Block by block, resident by resident, Boylston Street on Tuesday slowly began to reclaim the life that had been scattered by the Boston Marathon explosions, which turned the bustling thoroughfare into a deserted crime scene.
For the first time since the two blasts on April 15, city officials allowed residents to return to their homes in a staggered, carefully choreographed progression. What they found was a raw, rainy tableau of time frozen.
Half-eaten pizzas, outdoor tables still set with silverware, beer bottles clustered on tables, Marathon balloons and banners. Bicycles locked to posts on the sidewalk. Many trappings of Boston’s signature spring holiday remained exactly where they were when the explosions ripped through the crowd.
“Pompeii comes to mind,” said Richard O’Brien, an official with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, who helped escort residents to their homes.
The return was a wrenching one for residents, many of whom fled the chaos after the bombings with only the clothes they were wearing. City officials said they expected to reopen Boylston Street to the public by Wednesday morning.
Tracey Fulgan broke down in tears as she entered her studio apartment on Boylston Street. She hiked up several flights of stairs carrying the possessions that got her through the week — a backpack, a laptop, a shopping bag, and a black duffel bag.
The first resident allowed back, Stephanie Prashad, let out a deep sigh as she walked into her apartment above the Pour House, a bar across from the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. “You don’t know how much I missed my toothbrush,” said Prashad, 22, a Northeastern University student.
About 70 people returned on Tuesday, city officials said, in an area from which hundreds of residents had been displaced. Residents who returned were allowed to enter and leave the area with identification.
As the first signs of renewal emerged on Boylston Street, a ritual of mourning and remembrance also took place. As darkness fell, a few dozen family members of the victims gathered for brief, quiet reflection at the two bombing sites, where three people were killed and more than 260 wounded.
Transported in small buses, the relatives visited the scene of the first bombing, near the finish line, and then proceeded under a cold drizzle to an open tent at the second site. Huddled close together to avoid the rain, they faced the site for 10 minutes before slowly departing.
The public was not allowed into the area, along Boylston Street from Hereford to Berkeley streets, as residents began returning at 10 a.m.
Lindsay Donnellan and her fiance, Chris Mahoney, both 29, returned to a home between Gloucester and Fairfield streets.
“It’s a relief,” Mahoney said of being home again. City workers inspected the premises for structural problems and pests.
The pair had been watching the Marathon outside their home and fled with nothing when they saw the second bomb explode. “Terrifying,” Donnellan said.
Since then, they had stayed with friends in Brookline and Allston, Mahoney said. As the front door to their apartment building opened, the smell of stale trash filled the air. On the steps lay a Boston Marathon bell on a lanyard.
As residents waited to return, they sat in tight knots in the ballroom at the Hynes Convention Center, waiting to be led down the street to their homes. Many spoke in hushed voices about windows blown out and the cleanup left to do. None had suitcases.
During Tuesday, the makeshift memorial that had been at the intersection of Boylston and Berkeley streets was moved to Copley Square, partly by burly public works employees who carried bouquets one at a time.
For some returning residents, the events of the last week had not yet sunk in.
“I think it will hit when we’re back home,” said Rebeca Oliva, 30, who lives on Boylston Street with her sister and roommate. Oliva’s apartment lies between the two blast sites.
“We live where it’s a memorial site,” she said. “I was asked, the day after it happened, would I consider moving? I can’t. It’s my home.”
At the Hynes, city official Richard DeRosa sat at a table offering counseling. One potential aftershock for residents already traumatized by the explosions is the possibility of deceased pets, said DeRosa, director of behavioral health for the city’s healthy baby program.
Sharon Maes, who lives near the site of the second explosion, was wearing the same bright green pants and orange sweater on Tuesday with which she fled her apartment. The only difference, she said, was that she had cleaned off the blood.
Maes, 38, was standing outside her apartment, near the Forum restaurant, when the first explosion hit. A police officer screamed at her, “Lie down, lie down!” and she ran into the doorway of her apartment.
Maes said she was lying there when the second bomb went off just a few feet away.
“There’s not a scratch wrong with me,” she said in amazement as she sat in a Hynes ballroom. She had glass in her hair after the explosions, she said, but that was all.
“There was a lot of blood,” Maes said. One girl was bleeding heavily from her face. A man with glass in his neck repeated over and over, “I’m so hot, I’m so hot.”
When the police showed up to evacuate them, Maes said, she was too frightened to go out the front door. Instead, she and her husband left through the fire escape. “We don’t even know if we locked the door,” Maes said. She left without her wedding ring; her husband left without his wallet.
Coming back would be emotional, Maes said. “I don’t know. I’m happy, but I’m sad,” she said. “I’m very confused about how it will feel.”
She trailed off for a moment, and then said, “It was such a nice day.”