Last Saturday was the day after the day that the city stood still, and it was meant to be about victory. The Boston Police Department had set the tone the previous evening, at 8:58 p.m. Friday, when it ended a spectacularly dreadful five days with an oddly poetic tweet. "CAPTURED!!!" went the official word. "The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won...." Horns blew, streets and bars filled; stir-crazy families broke out of their homes. Who could blame them? It felt like a championship.
This is an article from the April 29, 2013 issue
Indeed, the speed with which investigators identified, flushed out and ran to ground the brothers allegedly responsible for the bombing death of three spectators—and the maiming of 180 more—at the 2013 Boston Marathon was truly breathtaking. Police work almost never moves this fast. Each surreal and violent turn in the case came whirling into view before the previous one had even begun to be digested, and the public mood—from shock to defiance to weary resolve—hustled to match the manic pace. YOU COWARDS MESSED WITH THE WRONG CITY, read a sign held up at the Bruins game at TD Garden on April 17, Boston's first major postmarathon public event. Two days later Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was dead and his 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar, was under arrest. Stories detailed their Chechen ethnicity, their seemingly smooth assimilation into American life. No one could say if either was relevant.
After a night of heavy rain, on Saturday Boston's beloved Red Sox played their first game at Fenway Park since the explosions. And the winning continued. Has any city deserved it more? After the Boylston Street bombs on April 15, the savage gun-battle in the streets of Watertown last Thursday night, and Friday's historic, 12-hour shutdown of a major metropolitan area, Sox slugger David Ortiz, returning from injury, played for the first time this season and declared in a sun-splashed speech before the game, "This is our f---ing city. And nobody going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
Profanity and all, Ortiz was voicing a civic attitude that has spread like a contagion. Runners of every grade have vowed to return to next year's Boston Marathon; fields and crowds bigger than ever have already been predicted for 2014. "Absolutely," said Matt O'Brien, a Boston University criminal justice major who ran his first marathon this year and had just walked out of the medical tent when the two bombs exploded near the finish line. "Next year it's going to be even better."
O'Brien, in his blue marathon zip-up, stood in the front row of seats next to the Red Sox dugout before the game. Next to him, with her young son and daughter and husband, was Karen Centola of Watertown. Her home is barely half a mile from where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured in a backyard boat; her family lived firsthand Friday's searchlights and sirens and fear. Next year's Marathon will be the first she attends. She and O'Brien had just happened to meet, and already he knew he'd have at least one supporter at the race. "I'm going to be there cheering for Matt," Centola promised.
City and team came together next: After the salute to victims and heroes, after Neil Diamond led the crowd in singing "Sweet Caroline," Daniel Nava, screaming at the ball as it flew out, ripped a three-run homer in the eighth inning that gave Boston a 4--3 win over the Royals. He pointed to the sky. When the game ended, everybody sang "Dirty Water"—with no line louder than, "Bos-ton, you're my HOME!" The mood in and outside Fenway was near giddy now.
Maybe, it should be anything but.
That's admirable bravado, but it's really unacceptable to go forward with the same kind of attitude," says Ray Mey, a former FBI counterterrorism expert now working as international security consultant for The Soufan Group. "Because these bad guys aren't going away. They're here. There's going to be, potentially, more of them. I'm waiting for the next step—which is going to be suicide bombers."
By most measures the investigation was a soaring success. Still, the Marathon bombing raised disquieting questions about terrorism security, the future of porous events like marathons and lesser road races, and—most pressing of all—the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, set to unfold in February just 260 miles from Chechnya. Most alarming, perhaps: Despite the billions of dollars spent and the man-hours deployed since 2001 to prevent such acts, last week the most puzzlingly slipshod of operations still managed to kill innocents and paralyze one of the nation's most revered cities.
If the results weren't so tragic and the fear so widespread, in fact, the aftermath would almost qualify as farce. The FBI had identified and interviewed Tamerlan as a possible terrorist threat in 2011—his U.S. citizenship application was reportedly held up based on that concern—but by all accounts the Tsarnaev brothers moved without the precision you might expect from trained killers. They seem to have had no escape plan and little money. Their getaway car was actually in a repair shop. In the ensuing days, Dzhokhar reportedly worked out at a gym; went to a party at UMass-Dartmouth, where he was a sophomore; and tweeted. His final message, issued at 10:43 p.m. on April 16, 32 hours after the bombs went off, was "I'm a stress free kind of guy."
