Katy Burns: A perfect April day, and then . . .
There are so many people without legs. – Boston Marathon runner Roupien Bastajian, a Rhode Island state trooper who helped aid victims of Monday’s savage bombing on Boylston Street.
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. – Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital.
[T]his time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the one hundred and eighteenth Boston marathon. Bet on it! – President Obama, at an interfaith service Thursday at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
Suspect One is wearing a black hat. Suspect Two is wearing a white hat. – FBI agent Richard DesLauriers, showing videos of suspected bombers who should be considered “armed and dangerous.”
Shelter in place. . . . All of Boston, all of Boston is . . . on lockdown. – Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Friday morning, as a massive and heavily armed police and security force searched for a young man they believed was one of those who built and deployed the bombs that devastated the lives of so many ordinary people.
They were some of the voices of a truly terrible week in Boston and in our nation, a week that began on a lovely Monday with sunny skies and a small army of hopeful runners beginning a marathon race to downtown Boston and ended with broken bodies and blood-drenched sidewalks on Boylston Street and the complete lockdown of a city dubbed the Cradle of Liberty.
We’ve been here before, contemplating malevolent mass violence in a quintessentially American place. And so has our president, momentarily our Mourner-and-Consoler-in-Chief, following the same heartbreaking ritual too often in recent years. Fort Hood. Tucson. Aurora. Newtown. And now Boston, a city so familiar to so many of us in New England.
As I write this, we don’t know the final outcome of the dramatic finale in the streets of greater Boston. And much has yet to be learned about the whys of this latest assault on innocent people, but it played out in an all too familiar way.
It began with an act of unspeakable savagery and horror, in this case deliberate bombings designed to kill or maim large numbers of people, fans and participants in the world-famous marathon. They were gathered at the end of the route in historic Back Bay, the colorful flags of dozens of nations fluttering above. The scene was overwhelmingly festive.
Then there was an explosion. A second. And there were cameras everywhere. The carnage was immediately and graphically shown to the world.
So too was the reaction of first responders and other authorities. Thanks to the positioning of medical equipment and personnel – stationed there to attend to the needs of the marathon runners – and thanks to the first-rate hospitals minutes only minutes away, probably dozens were saved who might otherwise have died.
There was bravery and great kindness in abundance too, as total strangers dropped everything to help those immediately in trouble and, later, to give comfort and shelter to the hundreds of race participants stranded when the disaster hit.
Ubiquitous as well, of course, were scores of reporters and photographers, there to cover the iconic Patriots’ Day race. As their stories and pictures went out, there were heated debates about how, if at all, to show the full horror of what had happened to people.
Most news organizations responded with both speed and prudence, emphasizing over and over what they did not know as well as what they did. There seemed to be a serious attempt to avoid rumor mongering and gross speculation (even if a little speculation was irresistible, usually just after the anchor or reporter would say “we really shouldn’t speculate . . .”).
I said most news organizations tried to be prudent. Not all. Midweek, especially, was a banner time for irresponsibility, as both CNN and Fox News each breathlessly announced “exclusives”: That a suspect had been arrested and was on his way to federal court. The news – wholly false – exploded through the Twitter universe.
In this new normal, Twitter and Reddit were the hot flavor, spreading every rumor near instantaneously. It got especially dicey when thousands of self-styled sleuths started poring over tape and photos of the scene and fingering “suspects.”
That led to a stupendously stupid decision by the tabloid New York Post to plaster a photo on its front page of two young unnamed men with backpacks taken at the Marathon. “BAG MEN” screamed the huge headline, “Feds seek these two pictured.” One of the two, a frightened 17-year-old high school track runner saw the picture – it had of course spread rapidly in cyberspace – and went to his local police station to plead that he was not, in fact, a bomber.
Needless to say, the two pictured were not the two named later in the day by the FBI.
The shameful stunt by the Post – which never acknowledged its error or apologized – did not bode well for the future in a world of instantaneous and utterly unchecked “journalism.”
Now, at least, however the manhunt in Massachusetts turns out, for much of the world the Boston Marathon tragedy will effectively be over, and we’ll turn our attention to other things until the next horror unexpectedly explodes in our collective faces and the whole sorry spectacle plays itself out yet again.
It isn’t over for all, though. Most tragically, for the people and families so grievously damaged by those cruelest of bombs, a new – and impossibly difficult to imagine – future is only beginning.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)