Hundreds of volunteers worked through the weekend’s rain, sleet, and snow to build a Dorchester playground that was dedicated in Sunday’s bright sunshine to honor a Boston Marathon bombing survivor who died in a car crash a year ago.
Victoria McGrath’s parents, Jim and Jill McGrath, proudly told a gathering at the playground on Deer Street that their daughter had done another great thing that day: She was a catalyst for the city’s newest playground.
“I know she’s in heaven with God, and that gives me a lot of comfort,” Jim McGrath told the crowd. McGrath said he had not thought much about such matters until Victoria’s death, but now he looks forward to seeing her again in eternity.
“There are more things to say to each other, more laughs and stories to tell,” he said. “Maybe you feel the same way, too.” Then, he said simply, “We miss her.”
McGrath was a 23-year-old Northeastern University student on vacation in Dubai in March 2016 when she and three others were killed in a car crash.
The playground was built by the Where Angels Play Foundation, which has its roots in the 9/11 attacks, according to founder Bill Lavin.
The inspiration came from a man who saved Victoria after the bombs hit near the Marathon finish line in 2013, carrying her away from the carnage. A photo of Jimmy Plourde taking her to safety, a scarf used as a tourniquet on her left leg, remains one of the iconic images of the day.
Plourde had worked with the Angels before, on a park in Wilmington that honors Sean Collier, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who was fatally shot by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev days after the brothers planted the bombs at the finish line.
On Sunday at the playground, named Victoria’s Playspace, Plourde praised Victoria’s “love of life.”
“I used to see that when she would come and play with my kids,” he said. “She made my 3- and 5-year-old girls just smile and have a great time.”
If Victoria had been at the park Sunday, Plourde said, she’d be going down the slide, laughing, and helping the kids climb the stairs.
“That’s the person she was,” Plourde said. “She wouldn’t be standing on the side, just waiting. She’d be having fun as a kid because that was her spirit, that was her soul.”
Calling the idea to build the playground for Victoria a “no-brainer,” Lavin said money for the project was raised in other states including New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York.
“Any money that we raise here is paid forward to the next project,” he said.
After the dedication, Jim McGrath said that he and his wife believe the park is a beautiful memorial to their daughter.
“We were very happy to participate in something worthy like this, in helping people that need some help, especially in this community, the Boston community, which has been so great to Victoria,” he said.
The family plans on continuing to “pay it forward,” he said, with playgrounds for other angels, going as far as Rwanda.
“She’d say this is not about her because she was not the kind of person that would want the attention, frankly,” McGrath said. “She’d say this should be about the kids that are going to benefit from it.”
Carlos Arredondo, who assisted in rescuing victims after the bombs hit, met Victoria afterward, and he was in the crowd Sunday. Boston’s hero-in-the-cowboy-hat remembered her warmth and kindness. “She was always smiling,” Arredondo said. “She was always very sweet and very compassionate. You definitely noticed when she walked in the room.”
On a tree near the sign welcoming people to the playground and bearing Victoria’s name hung an angel on a white cross, with a sunflower and a blue and yellow ribbon attached to it.
Arredondo made it for Victoria.Aimee Ortiz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aimee_ortiz.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Raphaella Spitzer in a photograph.