Even with Tamerlan seemingly on its radar, the FBI apparently did not zero in on him again until Thursday evening, after the decision was made to release video footage and still photos taken of the two suspects minutes before the bombings. Five hours after the images were released, the men allegedly shot to death an MIT police officer in his car, carjacked a Mercedes and told their kidnapping victim that they were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing. After a harrowing 30-minute ride the man—who said the suspects told him they wouldn't kill him because he was not American—escaped when the brothers stopped at a Cambridge convenience store. He alerted police to the suspects' whereabouts, sparking a six-mile car chase marked by gunfire and homemade explosives tossed out a car window. Fleeing the Watertown scene where his big brother was fatally wounded, Dzhokhar ran over Tamerlan's prone body, squeezed through the police perimeter, abandoned the car and escaped on foot—and went on to elude capture for another 20 hours.
"These guys [were] idiots, but dangerous idiots," says Mey, who has seen all kinds. He created the FBI's special events unit in 1996, warned organizers of the vulnerability of Atlanta's Centennial Park (where Eric Rudolph set off a backpack bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics) and oversaw the bureau's security plan for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He watched the Boston events unfold from Qatar, where he spent a month consulting on the country's 2022 World Cup preparations.
"It would boggle the mind of any law-enforcement individual to try to figure out how these knuckleheads carried this out," he says. "Eric Rudolph was on the lam for seven years; he was a smart guy. These are dopes. Either that, or they just don't give a s--- and their intent was to cause as much damage and chaos as possible and they made a pact that they're going to die for this thing."
But of far greater concern is the inability of federal law enforcement to recognize the threat as it began to play out. Mey studied the released photos and video footage of the Tsarnaev brothers as they moved about on Boylston Street. To a person, runners spoke of an extensive and visible police presence in Boston, particularly at the race's start and along the course, with authorities doing a superb job of crowd control and keeping the competitors safe. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said two sweeps for bombs were conducted in the finish-line area, including one an hour before the attack. However, he said, people were allowed to "come and go and bring items in and out" after the sweep.
Mey can't say whether it's a question of too few federal resources applied in the walk-up to the event or a lack of on-the-ground scrutiny, and he's quick to admit that hindsight is 20/20. But he says, "The only thing I would question, after looking at these stills: Who was watching the crowd? A trained [counterterrorism] law-enforcement individual can pick this kind of person out.
"This is not the responsibility of the [uniformed] police. This is where the Secret Service, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force have particular skills. And I would've thought that they would've been, particularly, in that finish-line area where all these people were gathered."
In the wake of the 1996 Atlanta bombing, a special designation—National Special Security Events (NSSE)—was created to assign the highest security priority to possible terrorist targets such as Super Bowls, political conventions and summits. Authority to designate fell to the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, and the first sports event so labeled was the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans. No American marathon has ever been named an NSSE, and a Massachusetts state official stated to CNN last week that they had not been aware of any credible threats to the marathon beforehand.
But the future of such events is already changing shape. (Sunday's London Marathon was reportedly staffed by 40% more police than usual.) Planning power could now tip from event organizers to security officials. Marathons that end in congested areas surrounded by storefronts and offices may find their traditional courses altered, with new finish lines set up, like the Olympics, in securable stadiums. The milling, encouraging crowds lining the route will face increased scrutiny and hassle, and more popular races could erect temporary, "sanitized" stands for family and friends. Undercover operatives, some armed with pole cameras that stream back to monitors viewed in real time, will move among the crowds. Entry fees will rise. Ticketing may become mandatory.
The New York City Marathon will be run on Nov. 3. Don't be surprised if it's designated an NSSE. Big sporting events are not like movie screenings or school sessions; they are scheduled media draws that all but guarantee the maximum physical and societal hurt when attacked. Potential copycats who watched Boston last week know where and when the next big event is coming.
"Terrorism works," Mey says flatly, no matter how much one insists that it won't change a thing. He grew up in Rhode Island, loves Boston, has been to many a Marathon Monday—he's watched his brother, a cop in their home state, run the race. "It's really something special," he says. "But with the society that we live in, it's never going to be the same."
The most obvious losses, of course, are the deceased—eight-year-old Martin Richard, 29-year-old Krystal Campbell, 23-year-old Lu Lingzi, 26-year-old Sean Collier—and the limbs and bodies maimed forever by metal fragments, ball bearings and nails. Then there are the dented psyches. Mae Shoemaker, 58, a teacher and prominent field hockey coach from Stow, Mass., ran in her 24th straight Boston Marathon this year, finishing the race 141 seconds before the first bomb blew.
She ended up walking five miles out of downtown—along the Charles River, over the Mass Ave Bridge and through Cambridge, where her brother picked her up. She finds it hard to talk about without crying. Her walk took her a block from the Tsarnaevs' apartment on Norfolk Street in Cambridge; she wonders if they walked home that way too. Like so many, she can't get past the randomness. She still hears the explosions. "I haven't slept for a week because I wake up in the middle of the night and I just don't know why [this happened]," she says. "I wish I had an answer. It does haunt me."
