A tragedy at the scale of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is a shared experience, binding us in grief and loss. It’s also a collection of small, intensely private moments: a runner wrapping his T-shirt around a stranger’s wounded leg to save his life. A pair of friends holding onto one another as they flee the finish line, or embracing after being separated in the chaos.
Ten years ago this week, photographers captured scenes of sorrow, fear, courage, and resilience in the aftermath of the deadly explosions. We asked several people shown in those images to reflect on those moments and how they indelibly changed their lives.
Their stories have been edited for length and clarity.
“There’s moments it gets to you”
Robert Wheeler, 2013 runner, 33
I had just finished my first Marathon, and I was exhausted. I could barely walk, couldn’t feel my joints. After the first bomb went off, adrenaline washed that out pretty quick. I heard Krystara [Brassard], Ron’s daughter, calling for help and went to them. I wasn’t going in there planning on pinching an artery, I’ll tell you that.
I took my shirt off and wrapped it around his wound to try to keep it tight. I remember my muscles just cramping so badly and yelling at myself: “Don’t you let go.” I saw him a few years ago, but we haven’t stayed in touch.
I’m not good at asking for help, and that’s something I’m working on, so at the time I chose not to get any medical treatment for my own injuries. I had been twisting and turning on the ground where the windows were blasted out, and I was still picking glass out of my leg with a tweezer weeks later, and found out later I had a traumatic brain injury. About a year ago I got a full body wax — long story — and I saw myself in the mirror and started crying. I didn’t realize I still had scars on my legs.
The Marathon did not make life easier. My way to cope was to tell my story in public, but that public image came with its costs. A lot of conspiracy theorists thought it was a hoax, and I started getting a lot of threats at work and school. Someone smashed my car and put a threat in it. I had to delete my Facebook.
People recognize me sometimes, and I end up talking about it in some stupid random place when I don’t want to be thinking about it. There’s moments it gets to you. It really does.
I still run the Marathon. It’s confusing, running toward something that messed up your life in so many ways. For me, it’s immersion therapy.
I also try to give myself purpose. In December I went to Ukraine to help a family whose father died in the war, and got a Christmas tree and some toys and spent a week playing Jenga and UNO in the dark with the kids. I’m going back next month. That has meaning to me.
“It’s changed forever”
Susan Mele, 65, and Lauren Lucas, 60, Marathon security volunteers
Susan — Our friend Joanne was running the Marathon that day, and Lauren and I were waiting for her to finish so we could head out to celebrate. Volunteering for the security team used to be a lot of fun. We saw people getting engaged at the finish line, the looks on people’s faces when they accomplished it. We helped kids get onto Boylston Street to run with their parents. It was really special to be that close.
Lauren — We’ve been there days where it was pouring rain, cold and miserable weather, and this day was beautiful. I loved it. It was a great experience until that day.
Susan — Now we feel that it’s changed forever. I have no desire to go back there to watch it or volunteer. There are people on the security team who go back every year and do wonderful things, and I give them so much credit that they can do that. To be honest, in10 years I’ve only gone back to the finish line once, just to show my husband where it happened. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Lauren — People that weren’t right there, I don’t think they fully understand it. The screaming and the sound all around, you can’t feel that unless you’re witnessing it. Both of us couldn’t watch the news after all of that. It consumed the TVs, the papers, the magazines, everything. It was too horrific. Still to this day, I’m still wary of loud, unexpected sounds. I’m a teacher, and when we have a fire drill, I jump.
Susan — Lauren and I walked a lot together afterwards. We just kind of checked in on each other. I think we were each other’s therapy. It’s a connection for life. We text each other every Marathon and just count our blessings.
“We just kind of ran for each other in tears.”
Mary Imboden, 2013 runner, 33, and Heidi Dotson-Sousa, spectator, 33
Mary — I had only known Heidi for less than a year. We were in grad school together and were really good friends. We did everything together. I was running the Marathon that year, and she came to watch.
Heidi — We were there to cheer her on at Heartbreak Hill and then planned to meet her at the finish line, but then all hell broke loose and we couldn’t find her. Cell service went down, so we lost contact.
Mary — After the race my family and I were evacuated to Kenmore Square. That’s when we started hearing things that were happening. We couldn’t reach anyone, and we didn’t know how we were getting out. We were just trying to figure out how to find Heidi and her mom, but it took us a while after getting lost in the panic and the road closures.
Heidi — It’s all a blur, but we ended up in Kenmore, too. My mom was in problem-solving mode, as mothers do, and I was just emotional. We didn’t know what had happened, or if people were hurt, so we were scanning the crowd looking for her. We saw each other amidst the foil blankets and chaos, and we just kind of ran for each other in tears and had this big moment of hugs and this relief of: “You’re OK. I’m OK. We’re all OK. Let’s get out of here.”
Mary — Then all of us jammed into her dad’s car, and he was just whipping down side streets to leave the city. We definitely became closer after all of this. I’m always reminded of how much I appreciate her and her family and everything they did for us. To this day I don’t like big crowds. Now I have two little ones, and whenever we go somewhere with crowds, I have everyone’s hand in mine. I’m just constantly thinking about that.
“Tragedy unifies us, unfortunately.”
Brandi Artez, former South End resident, 36
At the time I lived in the South End. For a while we couldn’t leave the house. We didn’t know if there were other attacks planned. We really didn’t know anything. It was super scary.
I remember everyone, and especially my mom, telling me President Obama is coming to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, right near me, which just added to how surreal this was. So me, my best friend, her mother-in-law, and my mom, who isn’t in the picture, all went down there.
I figured we wouldn’t get into the church but we wanted to be close so we stood outside. I don’t remember there being loudspeakers, so the only way we were able to hear anything was on our phones.
It was somber, but in between speeches we joked about being close to Obama and him being really attractive, because he is. Stupid things like that. Even in the face of the worst things, we had something to laugh about.
I think a lot of us felt that at that time, “How can we be together?” I’ve never experienced anything like it. At least for a little bit it didn’t matter what part of Boston you’re from or what you look like or your income level, all those things that separate us. We just wanted everyone to know we are united in this moment and show everyone who got hurt or saved people’s lives that we’re here for you and we appreciate your sacrifices.
That was really the first time in my life outside of a Red Sox or Patriots parade that it was Boston as a whole city. It’s sad, but I think that was one thing positive that I saw come out of it. Tragedy unifies us, unfortunately.
I wish that we had kept that togetherness that we had. I wish we could bottle it up and keep it forever.