The streets were quiet, deserted save a few empty-eyed tourists and confident locals. The sky was newspaper grey, and a cool wind occasionally rushed down the street in short, violent bursts. April 19, 2013, Boston was a closed and silent city, acting like something smaller than itself in an attempt to keep the peace. The irony hadn’t escaped me as my mother and I rode in a taxi towards our hotel. It was not at all what I was expecting. I knew there was supposed to be more, more cars, more people, more life, but all I could see were grey skies and greyer streets.
During the previous night, the two suspects of the Boston Marathon bombing had been chased from MIT to nearby Watertown in a blaze of gunfire and explosions. The events, which looked like something out of a Hollywood movie, left one brother dead and the other on the run, sending Boston into lockdown.
Of course I had heard of the Boston Marathon bombing. Like most Americans, I watched and read and listened to the tales of tragedy and heroics with mild concern, a distant empathy. I didn’t think events, though, would escalate to such a large scale that it would affect my first trip to Boston University, the first glimpse at my future. That, of course, was not what happened.
The wanted suspect’s picture had been pasted on all the TV screens in the airports we passed through on our way to Boston. His emotionless face stared out at us where ever we went. Blank eyes and wild hair with only a hint of stubble on the chin. He was 19, nearly my age, a college freshman.
“19,” muttered my mother. “He’s a child.”
The fact that the manhunt and the lockdown were everywhere made it hard not to care, not to listen. But in the back of my mind was a growing need to find out what was happening in West, Texas. The town’s fertilizer plant had exploded two days after the bombing in Boston. Everything in its path was flattened. At the time, they still hadn’t confirmed how many people had died in the explosion. I did not live near West, but I had been there and passed through it several times; I knew it. It seemed like this small town, nearly two thousand miles away, was closer, more immediate, than Boston, which was still something of a stranger to me.
The radio chattered continuously about the manhunt as the taxi moved swiftly through the streets. It felt weird. Bundles of brownstones; vivid, green grass; and damp, dark tree limbs were my first impression of Boston. It didn’t feel like a city, but a small, New England town. It was not Texas, but it didn’t feel like Boston either.
After we checked into our hotel, which was, fortunately, still open for business, we decide to test our luck again and try to find somewhere to eat.
After a few failed attempts, we finally found a restaurant that was open: a small, carry-out pizza place that tourists obviously didn’t frequent. We ordered two personal pan pizzas. As we waited, we went into the back room. A flat screen hung there. The news was on. A press conference was underway.
“The stay indoors request is lifted,” Governor Deval Patrick declared, surrounded by various chiefs and officials.
The lockdown had been canceled even though the suspect had not been captured. The life of a big city couldn’t be halted for long.
The streets had transformed when we left the restaurant. Suddenly businesses were open, and people were out. There was a sense of relief despite the fact that the suspected bomber was still at large, and everyone was to “remain vigilant” as the Governor had requested. We immediately went back to our hotel.
We tried to watch mindless TV, but once again the news got in the way. The suspect might’ve been spotted. Someone’s plastic wrapped boat had been broken into. Police and news crews swarmed. It was the climax to the news story of the year. Tensions peaked.
Meanwhile, I checked my email and Facebook, half listening to the exciting conclusion of the manhunt. Red and blue lights flashed constantly on the screen; the live footage was always present. Anxious voices of news casters and correspondents chattered nonstop.
I realized the importance of what was happening before me, the history. But being closer to the events didn’t make them more important to me. In fact, they made me feel more like an outsider. No one around me was worrying about West, Texas; it was on the sidelines, a footnote in the account of the day’s events.
It took over an hour, almost two, to finally capture the suspect.
Afterwards, the news filmed people along the sides of the streets thanking and celebrating while the police cars passed. An impromptu parade. Even though the events were taking place across the river, you could hear the celebration spreading to the neighborhood surrounding us. Cries of “Boston Strong” and screams of victory and relief could be heard.
But I tuned out the shouts and cheers outside the window. I felt like I couldn’t join in that I shouldn’t join in. I wasn’t one of them. Not yet. I was still a Texan, worrying about Texan things, things that were being overshadowed by the events happening around me.
Other first-hand accounts of the bombing and manhunt: