‘In the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good.’

President Obama pledges justice for the perpetrator of Monday’s attack in Boston and promises not to curtail American freedoms in the process. Eleanor Clift reports.

Susan Walsh/AP

“For millions of us, what happened on Monday is personal,” said President Obama, taking his turn at the pulpit at an interfaith service Thursday in Boston. He and his wife, Michelle, both were law students in the city. It is home to so many renowned universities that every spring, at graduation time, there’s a “Boston diaspora that excels in every field of endeavor,” Obama said, just as every third Monday in April, the city hosts thousands of runners from all over the world for the storied Boston Marathon.

“Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Obama began with quiet intensity, recalling the beautiful sunny day Monday, with runners lacing up their shoes for the 26.2 miles, and the celebration that in an instant became a tragedy. He had come to the Church of the Holy Cross, he said, to reclaim “the perfect state of grace” that existed before the bombs went off, before “these small stunted individuals” took the lives of three and wounded many more, thinking “this somehow makes them important.”

“Every one of us has been touched by this attack on your beloved city,” he said, “It’s our beloved city too.” Obama memorialized each of the dead: Krystle Campbell, always smiling and happy, struck down just before her 30th birthday; Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old graduate student far from home, with her family in China; and the young boy, Martin Richard, who has become the face of the tragedy and whose mother and sister remain hospitalized. “Our hearts are broken for 8-year-old Martin, with his big smile and bright eyes,” Obama said, recalling the boy’s last hours eating ice cream and his wish written on a blue poster board, “No more hurting people ... Peace.”

There have been too many of these occasions, when Obama is called upon to comfort the country and to help the grieving find solace and meaning in what seems senseless. Practice must make perfect, because Obama is very good at it, moving seamlessly from quiet condolence to a refrain that can bring tears and joy at the same time. “Our prayers are with the injured, so many wounded, some gravely,” he said. “From their beds, some are surely watching us gather here today. And if you are, know this: As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again,” he declared as applause rang out in the church. “You will run again.”

It is an especially cruel irony that many of the injured lost their legs. The bombs sprayed shrapnel and ball bearings with such deadly force that limbs could not be saved. And yet stories of individual acts of kindness and bravery are beginning to displace the horror. “Because that’s what the people of Boston are made of,” Obama said. “You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good.”

With an active investigation ongoing, Obama addressed the perpetrators. “Yes, we will find you, and yes, you will face justice ... But more than that, our fidelity to our way of life, a free and open society, will only grow stronger.”

He recalled the 78-year-old runner in an orange tank top, tossed to the ground by the force of the explosion, picking himself up and finishing the race. “We may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we will pick ourselves up, we will keep going, and we will finish the race.” It’s not an easy task to rally the spirits of people who have suffered such a huge blow, but Obama managed to end on a high note, looking toward next year’s third Monday in April: “The world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever, and to cheer even louder, for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it,” he said.