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Blog – Melida Arredondo – on the anniversary of the Marathon Bombing

BLOG - Harvesting Peace

Blog – Melida Arredondo – on the anniversary of the Marathon Bombing
Melida Arredondo

Definition of SURVIVOR: noun: a person who survives, esp. a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died. Example: “the sole survivor of the massacre”.

As a result of the two bombs that exploded on Boylston Street on 4/15/2013, Martin Richards, age of 8 from Dorchester, 29 year old Krystle Marie Campbell from Medford, and Lu Lingzi age 23 from

Shenyang, China all died. In addition, 275 people were maimed and wounded – all named survivors.

Yet, there are many more survivors who were witnesses at the two bombing sites They walked away unscathed physically but have horrid memories, endure panic attacks, nightmares, issues with memory loss or in ability to concentrate, and are experiencing anxiety as the one year mark approaches. These are all signs of post-traumatic stress. These witnesses include first responders and civilians who were watching the marathon in person that day and some would even say those who are families of those injured.

I am beginning this blog column with the Bay State Banner as a way of reaching out to these survivors. Folks from all neighborhoods in Boston and all across the country attend the marathon. It’s a great family day where parents bring their little ones to watch the event. I worry about these folks who like myself, saw and experienced horrible things and as a result have anxiety and other problems and may not relate this to the bombings.

If you or someone you know has experienced panic attacks, problems focusing and were also at the bombing, get help. For more information and resources for the victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombings, call the Massachusetts Office of Victims Assistance at 1-855-970-MOVA (6682).

Patriots Day – Day of Marathon Bombing

Carlos and I arrived at the finish line at 11 a.m. to distribute American flags to the crowd on the south side of Boylston Street. We gave away most of the 400 flags. At around 1 p.m., we met up with our friend John, a Vietnam veteran who is the organizer for the Maine Run for the Fallen. John had VIP passes so we all could enter the grandstands after 1 p.m. We entered along with other family members of those service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Newtown family members, 911 families and military veterans.

When we met up with John, Carlos handed him the cowboy hat he was wearing which also had a band on it that said “Costa Rica.” The hat was a gift from Carlos’ mother for John. John declined the gift and returned it saying that he didn’t like wearing cowboy hats. Little did we know how that cowboy hat would become so recognized?

It was a beautiful early spring day with a blue sky and a bit of a chill in the air when standing in the shade. We were enjoying talking to the people around us in the stands and watching the folks cross the finish line, some had creative costumes, a Boston tradition. We had our cowbells and were ringing them as the runners finished. Folks were in a good mood and came from all over Boston with their children, their pets and their zeal for life. Multi-generational families abounded: nanas, granddads, husbands, wives and the little ones.

There were two special folks we were waiting for: a member of the National Guard hiked for Carlos’ deceased son Alex who was killed in Iraq, and a runner from Samaritans who was running for Brian, his younger son who had taken his life.

Carlos left the stands to go find another friend who was meeting us. He was on the ground level in front of the metal barriers about to return to my side.

Then I witnessed what hundreds witnessed that day: a large ball of fire and what sounded like a cannon exploding. Where there once a sea of people standing on the north side of Boylston Street and folks watching from office windows, I then witnessed plate glass windows falling and everyone who had been on the sidewalk across Boylston Street was gone. Afterwards a cloud of smoke enveloped the scene.

I lost sight of Carlos who had been in front of me just seconds before. I felt fear because when the second explosion went off a block east on Boylston Street, it became clear that these were bombs. Everyone in the stands started stampeding, and I feared that I might get trampled or fall. I sat down. I grabbed for a gentleman who was a New York City policeman who I had been speaking to. He aided in getting me down from the bleachers. (I later found out that there were people who fell from the grandstands and were injured including one woman who suffered a compression fracture in her back, a concussion and two broken wrists).

Once I stood on terra firma, I looked around for Carlos and could not find him. At that moment, there was a woman who was very agitated crying and gasping. I asked her if I could help. She stated that she needed to find her husband who had been about to cross the finish line. This woman was concerned for his safety. She reached for her cell phone but, all lines were busy. I asked how I could help and, she thanked me but was trying to get onto Boylston Street and walk west to find her husband. I lost sight of her in the crowd. I shouted that the exit was “this way” to folks who were confused and encouraged them to be calm and not run.

There was smoke still in the air. I feared for the many people who had been standing on the north side of Boylston. In years past, Carlos and I had stood in that spot.

The smell that rose became a stench combining the scent of fireworks with something else I could not describe. I could not rid myself of that smell for many days after the bombing and still have memory recall of that unique scent.

Where was Carlos? I knew that he went to help and could imagine him jumping the barriers, something he had done for several years at the bombing, jumping into the race as a “bandit” runner. The volunteers and police all led me out of the area to the southwest corner of the Boston Public Library. I stayed there hoping to see Carlos. No one’s cellular phone was working, and mine was low on its battery anyway.

I was standing on that south corner when Carlos and I spotted each other. The cowboy hat helped me to spot him. It no longer had the Costa Rica ribbon on it. We were so relieved to find each other we hugged and cried. I then looked at his Tough Ruck t-shirt, and he had blood on the sleeves and droplets all over his pants as well. His hands were covered in blood.

Carlos confirmed my guess that he had leapt in to help. He had jumped the barriers, first the south side and then the north, to aid the injured. Upon my urging after the shared hugs and tears, we went to the first aid tent and requested for his bloody hands to be rinsed. After my years of training employees on blood borne pathogens, Carlos had gone to help without any gloves or protective barrier so I was concerned he might be exposed to Hepatitis B or HIV.

The first camera crew appeared and Carlos began talking about what had happened.

First Carlos focused on getting the barricades down so first responders could get to the victims. He saw many injured. Some appeared to be deceased and many had terrible wounds. He went to work. His background as a volunteer firefighter and Red Cross volunteer kicked in. He saw a man without legs trying to get up to walk away. His leg bones were visible. Carlos calmed some of the victims who were around, lifted a metal barricade off one woman and, then reached the man who had lost his legs from the blast. A man who appeared to be a medical professional shouted out “tourniquets.” Carlos found a sweater and began tearing it up to have the cloth used as tourniquets. The same man aided Carlos in putting the tourniquets on the legless man to stop bleeding.

A young woman with a wheelchair appeared, and Carlos yelled for her. She brought the wheelchair, and Carlos with the young woman’s aid helped the legless man onto the wheelchair. They ran to the medical tent, then through the medical tent to the ambulances so he could get to a hospital as quickly as possible. Carlos asked the man’s name for the paramedic when the man ended up spelling his own name. (Later, Carlos could not remember the name.) Carlos watched as the ambulance sped away and then headed out the corner of Copley and Huntington Avenue to look for me.

The next day we were told by a reporter that the injured man had made it to the emergency room about twenty minutes after the bombing took place. All those people joined together not just to help Jeff but around 275 people who were physically injured that day.

After speaking with the reporter, we both walked away from the medical tents. We saw friends we knew through peace activism. They had been at the marathon videoing the day’s festivities and asked to videotape us asking what had we had witnessed at the bombing. That video was later uploaded onto YouTube. I remember watching Carlos shake as though he were shivering as he answered questions. I also remember feeling that my own body was frozen down to the bone. This feeling of intense cold lasted several days after the bombing.

As we were answering questions, another explosion-like sound could be heard. I then wanted to leave the area. My nerves were frazzled, and I suddenly felt exhausted. Carlos stayed downtown to help how he could and to locate John. Finally, by a true miracle, we were able to get a text to John and knew that he was at his daughter Erika’s apartment. It was then that Carlos walked me to the Back Bay orange line stop at around 4 p.m. so I could go home.

I arrived home about 5 p.m. As I charged my cellular phone, the home phone started ringing. I picked it up and it was our friend Hahiling, a fellow Costa Rican. In Spanish we spoke, and she asked if we were okay. I was surprised and asked how she knew we were at the marathon. She asked if I had seen the picture. I said, no. She asked for me turn on the TV. I also turned on my laptop as we spoke. As I turned to the TV, I saw a picture of Carlos in his cowboy hat quickly flash by with others wheeling an injured man in a wheelchair. I thanked her for letting me know, assured her we were both fine and that it had been extremely frightening and that I did know that Carlos had helped someone but didn’t realize anyone had taken pictures. (We later found out Charlie Krupa took that picture, an AP photographer, who had taken pictures of Carlos twice before on other occasions. That picture has since traveled around the world and back.)

As soon as I hung up with her, another call came in, this time from a news station. I told them that Carlos was still downtown. I copied down their information and then headed to my laptop to investigate further. I checked Facebook, and there were 100+ different messages from friends from across the US and also family in Costa Rica asking if Carlos was okay. (To this day, not all of the messages have been read since every day there are more).

