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Jeff Bauman shares Boston Marathon story, encounter with suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Last modified: 6/17/2013 10:35:52 AM
When Jeff Bauman looked Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the face, he knew something wasn’t quite right. Tsarnaev, then an anonymous man in a cap, sunglasses and backpack, seemed out of place. He was alone, and he wasn’t looking down the road to see the Boston Marathon runners pass by like the rest of the crowd.

“I thought (to) myself, ‘This guy’s kind of weird,’ ” Jeff Bauman, 27, said in an interview with the Monitor yesterday from his room at a Boston rehab facility. “He kind of stared at me, and I stared at him, and then I was just like, he sketched me out, I was like, ‘He just doesn’t look like he’s in place.”

When a pop went off minutes later and Bauman was suddenly on the ground, he knew his suspicions were right.

“I had in my head, you know, ‘I’m like 100 percent sure that was the guy,’ ” he said.

Bauman, of Chelmsford, Mass., became a face of the horror that ripped apart the Boston Marathon when he was captured in a photo with his leg in shreds. When news broke days later that he helped the FBI identify the bombing suspect, the spotlight on him grew even larger. Both of his legs were amputated above the knees, and he’s now recovering at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston in a room decorated with cards and a white piece of paper with “Bauman Strong” scrawled in marker taped to the window. He’ll be fitted for prosthetic legs in a few weeks.

His girlfriend and family, including his dad and stepmom, Jeff and Csilla Bauman of Concord, provide a revolving bedside support team. He has also met several celebrities, professional athletes and Marines, and he was honored at a ceremony before the Boston Bruins game Saturday night. Three weeks after the bombing, a confident, strong Bauman is looking ahead toward a future on two feet.

But those few minutes that changed his life remain etched in his memory, just as fresh as they were on April 15.

“I remember everything,” he said.

Bauman was at the marathon to watch his girlfriend, along with her two roommates. One of them, Michele Mahoney, was also badly injured and is now recovering in the next room over from Bauman at Spaulding. Just before Bauman saw Tsarnaev, he was looking for Mahoney so they could move farther down, just in case they’d missed his girlfriend crossing the finish line. The weird feeling Tsarnaev gave him made his desire to move more urgent.

As he was looking for Mahoney, he saw a black backpack alone on the ground – the same one he’d seen on the suspicious man.

Then, that pop.

Bauman lay on the ground, first thinking someone had lit a firework in the street. He propped himself up and saw people screaming and running amid rubble. At first, he couldn’t feel the pain. He remembers lying back, trying to move and touch his legs. He yelled out. He looked for Mahoney, who had been taken away. He felt around grasping for his cell phone. He felt like he’d been lying there forever.

“I was just laying there and I was just like, ‘Oh I’m gonna die,’ so I was looking for my cell phone to call people, and I couldn’t find it,” he said.

That’s when Carlos Arredondo, the cowboy-hat hero made famous from the now-iconic photograph of the two men together, came to his side. “He’s gotta go!” Arredondo was yelling, and before Bauman knew it Arredondo hoisted him up by his T-shirt, threw him in a wheelchair and took off – over the finish line, through the medical tent and right into the ambulance.

Once inside, Bauman told the man attending to him that he knew who had set off the bomb. Although he was somewhat delirious and in shock, Bauman remembered what he’d seen. When he was unloaded from the ambulance, he told an officer the same thing. But he was rushed into the emergency room and into surgery so quickly that he didn’t have time to share the details.

When Bauman woke up, FBI agents were outside his door, ready to hear what he had to say. He started talking, and a sketch artist started drawing. He told them every detail, from what the suspicious man was wearing to where he saw the bag.

There was never any doubt in Bauman’s mind that the man he’d stared at was the one responsible for the deadly attacks that killed three and wounded himself and hundreds of others. There was never any doubt that the man he described to the FBI was the one who’d ripped away the innocence of one of the city’s greatest days.

So when he turned on the television a few days later, newscasters confirmed what he already knew.

“His face is on the news.”

Tomorrow: Bauman and his father speak about the road to recovery

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)


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