The peace of a historic and festive event was shattered Monday when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, including an 8-year-old, and injuring at least 130 more.
The near-simultaneous blasts shattered windows and sent runners and onlookers fleeing through curtains of thick gray smoke. Police and emergency personnel rushed to aid casualties lying on the blood-stained pavement.
Eight children were among the injured.
No one claimed credit for the carnage in the city known as the Cradle of Liberty on the day celebrated as Patriots Day, and law enforcement authorities were reluctant to characterize the attack. But the bombings immediately drew fears that terrorists were responsible. As many as five other explosive devices were reported to have been found in the city.
“We still do not know who did this, and people should not jump to conclusions before we have all of the facts," President Barack Obama said in a brief nationally televised appearance. "But make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this, and we will find out who did this. We’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice."
Obama was briefed by homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Obama said that he’d ordered security heightened around the United States “as necessary” and vowed that whoever was responsible for the explosions would be tracked down. Although he declined to call the explosions a terrorist attack, the FBI had taken over lead in the investigation.
But Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News that he believed the bombings had “all the hallmarks of an act of terrorism.”
Authorities in New York and Washington tightened security in the wake of the blasts.
Boston area hospitals reported many victims of the blasts to be in critical condition with blast injuries to their arms and legs. At least 10 amputations were reported. The closest hospital to the bomb site, Massachusetts General Hospital, was treating 22 victims, including six in critical condition, said spokeswoman Kristen Chadwick.
At Boston Medical Center, a spokesman said its staff was treating 20 victims, including two children, but declined to describe their condition.
Jeremy Lechan, a spokesman for the Tufts Medical Center, where nine victims were taken, said that five of the patients were in surgery with significant injuries, but none life-threatening.
“Four of the surgical cases were serious orthopedic and neuromuscular trauma to the lower legs, with open fractures, some others have shrapnel wounds and ruptured ear drums,” he said.
The blasts occurred about 100 yards apart, close to the finishing line of the historic 26.2-mile race, on Boylston Street, which courses through a popular shopping and dining area of Boston known as Back Bay.
The first blast went off shortly before 2:50 p.m., about four hours into the race. It was quickly followed by the second. An estimated 9,000 of the 26,000 runners were still out on the course when the devices erupted in flaming gusts that twisted railings on the sidewalks into tangles of metal and wood that rescuers had to wrench into the street to reach casualties.
"Two bombs exploded as I crossed the finish line (with a race time of) 4:09. I can’t hear, I’m OK," Demi Clark, of Fort Mill, S.C., posted on her Facebook page around 4 p.m.
It also was a close call for her family. The 36-year-old was the biggest fundraiser for the event for her “Dream Big” charity, meaning her children and husband were given VIP passes – which may have saved them from standing somewhere closer to the blast, Clark wrote on Twitter.
"Still in shock,” she wrote. “If I hadn’t been the highest fundraiser 4 my charity, my kids wouldn’t have VIP passes. They would have stood in blast."
Patricia Soden, 51, of Hollywood, Fla., recalled “this horrendous explosion. My heart stopped. I got very scared.”
Then the second blast erupted.
“I was so afraid because my husband was waiting for me and I didn’t know where he was,” she said. “Hundreds of people were running out of control saying, ‘Go away, move, move!’”
Boston’s Logan Airport was briefly shut down for a security sweep after local law enforcement officials asked the Federal Aviation Administration to place a temporary flight restriction over a 3.5-mile radius of the city.
Julia Early, of Lexington, S.C., had just finished the race and was waiting to retrieve a bag from a bus when the first bomb exploded.
“We hear it and looked down there and saw a cloud of smoke,” said Early.
At first, Early said she thought the blast sounded like a cannon shot, and some of those around her didn’t believe it was serious. One person remarked that if had been, they would have heard sirens. And then they heard the first siren.
“You start getting really, really scared,” she said.
Those caught in the swirling, panic-stricken crowds had problems getting out of the downtown area and back to their hotels as traffic gridlocked and the subway was shut down. Many had been looking forward to going out for the evening but canceled their plans after Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis asked people to stay off the streets.
“Everything has frozen and stopped,” Greg Hall, 58, of Kansas City, Mo., said shortly after the explosions. “You can’t get in or out. Traffic is just snarled. There are emergency vehicles everywhere.”
Hall, who was in Boston with some 125 runners from Kansas City, said he didn’t know if any were hurt.
“What a tragic end to an absolutely gorgeous day and event,” he said.
For Christal Pauls, a 45-year-old marathoner from Wichita, Kan., it was her first time in the famous Boston race. She had run Wichita’s Prairie Fire Marathon the past three years and her time was good enough to qualify for Boston.
“Probably my last one,” she said. “I think I might stay in Wichita.”
Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, said that April 19 – which falls on Friday – is an “iconic day in the calendar of the American right, but I don’t see anything in the target or this date that tells us anything definitive."
April 19 is marked both as the start of the American Revolution, the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in World War II, the bloody end of the Waco standoff and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995.
Potok, though, said the targeting of a sporting event is "not an obvious" target for either domestic or international terrorists.