She holds his hand in the photo, a step ahead, in a dazzling ruby-red dress. He leans back, easy in an untucked dress shirt, as they walk in front of a vibrant plaza in Harvard Square. The clarity and staging suggest a professional engagement shot, but the look on their faces is genuine.
Maybe it is the photo, or the equally vivid character sketches beneath it of Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky Downes, newlyweds critically injured as they watched the Boston Marathon at the finish line Monday. Jess, an MGH nurse from the West Coast, spirited and confident; Pat, a Boston College graduate and Cambridge boy, gentle, generous, and goofy; the two together, selfless and warm, cherished by their friends.
Something about them — not just their plight, but their seemingly boundless joy and photogenic charm — leapt from thousands of screens and propelled people to donate and to write. Friends, friends of friends, BC alumni, complete strangers. Within a few hours, a fund-raising page established to defray the couple’s out-of-pocket expenses had raised $23,000. By Thursday morning, it hit $150,000; by Thursday night, $300,000.
Unstated on that site, known only by some who circulated the link on social media, was that Patrick and Jessica had each lost their left leg below the knee, rushed to and operated on in different hospitals across town after Monday’s devastating bombings.
“Patrick and Jess, We are newlyweds and your picture reminds us of, well, us,” a Washington couple wrote, sending $75. “We wish you the speediest of recoveries.”
“From one Double Eagle to another,” an anonymous donor wrote, noting Patrick Downes’s status as a BC High (2001) and Boston College (2005) graduate.
Some were deeply personal: “Jess, you have been such an amazing nurse & person to our Dad,” the family of one Massachusetts General Hospital oncology patient wrote. “You have been absolutely instrumental to his recovery, so we want to help in your recovery. We know you both have so many more great things to accomplish in the future.”
Thursday afternoon, another form of testimonials poured forth, arriving as self-shot video postcards to the two of them, uploaded to a Facebook page called “Patrick and Jess Running Again.” They are funny and poignant, loving and uplifting.
“I swore I would never take selfies, but I think for you guys I can make an exception,” a friend named Katie says, smiling as she leans in toward her computer’s camera. “Each day you’re going to see progress and just need to be sure to keep your heads up and spirits really high.”
In another, a friend in a Boston College T-shirt illustrates her video with hand gestures and dance moves. “I just want to say that we miss you and love you guys, and I want to provide you with a list of all the things that you have. First your moneymakers, your bootyshakers . . . [your] babymakers,” she says. “And you have the use of your arms and hands to continue making those delicious meals of yours, and to hold each other. You have the love and support of your amazing families and in-laws and loyal friends, and you have each other.”
“Sounds like you have everything you need to me.”
Even before Monday’s attack, the Internet bore witness to their character. The floral designer who helped with their wedding at Waltham’s Gore estate last summer -- a casual-elegant affair, catered by food trucks -- was so moved by their warmth and humor that she wrote a testimonial to them, instead of the other way around. “A breath of fresh air,” she described them.
The video tributes round out the portraits. In a couple of them, friends poke loving fun at reports that Patrick, a member of the BC campus ministry, was nicknamed Jesus for his compassion. “While I spent a summer working with Patrick as an orientation leader I did see him walk on Busch Light once, but never on water,” a friend named Chris jokes.
Relatives said through an intermediary that they did not wish to be interviewed, while the friends who created the fundraising and video-tribute pages deflected attention back to the couple’s recovery, declining to comment.
But the flood of goodwill was so great that the Kensky-Downes families issued a joint statement: “Your support in just 24 hours is overwhelming, there are no words to describe what your outpouring of kindness and generosity means to our family as Patrick and Jess start their long road to recovery,” they wrote, saying the donation total was so great it could exceed their medical needs; if that happens, “we have no doubt that they will be conscious of the other people affected by all of this.”
Though the attacks “shook our faith in humanity,” all this support, they added, “restores it.”Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.