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Marathon bombings change memorials for 9/11

Commemorations will pay tribute to bombing victims, honor its first responders

Maureen Gilligan was in the air when she heard the news, her dread spiking as her plane kept circling the city and the reports on her seat-back television became more graphic.

As her flight remained aloft for too long over Logan International Airport and she learned of bombs exploding on Boylston Street, all the memories of that awful day, all her most visceral fears came flooding back.

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Gilligan, whose brother was a firefighter who died in the north tower of the World Trade Center, shuddered as she watched live reports of the Marathon bombings and cried as she recalled all the people trapped in the sky on Sept. 11, how the unknown wrought panic across the country.

“I can’t describe how upsetting it was that more people would have to bear the pain we experienced,” said Gilligan, 66, of Norwood, who worried her plane would not land and feared other attacks were imminent. “It brought everything back. I was petrified. It was total heartbreak that something like this was happening again, that there’s so much evil in this world.”

This shared pain and the dark memories evoked by the Marathon bombings have added a new depth of grief to the commemorations of the Sept. 11 attacks in Boston, as those who lost loved ones 12 years ago remember the victims of both tragedies.

For many of the families and friends of the 206 Massachusetts victims of 9/11, whose memory of that day remains raw, the violence in Boston that left four dead and more than 260 injured underscored how quickly and unexpectedly terror can upend the most peaceful and routine moments.

Wednesday’s commemorations take on a new dimension for those such as Peter Guza of North Andover, who lost his father in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks and was running in this year’s Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Wednesday’s commemorations take on a new dimension for those such as Peter Guza of North Andover, who lost his father in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks and was running in this year’s Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

As a result, this year’s ceremony at the State House will include a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston bombings and include tributes to the first responders. There will be a reading by Bill Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, died and whose 7-year-old daughter, Jane, lost a leg, and an award will be given to Carlos Arredondo, a spectator who helped treat those wounded by the first bomb.

‘It gets easier . . . until something like 4/15, and you’re right back to that day.’

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“There’s not any one of us who wanted to see the circle of victims grow, and here it happened in our backyard,” said Faith Arter, treasurer of the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund. “We want to make the road ahead more peaceful and let them know that their loved ones won’t be forgotten. It’s a very hard cross to bear as time goes by.”

The events of April 15, when two bombs exploded in quick succession near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, revived moments of terror that those touched by the Sept. 11 attacks hoped never to experience again.

It had already been a trying year for Teresa Mathai as she turned 50, a year older than her husband, Joseph, when he died while attending a conference at the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

She learned about the Marathon bombings after having surgery and immediately tried to reach her 19-year-old son, an emergency medical technician who had volunteered to help at the Marathon. He was fine, but the frantic, helpless feelings brought back a surge of pain.

“It was a physical feeling, like being stabbed in the heart,” said Mathai, who lives in Arlington. “I had the physical symptoms that I felt before: the racing heart, panic attacks, the fear and terror. The bombing brought it all back.”

Linda Gay had just left Brigham and Women’s Hospital for a checkup when she heard the sirens and watched ambulance after ambulance scream down Brookline Avenue. She had no idea what was happening until she received a text message from her daughter, asking, “Are you OK?”

She asked her daughter what was going on and learned about the bombings at the finish line.

Linda Gay’s daughter was worried for her mother after the Marathon bombings.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Linda Gay’s daughter was worried for her mother after the Marathon bombings.

When Gay, whose husband, Peter, was on American Airlines Flight 11 when it hit the north tower, realized what had happened, she was livid. She could not believe her daughter had to relive those emotions, the fear her mother might be snared by a terrorist attack like her father.

“My daughter thought she was going to lose her mom, because she already lost her dad,” said Gay, 61, of Tewksbury, who last week received a fifth package of her husband’s remains from the coroner’s office in New York City, which is still identifying thousands of body parts found in the rubble.

After the Boston bombings, she was glued to her television, just as she was after 9/11. “It gets easier to deal with the pain, until something like 4/15, and you’re right back to that day,” Gay said.

Peter Guza’s relatives experienced a similar surge of anguish after the bombings.

Guza, whose father, Phil, was at work in the World Trade Center when it collapsed, was running the Marathon this year and a few miles from finishing when he learned of the bombings. He tried to reach his family, but as on Sept. 11, cellphones stopped working.

They were racked with fear, wondering whether he was hurt and whether they would have to search for him at local hospitals, as they did for his father, whose body was never found.

“My wife was losing it, and my mother was saying, ‘There’s no way, this can’t be happening again,’ ” said Guza, 32, of North Andover, whose father would now be 65 years old. “It was a hard day, to say the least, definitely scary.”

Many relatives of local victims of the Sept. 11 attacks have offered to help those still suffering from the Boston bombings.

For the 11th road race to commemorate the loss of Jeff Coombs, who also died on Flight 11, his widow, Christie , raised nearly $5,000 to help those who suffered severe injuries during the Marathon attacks. She invited several of them to participate and had Arredondo fire the starting gun.

“From day one, I wanted to reach out to the families to tell them that we understand what they’re going through,” said Coombs, 52, a mother of three from Abington.

She understands the fear inspired by both attacks, since she sat in the stands across from the finish line when the bombs detonated.

Neither she nor other relatives said they worry about the Boston bombings overshadowing the Sept. 11 attacks.

“There’s no competition,” she said. “Terrorism is terrorism. Tragedy is tragedy.”

She also experienced the flood of emotions that triggered memories of the nightmare she lived through 12 years ago.

“We were all very shaken up,” she said.

As she meets victims of the attack in Boston, she wants them to know that despite the cliché, time does not heal.

“My husband isn’t here, and my kids still don’t have a father,” she said. “I still wake up alone, and my kids still come home to one parent.”

The key to moving on is learning how to deal with the pain, she said.

“You have to accept that there’s a new normal, and that there’s nothing you can do to change that,” she said.

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