It will haunt everyone. Because the marathon, like no other event in the city, is personal. This is hard for outsiders to understand, because so much is made of the Sox and Celts and Bruins and Patriots, not least by the natives. Boston seamlessly unites its rich, poor, black, white and everything-in-between residents under a crazy quilt—equal parts red, white, blue, gold, black, white and green—of loyalty. No precinct, not even New York City, is more obnoxious in its pride. No place knows how to make such a lunatic misplacement of priorities feel so perfectly right.
That kind of fandom can have its downside, but Marathon Monday is different. For 117 years it was the day the city had used to fall back in love with itself. Starting in Hopkinton, winding through those place names that burrow under the skin of every carpetbagging student who comes and goes—Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, Kenmore, Back Bay, Boylston—the race stitched together the region's granular, ultraprovincial communities into a pulsing and positive whole, e pluribus unum in the flesh. Everyone knows someone in or at the race.
"It's a celebration," says Toni Biggerstaff, 43, of Keller, Texas. She has run 13 marathons; this year was her second Boston. No other race can compare. "I found this as I was running: I'm tired, I'm shuffling, I'm tired ... then I would run over to the right and stick my hand out and people would just scream, 'Yahhhhh!' and they'd stick their hand out to you—and you'd run faster," she said. "They're cheering for you. If you have your name on the front of your shirt? Your name is going to be called over and over and over. 'Come on, Toni! You can do it!' "
Schools are closed because it's Patriots' Day, the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the Sox play Fenway at the ridiculous hour of 11 a.m. so that everyone can wander down through Kenmore Square in time to see some finishers cross the line. "It's our best day," said Richard Johnson, the curator of The Sports Museum in Boston. "A rite of spring. The daffodils and crocuses are up and people emerge from the cocoons of their homes and we're putting the screens on the doors. It's a sacred day for Boston, and there's no other day in any other city in the country quite like it."
Part of that died last week, though few want to admit it. On Wednesday night, with the bombers still at large, 17,565 people streamed in on the T and the turnpike to see the Bruins play the first game since, packing the Garden for its 149th straight sellout. Earlier that day longtime anthem singer Rene Rancourt, at home practicing in Natick, found his eyes tearing, voice breaking, whenever he tried to hit "... and the rockets' red glare." Such a thing had never happened in his 37-year career. "It was too much," he says. When team officials suggested he let the crowd sing this night, Rancourt couldn't have been more relieved.
Just past 7:36 p.m., he stepped onto the ice. Rancourt sang the first 2½ lines, lowered his microphone and gestured for the fans to take over. No one missed a beat. The song grew louder and more defiant, a human thunder, with each word. "I really needed that help," Rancourt says. "I was shocked they responded so quickly. It was almost as if I had fallen and somebody reached down to help me stand up again."
By Saturday, the day after the killing and capture in Watertown, the mood had cooled some. Ortiz had his say at Fenway Park, the victims and heroes were saluted, but the crowd-sung anthem sounded more weary, more relieved, than anything else. "Everybody was hurtin'," Ortiz said after. "It was a very emotional day here. It's painful. Today, I can see people just opening their chests and letting it go. We all know that it's going to take some time to heal up, but it's step-by-step. I think this is one of the steps."
Another one on Saturday was to go back. In pairs or small crowds, some fans shuffled out of Fenway and kept going past the bars on Lansdowne Street, past the ONE MILE TO GO sign stenciled in yellow on Commonwealth Avenue, past the tony restaurants on Newbury. It couldn't be like it was, like it has always been, with the seamless transition from one warm crowd to another. The finish line was still a crime scene, still off-limits.
But some came, anyway, to the police barriers at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley. To see the three crosses with the runners' medals draped on them, the thousands of flowers, the scrawled messages, and balloons and the flag warning, DON'T TREAD ON ME. To hear the Russian reporter speak to her camera. To brush up against the hundreds of others who came to see the memorial and the still-empty street beyond.
"I always thought, They'll get Boston someday, but you just never think in your life you're going to witness a terrorist attack," said Karen Stokes, a 50-year-old insurance manager from Medford, Mass., who was sitting in the bleachers across the street from the finish line and saw the glass break and bodies fall when the first bomb exploded. "I still don't quite believe it."
Now, for the second time in a week, she had felt compelled to make the walk from Fenway to Boylston, this time stopping at four or five smaller memorials along the way. Stokes had been alone during much of Friday's lockdown. She needed to see people again. "I wanted to pay my respects," she said, scanning the crowd, edging away, her voice nearly cracking. "Just be with everyone, I think, because we're all feeling the same way."
Get up-to-the-minute reports on the continuing investigation into the Marathon bombings and watch a video slide show of scenes from Boston's harrowing week, at SI.com/mag