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Holiday brings echoes of Marathon terror

July 4th festivities bring memories of Marathon blasts

Joanna Leigh: “It sounds like someone’s trying to kill you, and at this point, I have already had that happen. I don’t need more reminders of that.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Joanna Leigh: “It sounds like someone’s trying to kill you, and at this point, I have already had that happen. I don’t need more reminders of that.”

In the weeks after the bombings, she winced at the sounds of ambulances screeching through the city, cars backfiring, doors slamming. When a neighbor began repairing his porch shortly after she witnessed the explosions and carnage on Boylston Street, Joanna Leigh said she experienced a panic attack and hid beneath luggage in the hall closet of her Jamaica Plain apartment.

Now, nearly three months after the attacks, the 39-year-old international development consultant is struggling with the spate of booms and flashes from fireworks that have punctuated recent nights and that will culminate with the much larger, louder simulation of bombs bursting in air tonight.

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“The fireworks are driving me crazy,” said Leigh, who said she called police Wednesday night after the fireworks kept her up. “It brings back all the horror. It’s just very terrifying. It sounds like someone’s trying to kill you, and at this point, I have already had that happen. I don’t need more reminders of that.”

The constant thunderclaps of everything from bottle rockets to M-80s blowing up throughout the area in recent days have rattled many of those who stood near the finish line when the bombs exploded, triggering memories and fears they have sought to banish since the Marathon.

As a result, the city’s public health officials are making more counselors available over the coming days to provide any needed help and police have increased patrols to deter the illegal use of fireworks, which traditionally spikes this time of year.

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“Anyone who witnesses someone in possession of illegal fireworks should call 911 immediately,” said Cheryl Fiandaca, a spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department. “It’s not a nuisance call.”

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Brian Walker: “My first thought after the first blast went off was that it was celebratory canons, like they do on the Fourth.”

For Brian Walker, who was about 20 yards from the first explosion and helped administer a tourniquet to a woman bleeding profusely, it’s the unexpected sounds that have kept him on edge over the past 2½ months.

At the gym, when someone drops a heavy weight on the floor, he flinches as the floor shakes. He remains anxious around large crowds and is startled when someone surprises him by patting him on the back or coming up from behind.

“I have zero desire to be anywhere near fireworks,” said Walker, 50, a software engineer who lives in the Back Bay. “My number one fear is hearing the canons going off. My first thought after the first blast went off was that it was celebratory canons, like they do on the Fourth. I’m making plans to get out of the city.”

Dr. Patti Levin, a clinical psychologist and former supervisor at the Trauma Center in Boston, whose offices are just over the finish line on Boylston Street, is treating a number of people who were close to the bombs.

“Every single one of them is dreading the Fourth of July,” she said.

She doesn’t advise them to watch the fireworks as a way to desensitize themselves to the deep, concussive thuds that are all too similar to the Marathon explosions. “I recommend people do whatever is comfortable for them,” she said.

Another local psychologist who treats trauma victims, Dr. Rebecca Rosenblum, who is providing free care to Marathon victims through the Boston Area Trauma Recovery Network, worries that the nearly ubiquitous fireworks Thursday will be difficult for many to escape.

“It just wakes up everything that people went through on that day,” she said. “There are a lot of people who thought they got over it, but all the loud sounds evoke that experience, evoke everything that wasn’t properly put to rest.”

Alison O’Connor, who was less than a block from the second bomb and suffered temporary hearing damage, has jumped when balloons popped and recently began to scream after hearing special effects at a concert at the TD Garden.

“I was terrified, and I kept my hands on my ears on the last song fearing more special effects,” said O’Connor, 23, an assistant teacher who lives in the Back Bay. “I had to tell myself that I would be OK.”

In her apartment this week, she grew increasingly irritated as she heard one loud boom after another.

“All I could think about was, ‘Why isn’t anyone doing something about it?’ ’’ she said. “Don’t they know the fireworks are making people nervous — that they’re making me nervous? I hate loud noises. They remind me of the bomb.”

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Christine Diarbakerly: “Hearing fireworks brings back the exact emotions of pure terror and fear that I felt.”

The sound of a book dropping or a jackhammer remains enough to make Christine Diarbakerly feel uneasy.

The 25-year-old recent graduate of Suffolk University Law School was at a Marathon party at Abe & Louie’s when the second bomb exploded on the sidewalk outside, a sound she says “will stay with me forever.”

“Hearing fireworks bring back the exact emotions of pure terror and fear that I felt,” she says.

Like many others who can’t bear to listen to the massive volley of mock bombs over Boston Thursday night, Victoria Kutilek decided to leave town.

The 38-year-old research scientist was running the final steps of the Marathon when the first bomb detonated maybe 20 feet away. She still freezes up every time she hears sirens near her home in the Back Bay.

Since moving to Boston three years ago, she has watched the fireworks from the Esplanade every year. This Fourth she decided it would be better to be far away and home with her family in Chicago.

“I’m just tired of reliving that moment,” she said. “I don’t want to be in a big crowd with a lot of explosions going off. That’s not going to be my happy place right now.”

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.
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