There were also emails by local television stations requesting to speak to Carlos. I noticed the term “Cowboy Hero” and someone quoting Mr. Rogers. My paraphrase is: in the midst of tragedy, it is always important to look for the helpers.

After this bit of news, I called Carlos and let him know that his actions helping the injured man was apparently a big deal and that the phone was ringing a great deal and that he was getting a lot of attention on-line. I asked him to come home. He arrived about 9 p.m.

As Carlos entered the house, both our cell phones and the house phones kept ringing. Carlos spoke to some folks and finally, at about 11 p.m., we were both exhausted, and it was time to sleep. We took the home phone off the hook and powered down the cellulars. We talked and hugged but were both out of energy. We both tried to sleep as best as possible.

Tuesday – Day after Marathon Bombing

At around 6:30 a.m., we both awoke. I looked at Carlos who was both tired and wired at once. His dreams kept revolving around seeing the bodies of two young women who were head to head lying on the ground. He thought they had both died.

I had recurring dreams of seeing the bomb explosion in front of me. I had awoken still chilled to the bone and had on two sweaters despite the beginning of another pretty spring day like yesterday. My throat was sore.

First, I checked the voicemails upon rising. There were multiple voicemails and emails from different news reporters. There was one repeated phone call from Democracy Now, a news program on Free Speech TV. We knew Amy Goodman, the producer, the host, and decided to call. They wanted to speak to Carlos for the morning show. Carlos called in for the interview with success at 8 a.m.

After the interview, we saw many reporters out our small front yard, down the walkway and to the sidewalk.

Carlos and I were both running on adrenaline and spoke about what to do next. Should we tell them to go away? Should Carlos speak to them? Carlos felt like he had to talk about what happened in order to try to understand everything better – a sort of media driven talk therapy.

I supported his decision and said I would try to organize the chaos that was unfolding outside our house. I grabbed an old notebook and began writing down the names of the many news organizations that were outside and how much time each needed. I asked some news reporters to come back later. I also fielded the phone calls as best as I could. There were many of them in both English and Spanish. I tried to maintain a schedule for that Tuesday and then one for Wednesday.

I still was feeling frozen and noticed that I was losing my voice. We drank a lot of coffee. One of our closest friends -military Mom and peace activist – Sarah, managed to get a call through and asked if we needed food. I said that was a good idea, our cupboard was sort of bare. She had heard the interview on Democracy Now. A few hours later she arrived with cold cuts, bread and a roast chicken. She stayed long enough to give us each a hug and then disappeared.

Journalists came from France, Spain, Costa Rica, England, Japan – the world. It was a long Tuesday. There were news cameras, print reporters and radio interviews from as a far Nicaragua and Colombia.

The Boston Police Department showed up at our home as well. They interviewed us both and also requested Carlos’ clothing that he wore at the bombing. Carlos gave them his pants, bloodied t-shirt and shoes as well as pictures that Carlos had taken of the injured on site.

The day with the press ended around 9 pm. Once again, we shut off all phones to try to rest.

Wednesday – Day two after Marathon Bombing

I woke up with no voice and still cold. I once again stayed home from work.

There were more interviews and media, and a film crew came in from France. This film crew amazed us since they had called the night before and said they were coming. They arrived in Boston at 6 a.m. from France and arrived at our home around 9 a.m.

Also, that day the FBI came to the house. The NY Daily News was waiting their turn when the G-men finished their interview with us. Apparently, the Daily News took pictures. The next day the headline was something like “Cowboy Hero Questioned as Suspect for Marathon.”

Also on Wednesday, one of the many reporters who waited his turn outside our home, told Carlos and me that the name of the young man who Carlos had aided was Jeff Bauman. I looked up his name and saw an article on-line from his Dad, also named Jeff, thanking Carlos for what he had done to help his son. Later that day a call came in from both Csilla, Jeff’s stepmom and father, Jeff. Carlos spoke to Jeff briefly. We stated we would all meet at some time.

During these days, Carlos and I were not watching the news. When a person is stuck in the middle of a news story with the media swarming about, you just don’t watch yourself. However, at one point we were told that Jeff Bauman had helped identify one of the bombers.

WHAT? We could not believe this. Carlos aided a young man who upon waking from surgery aided investigators by giving a description of a bomber. Jeff’s actions aided in removing suspicion from Carlos.

