He didn’t know who gave him the boy, how badly he was hurt, or even his name.
All Boston Police Officer Tom Barrett knew was that the screaming child placed in his arms was bleeding from his head and needed help fast.
Amid the smoke and cries for help after the twin blasts near the Boston Marathon finish line Monday afternoon, Barrett raced down Boylston Street toward the place where he knew doctors and medics would be waiting.
“I started running to the medical tent, carrying him like a football,” Barrett said.
Barrett’s gripping effort amid the chaos of death and injuries on Boylston Street was captured by photographer Bill Hoenk and is on the cover of Time Magazine for its special report on the Marathon bombings.
The events leading up to that moment seemed surreal to Barrett, 41, as he stood at Boston Police Headquarters Thursday afternoon and tried to describe what was going through his mind during that critical time.
“I didn’t remember anything until someone sent me a photograph,” said Barrett, an eight-year veteran of the Boston police force.
That someone was his wife. She had had trouble reaching him by cellphone as news of the bombings sent the city — and the nation even — into a panic.
When she finally got through to her husband, she asked how he was.
“I’m OK,” he responded.
“What does OK mean?” she asked.
Someone had seen the photograph and sent it to her, said Barrett.
“The picture really helped my family,” he said.
Barrett would not give details about the boy or say whether he had found out who the child is.
When the first bomb exploded, Barrett was stationed in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Then the second explosion came.
He raced toward the smoke and saw a man with one leg blown off, whose shirt was on fire. He used his gloved hand to put out the fire and asked a woman who had come to help for her belt, which he then fashioned into a tourniquet for the man’s leg.
As he moved toward another wounded person, someone reached over and handed him the boy.
“I took him just the way he was handed to me. He was facing the opposite way,” said Barrett, recalling the episode hours after working Thursday’s interfaith ceremony in the South End, which was attended by President Obama.
“I didn’t think to ask anything,” said Barrett. “I wanted to get to what I thought was the medical tent was as soon as possible.”
At Exeter Street, he saw an ambulance and flagged it down, he said. He gave the child to an EMT, who placed the boy in an ambulance. He and the EMT then ran back down Boylston Street to assist other victims.
As he looks back, Barrett said he thinks of all the people who rushed to help someone on Monday.
“It wasn’t just me,” said Barrett, who works out of South End. “I have a station full of heroes. I have a department full of heroes. I have a city full of heroes. They didn’t think.”
They just acted.