The crowds had thinned out to some degree. But the people remaining were the friends, parents, children and supporters of those who struggled to finish a grueling race, first run in 1887, that most Americans would find it impossible to complete.
CNN broke into its regular reporting this morning when John King reported that both a federal and a local law enforcement source told the network a "dark-skinned" suspect has been arrested after two separate videos, one from the Lord & Taylor department store, showed the man placing something beside or in a plastic lined garbage can. Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC prime-time news, broke into regular programming at about 2:30pm ET and said that NBC's sources had no one in custody although they know the face of the suspect. A neighborhood has been cordoned off, Williams said. However. high-ranking law enforcement sources told CNN later that while they had a photo of the suspect, they have no name for the person and he is not in custody. "The situation is very fluid," a CNN reporter said. "There was a misunderstanding" due to "a quickly-unfolding situation." It is clear that a male was seen putting down a black nylon bag and quickly leaving in two different videos provided by the public and a local Boston tv station.
There were any number of potential explanations for what the bombers did. They may have been people like Timothy McVeigh who are afraid our nation is going in some awful, destructive direction; it well could have been an Al-Qaida team that planned it meticulously for months. Reports of a second bomb at a hotel and a third unidentified location could not be verified. Those would likely have led bomb experts to the authors of this crime.
After my experience in Belfast, I went out to a secret British Army base outside Belfast to spend a few hours with the bomb experts who dismantled and studied Irish Republican Army bombs that had not exploded or had been retrieved in thousands of fragments. My story, "The Best Weapon is Flying Glass," in the words of one British bomb technician, was praised by Jimmy Breslin, the great Pultizer-winning columnist for the New York Post, when I met him at Toots Shor's restaurant in 1973 with Lucian K. Truscott IV, a great Village Voice writer and then the boyfriend of John Kerry's sister, Peggy.
Flying glass did its work, too, in Boston, but most of the mayhem was created by big ball bearings that shredded everything around them - particularly human limbs. At least 10 people suffered amputations, CNN reported. As in Boston, many fans ran not away but back to the scene to help the injured. Magnificent work by EMS personnel, police and firemen and doctors and nurses at the well-staffed, huge, 200-bed medical tent set up for triage of the exhausted racers, and the dozens of waiting ambulances, staved off a much greater loss of life.
Seven hospitals went on alert to receive the injured, and several of them - Brigham & Women's and Mass. General - are the best in the world. Dcotors worked well past midnight; some of the patients required multiple surgeries. Dr. Peter Fagan at Brigham Young had already done six by the time CNN intervioewed him at 10pm ET, and was headed back to do a seventh.
The first bomb went off amid the long row of flags that bordered the finish line on one side of Boylston Street. I remember the excitement of Boylston Street with great fondness from the 2004 Democratioc Convention that nominated my hero, Sen. John F. Kerry, and introduced us to Sen. Barack Obama. Boylston was an absolutely great avenue full of rousing music and crowded bars, but on this Tuesday morning it is deserted, cordoned off for blocks in each direction, and patrolled by the National Guard as police forensics teams try to reconstruct and solve the crime.
At 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, they were still searching a condominium five miles away in Revere, Mass., and carried a lot of potential evidence from the scene. Reports say that condo was the home of a Saudi Arabian national, holder of a student visa, who is hospitalized with leg wounds in Boston, and has been questioned but not been named as a suspect; while he is guarded, he is not "in custody." God help the Saudis if he is the bomber, but he may well be guilty of nothing more than getting hurt by a bomb. Sources told CNN that nothing of interest was found in the condo.
I was struck by the possibility that the bomber, perhaps at the last minute, had chosen a particular flag from among the hundreds along the street to place the bomb. If he was a Serbian, for instance, with some lingering grievance from the US role in Kosovo, he might have chosen the Serbian flag. The American flag and British Union Jack were also nearby.
But I spotted a flag in the quick scans of the bomb scene that ran on CNN and elsewhere, It was in front of the shop where the bomb went off, a store called Marathon Place, and had a mostly red field; at one end, and hanging toward the bottom after the blast was a red star in a white circle. Given the red star, it had to be a Communist flag, so I checked the CIA World Handbook online and found just two with the red stars: Cuba and North Korea. Since the Cuban flag has a blue and white field, it was North Korea's.
You can't turn on the news these days without hearing of the deadly threats that have emanated from North Korea in recent days. Yet for the past two weeks there has been an eerie silence on the part of Kim Jung-un, the 29-year-old, largely untested new president who has generated the threats against South Korea, Japan and the United States. The hit movie, "Olympus Has Fallen," which I saw in mid-April, depicts suicidal teams of North Koreans destroying much of the White House, and North Korea has generated its own movies of cities like New York being destroyed by Korean nuclear weapons. It is a powerful movie, shocking in its violence and disregard for human life.
But Boston's Patriots Day, combined with April 15, the day our taxes are due, may also have inspired those American "super-patriots" - who are mostly treasonous nut cases - to bomb the Marathon, but my suspicions have flown to the North Koreans, who on Tuesday celebrated with vast parades the 100th birthday of President Kim Jung-un's grandfather and founder of "modern" North Korea, Kim Il Sung. I was abjectly wrong, as events revealed. It helped that Korean-American friends had the same suspicion I did, but not much.
Kim Jung-un's mysterious two weeks of silence despite his many previous threats uggested to me he was waiting for something he knew would happen - something other than the risky test launch of his long-range Musudan missiles. The proximity of the American and North Korean flag, and the search for a "dark-skinned or black man" with a "foreign accent," only reinforced my false suspicions. But until we had evidence against a pair of Chechnyan brothers, those suspiciouns were purely speculative.
What happened in Boston Monday will change this nation's public celebrations for decades and generations to come. Particularly if this violence is home-grown, we will be subjected to more and more intrusive searches, restrictions on travel and and difficulty in organizing rallies and festivals. More identification will be demanded, and there will be more "stop and frisk" searches. Gun seizures could become a reality, not just a right-wing NRA nightmare.
Worst of all, our cherished right to "peacefully assemble" will likely be impaired. As we guard against the erosion of our civil liberties, we must not do so with such vigor and success that we leave ourselves vulnerable to further acts of violence that take our lives, kill our hopes and destroy our unity.
Turn away from those who hate our government, want to fight or kill our police, undermine our security agencies and detest our leaders; they are as dangerous as anyone we might fear, including the North Koreans.
For little Martin Richard of Dorchester, the identity of the bombers is irrelevant. He had seen his father cross the finish line and was tottering out to hug him when the first bomb took his young life. Eight other children like Martin were also hurt.
May God bless the people of Boston, and the United States of America, and help us find the killers of Martin Richard.
Joe Shea, a former investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for the Village Voice in Norhtern Ireland, India, Vietnam and The Philippines, won the LA Press Club's top prize for online journalism in the Year 2000. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.