Also that Wednesday, we met Kristen. Kristen had previously been in broadcast journalism and was doing public relations work. At some point, I asked one of the many visitors to the house if they could put me in touch with someone in p.r. who could help pro bono so that I could return to work. I had thought interest in Carlos would die down by now, but that wasn’t the case. When Kristen showed up, she could not believe all of the reporters at our house. She walked into our kitchen where I was camped while Carlos was doing another interview and announced that she was “our new best friend.” (She continues to help out on the ongoing attention that Carlos is receiving one year later.)

Thursday – Day three after Marathon Bombing

I finally returned to work at a community health center in Dorchester.

Upon arrival, the chief executive officer came in to ask how I was doing. I told him I was overwhelmed but ok. He then handed me a message that he had taken from the British Broadcasting Service. They had left a message for me to contact them so they could interview Carlos. I was so embarrassed. (Later another station would try to leave messages with the parish priest where I worshipped too).

I had several meetings that day that I needed to attend including one in Cambridge. I was part of a workgroup that focused on research with other colleagues from across Greater Boston. When I arrived, a nurse practitioner from another community health center told me that she had worked the medical tent at Copley and saw Carlos when he had pushed Jeff to the ambulance. She also shared with me that since Monday she was shaky and was having trouble concentrating (I was glad to know that I was not the only one).

Back at the health center, I was agitated. I could not sit still. I kept getting up, forgetting why I got up and then sitting down again.

At the end of the day, there were still some reporters around. Kristen let me know that Oprah was interested in meeting Carlos. We declined. The word was that Oprah herself might show up at our home on Friday. We planned to have Carlos away from the home with a news team who had arrived from our home country in Costa Rica.

Little did we know what Friday would bring?

Friday – Day Four after Marathon Bombing

I awoke better rested. My throat was better, and I did not feel the chill anymore. Carlos and I had breakfast and then I arrived to work at 8 a.m.

Upon arriving, the City of Boston and surrounding areas announced that we were all to stay in place. So Carlos was at home and, I was at work. There were no patients arriving at the clinic. I was overwhelmed with the news of the shooting the night before. An MIT police officer and one of the bombing suspected had been killed. These events lead to the stay in place order.

Later in the day, the health center announced that employees could go home. As I drove home, the streets of Boston were empty: no people, few cars. That day was surreal.

Carlos and I devised a plan. We would go to a weekend retreat with other military families that we had been invited to previously. When I arrived, we packed up our dogs and our cars, and we got out of Boston. We were heading to Western Mass. The coast was clear since there was no media at our home.

Saturday and Sunday – Days five and six after Marathon Bombing

Upon awaking, we found out that the younger bombing suspect had been caught. My feelings were mixed. I was glad that he had been caught but, I wondered at how a 19 year old had become a part of these terrible events. I prayed a lot.

I was glad we were at the retreat. It was great to talk to other people. It was a therapy weekend when we needed it most. There were three square meals prepared for us each day. There was also acupuncture, tapping and yoga on site. Other than that, we slept. We needed the rest.

Monday – One week after Marathon Bombing

On Monday, we managed to meet Jeff at BMC. Working with BMC administrator, we were snuck in through the back entrance so the media wouldn’t follow.

When we arrived to the hospital floor, a young man grabbed Carlos in a bear hug saying “Thanks for saving Jeff’s life.” This was Tim, Jeff’s older brother. Jeff’s lifetime friend Sully who was also there said the same thing to Carlos.

We were escorted to Jeff’s room. Jeff was a thin young man who looked so pale with big brown eyes looking back at us. His injured legs were bandaged. He smiled and was happy to see Carlos. Carlos smiled back. Jeff thanked Carlos. Carlos gave him a hat and two pins of his sons Alex and Brian. I took a picture of both Carlos and Jeff with a handmade sign Carlos had made that said: “Together Strong.” Carlos promised to visit again soon. I had tears in my eyes. It was a quick reunion that will never forget be forgotten.

If interested, there is an art exhibit named “Boston Strong?” Art Show at Community Church of Boston, April 15-22. Local artists Darrell Ann Gane-McCalla, Shea Justice, and Jason Pramas have some problems with the “Boston Strong” slogan. So they are responding with a one-week pop-up art show called Boston Strong? from April 15-22, 2014 in the Lothrop Auditorium at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston St. 2nd Flr. in Copley Square.

A community opening with speakers including Mel King, Tina Chery of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, and hip hop poet Ant Thomas – will be held on April 15 from 7-9 p.m., and a traditional art opening will be held on April 18 from 6-10 p.m. There will be other viewing hours Thursday, April 17 from 12-4 p.m. and Sunday, April 20 from 3-7 p.m.

The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Community Church of Boston, and is free and open to the public.

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