(Boston, Massachusetts) – It has been quite a week in New England with the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt and violence. I spent most of the week covering various aspects of the story, including all day Thursday in Boston for the President’s visit and the interfaith prayer service (photo above). Only 2,000 people were allowed inside the cathedral, and I was honored to be one of them. The role of the press at a moment like this is to help take millions of other people “inside” the service, too, so they can share. Here are my reflections on the week:
“Interfaith Service” – America is an interesting mass of contradictions at times. There continues to be adamant separation between church and state. Yet when a crisis like this hits, where do we find ourselves going? I thought of this Thursday, as all the politicians, preachers, the public and the press gathered inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston for the interfaith prayer service. It was an amazing event all around. As the Reverend Liz Walker, from the Roxbury Presbyterian Church, said: “We will rise in community, resolutely as one.”
“Boston Strong” – Of all the speakers on Thursday - from the political to the spiritual - Boston Mayor Tom Menino was the best. Beset by poor health, Menino recently announced he would not seek reelection, after serving as Mayor the past 20 years. On Monday after the bombings, he immediately checked himself out of the hospital to manage the crisis in his city. He needed a lot of help to rise from his wheelchair in church Thursday to speak from the pulpit. “Nothing can defeat the heart of this city! Nothing!” he said defiantly. “Even with the smell of smoke in the air, blood on the streets, tears in our eyes, we triumphed over that hateful act Monday afternoon,” he added. It was the most passionate of all the speeches, and I felt sorry for Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama when they had to follow the heartfelt Mayor Menino.
“Outlaws and In-Laws” – The weirdest twist in the story came late Friday afternoon, when I was dispatched to a home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, just a few miles from my own home. The homeowners in this quiet, beautiful, suburban cul-de-sac are the mother and father-in-law of now deceased bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He had married their daughter, Katherine Russell, and the couple has a three-year-old daughter. After being besieged by news media and law enforcement on Friday, the house was already up for sale on Saturday. It remains to be seen how much light Katherine Russell can shed on this investigation, including how much her husband’s radical Islamic beliefs were motivation for the attack, and whether anyone else was involved.
“Candid Camera” – I often wonder about the mindset of the modern-day criminal. Let’s face it. There are cameras everywhere these days, rolling 24/7. The ability to capture images, share them with the press and the public instantly, and then to flood them worldwide through the Internet and social media just amazes me. Most older criminals aren’t tech savvy, but the Tsarnaev brothers - ages 19 and 26 - grew up in the Internet age. They should have known they had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
“Olympic Bombing, Atlanta 1996” – I have covered a lot of big stories in my career, but the only one that compares to the Boston Marathon bombing is the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in July, 1996. I was there in that chaos, too. There were similarities – the rush to judgment, law enforcement missteps, and glaring errors by the press. But there are big differences, too. In 1996, the Internet was just in its embryonic stage. There was no Facebook or Twitter, and there weren’t I-phones to instantly record and transmit photos and videos worldwide. And certainly security cameras are far more prevalent now. The downside of the high-tech age is how quickly people can spread hateful diatribes or instructions on how to build homemade bombs, or can even use their smart phones to set off explosions.
“Best Quotes” – The interfaith service was sprinkled with powerful quotes from Scripture, passionate prayers and moving music. It also had some great political quotes: “Massachusetts invented America,” said Governor Deval Patrick, to perhaps the event’s most rousing applause. And President Obama, who went to law school here and clearly loves Boston, said “It should be clear by now, they (the bombers) picked the wrong city to do it," adding defiantly, "Not here in Boston!” to applause that nearly drowned him out.
“Music is Great Medicine” – As reporters, we are taught to be stoic and not to show emotion, but on stories such as this it is hard. The thing that almost always gets to me is the music. The interfaith prayer service included performances by the Boston Children’s Chorus and the adult Copley Chorus. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma also performed. It was breathtaking. But when all of them – and the audience – ended the service singing “America the Beautiful,” I had to wipe away a few tears while trying photograph the moment. We indeed are blessed to live in the greatest nation on Earth!
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