Thoughts on the Bombing

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing. It’s hard to believe it’s only been two weeks. I’d like to lay out some thoughts about the bombing.

Living in the Boston area, it’s hard not to be aware of the Marathon, even if, like me, you’re not a sports fan. This year, I’d heard about a special midnight bike ride along the Marathon route which piqued my interest, but it had been sold out before I heard about it, so I headed off to work in Providence that morning. I noted that someone had won it by mid-afternoon, and thought nothing more about it until a shocked co-worker came into our room and told us about it.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I found out how bad it had been– the news people kept talking about missing limbs, and carnage like a war scene. I got home, and glued myself to the TV, where there turned out to be very little information. By the end of the night, there had been 3 people confirmed dead, and a lot of people injured, some very badly.

One of the most moving aspects of this whole thing has been the response. EMTs were on the scene almost immediately–some medical personnel had already been there to help the runners, some were runners, but they all pitched in. Bystanders ran toward the blast scene to help the wounded, and assist the first responders tear down the barricades intended to separate the runners from the spectators, but now in the way of the emergency response. People reassured the wounded and tended their wounds.

The payoff came the next morning, when there were still only three dead. This is amazing. Considering the reported condition of some of the patients, I’d expected more deaths overnight. It’s a testament to the quality of Boston’s EMS department and the hospital’s trauma departments. They had trained for this sort of emergency, and that day, the training paid off. Five or ten years ago, with wounds that severe, there would have been more deaths over the next couple of days.

Unfortunately, there are still the three dead. Krystal Campbell, a restaurant manager who grew up in Medford. Lü Lingzi, a visiting student from China. And Martin Richard, and eight year boy from Dorchester. I found myself welling up just thinking about him.

By the middle of the week, we’d learned more about the bombs themselves–simple affairs made from pressure cookers, filled with nails and BBs, designed more to hurt people than destroy property. I found myself thinking that when the bombers were found, they should be locked in a cell with a bunch of similar bombs, while the bombs were detonated one by one.

The Search for the Suspects.

There was never any doubt in my mind that the bombers would be found. The area had been swept the morning of the race by security and bomb sniffing dogs, so it was likely that the bomb had been brought in during the day. But the Marathon is a Big Deal in these parts; there was lots of TV coverage, and lots of amateur video, and it turned out, merchant security video too. I figured there would be pictures somewhere of someone dropping a parcel somewhere. The only question was how long it would take to sift through it all. I expected a few weeks.

It took a few days. The FBI published some grainy video Thursday. My friends and I all figured it would be hard to recognize someone from it, especially given the angle it was shot from. We were wrong. When I went to bed Thursday night, there had been a report of a police officer shot at MIT, but I didn’t connect it to the bombing, until the next morning, when I awoke to find that all hell had broken out overnight.

As I left for Providence that morning, I wondered what the point was of shutting down public transit, and the city of Boston, if the surrounding roads were open. As the day dragged on, I found myself wondering if he’d somehow escaped. Fortunately, the end came that night, when the “shelter in place” order was lifted and Dave Henneberry went out into his back yard to get some air and noticed something wrong with his boat.

The Wounded

My thoughts keep going to the wounded, especially those who lost limbs. There are about 16 so far, and possibly more later, if some people with severe leg wounds don’t heal. It’s unfathomable to me to be healthy and whole at one moment, and at the next to be missing one leg…or two. I can’t imagine how they feel, or what they’re going through. I know there have been major advances in prosthetics, and they’ve had visits from former servicemen who have also lost limbs, reassuring them that they will be able to live a full life… but still.  Their lives have been changed irrevocably. Hopefully, they’ll be able to support each other as they heal. Like it or not, they now have a common bond.

“Boston Strong”

I’ve been very ambivalent about the whole “Boston Strong” thing. The emergency response, and the response of onlookers, diving into the heart of danger is awe-inspiring. And the reaction of the nation has been touching. From the Chicago newspaper cartoon claiming Boston teams to their own, to the Yankees displaying the Red Sox logo, to MIT students hacking a building to display the American flag… all these things have brought a lump to my throat.

