There are some memories that are indelible; others have vanished — for the good and for the bad.
She remembers eating cookie dough ice cream with her parents and brothers before they walked to Boylston Street. She remembers the clowns who came to cheer her up at the hospital, including one who learned to sing her favorite songs by Taylor Swift. After coming home, she remembers how strangers would roll down their windows as they passed her playing in her Dorchester yard, telling her, “I’m praying for you.”
She also remembers the explosion, and immediately afterward, how she was searching for her dad before blacking out. She also remembers waking up in an ambulance, discovering that much of her left leg, below the knee, was gone. And she also remembers the surgeries — 14 of them in 39 days, not including many other procedures she had to clean her wounds.
“I think about what happened every time I put my leg on,” said Jane Richard, who was 7 years old a decade ago when one of two homemade bombs left near the Boston Marathon finish line changed her life irreparably.
That bomb, a pressure cooker filled with shrapnel hidden inside a backpack, detonated a few feet from where she and her family were cheering for runners in front of the old Forum restaurant, riddling her with shrapnel and singeing her hair. It killed her 8-year-old brother, Martin, the youngest of the three people who died that day.
Jane, speaking publicly for the first time about her experience, was one of more than 260 people injured during the attack, 17 of whom lost limbs. Her mother, Denise, lost sight in her right eye; her father, Bill, lost some of his hearing and still suffers from tinnitus, a ringing in his ears; and her brother, Henry, who was 11, escaped the shrapnel but has had to live with what he witnessed.
No family lost or suffered more that day.
Some of what Jane experienced on Boylston Street, as well as the physical and emotional trials that came afterward, are seared into her. But many memories have faded.
She no longer remembers what it was like to walk without a prosthesis. She no longer remembers much after the initial moments of the attack, or all the media attention that came with it, or what it was like before she was recognized throughout the city as something of a local celebrity.
And she no longer remembers Martin.
“It makes me sad to say I can’t really remember him,” said Jane, now a precocious 17-year-old high school junior, who a few months ago had the word “peace,” in Martin’s handwriting, tattooed onto her left wrist; she took it from an iconic poster he made that read, “No More Hurting People . . . Peace.” “But I’m almost grateful, because if I had more memories, it might be more painful.”
Some of those forgotten parts of her life live with her through stories she has heard repeated by her family, especially Denise, who still talks about Martin nearly every day.
Stories like how he would say strangely profound things for an 8-year-old, such as “stick with me,” when one day Jane was struggling with her math homework. Or how another day, while the Richards were visiting the New Hampshire amusement park Storyland, Martin put a crown on his head, posed in a mirror, and said, “I look good as king.”
There are other stories she knows from her parents, like how she was in a drug-induced coma for two weeks in the intensive care unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Henry would read her favorite “Elephant & Piggie” books, with a pretend Southern accent. Or when she received a teddy bear from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and cracked up her nurses by saying, “Who’s Anderson Cooper? I don’t know anyone named Anderson Cooper.”
These days, though, she’s often too busy to dwell on the past. And she’s ready to move on, ready to no longer be identified as a symbol of Boston Strong, of resilience, of the inspirational girl who carried on with so much courage, despite losing a leg and a brother during the Marathon bombings.
“Obviously this is always going to be a part of who I am,” she said. “I’m still going to be grieving, because you don’t stop grieving something like this. But I’m ready to start my own story.”
She’s already begun to do that — as a talented singer who has grown up to be a kind of diva, and a budding actress who has held lead roles in her high school plays. Over the years, Jane has had the rare honor of singing the national anthem twice at Fenway Park, and then the also-rare distinction of turning down the Red Sox (her parents’ decision) when they asked if she would sing the anthem at Opening Day this season.
At a private school in Braintree, where she also manages the boys’ baseball team, keeping the players in line and hydrated, she plans next month to run for student-government president.
And after years of getting to know mayors, governors, and even presidents who consoled her family, Jane hasn’t ruled out the possibility of one day running for public office.
With a healthy sense of humor, she said: “Jane Richard, 2024 — for president. Or queen of the world.”
“Leaders must lead,” her dad joked when he heard that.
As a first step, she’s thinking about college, following in her brother’s footsteps.
Now 21, Henry lives in Lower Manhattan, where he’s a sophomore majoring in business management at Pace University. He’s also training for Monday’s Boston Marathon, after running it last year for the first time.
He’ll be running with the family’s Team MR8, which has raised several million dollars over the past decade for the Martin Richard Foundation. The family’s foundation has sought to honor Martin’s legacy by doling out most of that money in grants to programs that promote diversity and community engagement.
This year will be the last Marathon in which the Richards plan to field a team, though they had planned to stop in 2020, before the Marathon was canceled that year as a result of the pandemic. In addition to Henry, three of Martin’s third-grade classmates will be running for the team. So will his dad.
“It’s definitely an emotional year,” Henry said in a phone interview from New York.
It took years for him to be able to talk about what happened to his family. Unlike Jane, his memories remain clear.
“It was hard to see my family go through so much,” he said. “Me being so healthy, it felt like I had to be there for them as much as possible.”
He never felt any guilt that he was the only one to escape physical harm, but he long felt confused by that inexplicable turn of fate. “I was just kind of in shock about how everything happened,” he said.
For Bill and Denise, who were known as pillars of their neighborhood for years before the bombing, the past decade has been an unending journey of trying to extract something good from the horror, something meaningful that could benefit their community.
Two years after the bombings, they supported an effort by Bridgewater State University, where the couple met and graduated in 1993, to create the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice, as a way of carrying on their son’s message of peace. The Richards’ foundation pays for an annual scholarship to the university that requires students to do service projects for the institute.
Afterward, they helped build a $15 million park beside the Children’s Museum in the Seaport, called Martin’s Park, an urban oasis that has been a magnet to families from across the city. It was also specially designed to be accessible to children with disabilities like Jane’s.
Among other projects, they’re now working on building a $65 million, 75,000-square-foot fieldhouse in the Columbia Point section of Dorchester, which will include playing fields and courts, fitness rooms, a theater, a teaching kitchen, and a range of enrichment activities and counseling services for kids. They have raised more than a quarter of the project’s estimated cost, and they hope to break ground this fall.
Their work is also a way of giving back to all those who helped carry them through the past decade.
“We’ll never be able to repay others for all the love and support we received,” Bill said. “So we try to give back in ways that we know how to, which is helping other people.”
Their work keeps them busy, and Martin close, but they’re still living with the pain and the loss.
“We are still grieving,” Denise said.
Bill added: “There are good days and bad days still.”
Just last week, Jane had another infection on the remains of her left leg, where she’s likely to need yet another surgery to repair the skin and make it easier to walk with her prosthesis.
There were times over the years when she was so frustrated that she threw her leg across her room. But she’s learned to live with her disability, learned that she doesn’t have to climb mountains or prove anything to anyone.
She can be whoever she wants, and at the moment, in spite of everything her parents did to protect her from the media over the years, she aspires to be a journalist.
And as much as Jane is ready to move on, ready to create a new identity, she still loves the Marathon and remains excited to be out there cheering for her team, for Martin’s classmates, for her brother, for her dad, and for the thousands of other runners who will make the long slog to Boylston Street.
“If I let what happened to me 10 years ago take the fun out of something that I once loved, I would be letting my younger self down,” she said. “I love seeing everyone out there, and it brings me joy, which is probably the complete opposite of what everyone would expect.”