On Monday afternoon at 2:50 p.m., after 26.2 sweaty miles, triumphant runners crossed the finish line of the 117th annual Boston Marathon, just as two blasts ripped apart the sidelines of the race. With at least three dead and more than a hundred injured, the city saw the pleasant afternoon turn into a nightmare of severed limbs and blood-splattered sidewalks.
As always, where there’s tragedy, heroes emerge. As the dust from the explosion cleared, runners and observers from all walks of life mobilized. Both trained and untrained, hundreds rushed toward the scene of the explosion site to tend to the injured. Marathoners tore off their shirts to use as tourniquets on victims. A first responder pushed a wheelchair-bound woman to safety and then returned to the carnage. The U.S. Army retweeted a picture captured from television of two fatigue-clad soldiers who had just finished the race and appeared to be running straight into the explosion site. Legendary Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi was spotted carrying a woman to safety after the blast. Peace activist Carlos Arredondo was identified as the cowboy hat-clad volunteer pinching the artery of a legless man in a wheelchair, thought to be a Newtown commemorative runner, in a widely spread photo. In five hospitals across Boston, medical staff braced for an onslaught and emergency staff worked tirelessly amputating limbs and giving blood transfusions. Online, pictures of these heroes in action were hailed and shared as the world reacted to the graphic scenes.
Monday’s marathoners continued to help after completing the exhausting race, proving months of training in the endurance sport was more than personal fitness. Around 4 p.m., NBC Sports tweeted reports that many marathon runners crossed 26 miles to the finish line and continued running to Massachusetts General Hospital, where they donated blood to victims. So many people rushed to follow in the runners’ footsteps that within hours of the blasts, Mass General and the Red Cross had stopped accepting blood donations.
Some of the marathoners returned to the terrifying ordeal they had just endured in a different capacity. “We were in the middle of that misery when the explosions happened behind us,” NPR host Peter Sagal told All Things Considered. The journalist was just a hundred yards past the finish line, after finishing the race in a little more than four hours, when the blasts hit.
John Eligon, a Missouri-based reporter for The New York Times, had finished the race earlier, in three hours. When the explosion hit, he began filing dispatches from the scene, as did Vernon Loeb, The Washington Post’s local editor. Loeb had completed the marathon barely 20 minutes before the blasts, but he dove into reporting, filing a fully reported story from Boston.
Nearby businesses offered a respite from the chaos on the streets with Wi-Fi, cellphone charging, and good company. “Pay only if you can,” tweeted El Pelon Taquería. Make Shift Boston, a professional work space, opened its doors to offer water, phones, and Internet. The Cambridge restaurant Oleana tweeted that it would provide warm meals to anyone in need, offering to email directions to people without cell coverage.
After an earlier ground stop halted all planes, multiple airlines waived fees for changing flights to allow stranded marathon attendees to leave the city. Some announced their deals over social media, including Southwest Airlines, which tweeted that it would be accommodating affected travelers at no added cost. HopeMob, a crowdsourcing funding site, pledged financial assistance to any family members of victims in need of airfare or other help.
Online, activists near and far spread the word for those offering and seeking assistance. Boston.com posted an online form for people looking for and offering accommodations for stranded runners. Within an hour and a half, the spreadsheet of locals with room to crash, ranging from a floor in an MIT dorm to space for a family of four, had nearly 3,000 offers. And they didn’t stop at housing: Bostonians pledged to give stranded runners rides, clean clothes, warm meals, and showers, while some offered to bicycle into town to help with directions. They provided email addresses, phone numbers, and Twitter handles to get in touch, with cell service overloaded.
Later Monday evening, more advertised assistance and housing started appearing on Twitter under the hashtag #BostonHelp. And Bostonians weren’t sitting idly by waiting to be asked. “Runner just told me he’s been stopped numerous times by Bostonians asking if he needs a bed or a shower,” Billy Baker, a reporter for The Boston Globe, tweeted. Online, out-of-towners sent prayers and support, and some even offered emotional support and hugs over Twitter for anyone who needed to talk.
As the offers of aid went out, a poignant quote ascribed to the late Fred Rogers, a.k.a. Mr. Rogers, was making the rounds on social media: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” And in the wake of such tragedy, many took solace in the outpouring of love and assistance. “I think I am just going to leave my timeline on #BostonHelp. Such a beautiful outpouring of humanity. Really proud of my hometown,” one Bostonian tweeted.