I watched President Obama’s speech on a pokey YouTube feed, and found myself welling up:

Because that’s what the people of Boston are made of. Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval described, the values that make us who we are, as Americans — well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it.  Not here in Boston.

You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love.

Scripture teaches us, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” And that’s the spirit you’ve displayed in recent days.

When doctors and nurses, police and firefighters and EMTs and Guardsmen run towards explosions to treat the wounded — that’s discipline.

When exhausted runners, including our troops and veterans — who never expected to see such carnage on the streets back home — become first responders themselves, tending to the injured — that’s real power.

When Bostonians carry victims in their arms, deliver water and blankets, line up to give blood, open their homes to total strangers, give them rides back to reunite with their families — that’s love.

And yet… while the quality of the response has a lot to do with the level of training and expertise in the Boston medical community, I don’t think the response is uniquely Bostonian. I think this could have happened in any American city, and the response would have been the same. Emergency responders become emergency responders because they want to help people. And I think most ordinary people are mostly good, more brave than they realize, and capable of more feats than hopefully they’ll be called upon to perform.

Legal Thoughts

It was obvious to me, even before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, that whoever did it would be charged with federal crimes. Massachusetts doesn’t have a death penalty, while some federal crimes, especially anti-terrorism ones, do, and it’s also  very obvious that the public wants the death penalty in this case. And so it proved; he’s charged with a federal crime involving a weapon of mass destruction.

(Side note: it was interesting reading the federal charge, and noticing how many times “interstate and international trade” is mentioned– necessary since the Constitution doesn’t give Congress broad legislative police powers, but does give it authority to regulate interstate commerce.)

Much has been made about Tsarnaev not receiving a Miranda warning right away.  I’m not getting worked up about it– at its simplest, it means that the prosecution can’t use any confession he gave them before receiving it. It may–I’m not a lawyer and don’t know for sure–also mean that anything they dig up as a result of what he may have told them is also barred. I figure they already have enough evidence in the video alone to convict him. In any case, he’s now had his warning, and is remaining silent.

I figure they’ll have to move the trial to some other city– there has simply been too much pre-trial publicity here. If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does decide to try him on state charges as well, they’ll have to try him out in western Massachusetts.

I figure it will be a boring trial–endless repetitions of the same video over and over from different angles, with supporting evidence from whatever is found where he lives.

Or there may not be a trial at all– he may decide to plead guilty. I saw an article yesterday that suggested that may be his only hope to stave off the death sentence, and I tend to agree. The public–even the Mayor of Boston, a death penalty opponent–wants it, and it appears that the prosecution has enough evidence to take the case to trial and win, so there’s less incentive for a plea deal. At this point, there’s not much he has to offer in exchange for a non-death sentence, other than sparing the government the cost and trauma of a drawn out trial and appeals.

Much has been made of the radicalization of Tamerlin Tsarnaev, but it’s still a puzzle why Dzhokhar went along. There are a lot of people who thought they knew him, and they all speak highly of him. They all say he was a sweet smart nice guy. I wonder too. Maybe he did it out of loyalty to his brother–but at some point, you have to say, “I can’t do this”. Even if he couldn’t bring himself to report his brother, he could have refrained from taking part. But he didn’t. He was “all in” on Marathon Day. I see that, and see the potential he had, and say, “What a waste.”

Terrorism as Theater

One commentator remarked Monday night that terrorism is theater– the point is not just to hurt people, but to instill fear, and to project some sort of power. They went on to point out the exposure the Marathon has, and that the explosions were timed carefully to coincide with the maximum number of runners crossing the finish line. (The “elite” runners finish in about 2.5 hours, but most runners take around 4, and some longer.)

Strangely enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The Tsarnaev brothers never publicly claimed responsibility for the bombing, nor tried to publicly link it with a cause. They just decided to hurt or kill as many Americans as they could.

The Future

Unfortunately, even though the bombers are dead and in custody, they’ve opened Pandora’s Box. Its now obvious that we can’t rely on intelligence “chatter” alone to detect terrorism, and it’s also obvious to any nutcase who decides that they hate the world that a bomb is not a hard thing to make, and possibly preferable to amassing a cache of guns and ammuntion. Hopefully, the wonderfully united response of the FBI and police will serve as a deterrent.