Endurance continues months after Marathon Bombings

By Steven Gillard

MCT

I was 7 years old when I came home from school one afternoon to see the indelible images of black smoke billowing from the World Trade Center flashing across my television. That was the first time I ever heard the word “terrorism,” the first time I ever witnessed evil. But I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand the logic behind killing innocent civilians, and over 12 years later, I still don’t.

On Sunday, April 14, I visited New York City for the first time. As I joined the crowd of tourists at Times Square and marveled at the towering skyscrapers, I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would want to knock one of those buildings out of the sky. A tragedy that had always felt distant suddenly became real to me as I stood there on the streets of New York.

The next day, I turned on the television to see news of explosions at the Boston Marathon. Although 9/11 was vastly larger in terms of number of casualties and scope, the attacks in Boston hit home to me more than 9/11 ever had. My friends went to school in Boston. My parents had grown up there. Standing in New York a day before, 9/11 had seemed a vague memory, a tragedy that had occurred 12 years ago in a city hours away. But on April 15, a city that I had been to countless times, a city just 40 minutes away and one I had always assumed was immune to terror, was attacked.

Later that week on Thursday night, I sat in my dorm at UMass Dartmouth listening to news coverage. An MIT police officer had been shot and killed. A vehicle had been stolen and there was a shootout in Watertown. The suspects involved in the hijacking and the murder were the Marathon bombers. I stayed up late listening to the coverage, praying that the suspects would be killed and this saga would end, but I eventually had to go to bed. I had class in four hours.

On Friday morning I woke up and began to walk to class. As I stepped outside, I noticed that the fire alarm was going off in Pine Dale hall, a sophomore dorm next to the freshmen quad, a few hundred yards away. I thought nothing of it; fire alarms were always going off in college dorms. As I approached the library, there seemed to be far more students heading away from it than toward it. A student stopped me. “Classes are cancelled,” he told me, “The bomber goes here. He lives in Pine Dale.” I didn’t believe it. It must have been a mistake. Terrorists didn’t go to Massachusetts state schools. But a few minutes later, I received a call from the school confirming that the bomber was in fact a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and that students should leave the school immediately if they could. As I drove away from Dartmouth, Blackhawks landed on the quad and armored trucks pulled into the entrance. A tragedy I thought could not strike much closer than it already had suddenly did, and it was surreal.

The revelation that the bomber was a fellow student was something I could not wrap my head around. Terrorists were evil. Terrorists were monsters. Terrorists came from countries thousands of miles away. They were crazy, twisted, bent on some warped ideology I could never understand. In my mind, I had dehumanized them.

But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was all too human.

He played intramural soccer. He went to parties. He ate in the same dining hall I did. On Wednesday, April 17, while the FBI struggled to identify the bombers, he came back to UMD and worked out in the gym I had been to dozens of times. My peers knew him; professors knew him.

It was frightening to realize that a terrorist could be a normal college student; that the same extremist ideology that had brought down the World Trade Centers had manifested in the mind of a student who lived a few dorms over from me,

Today marks six months since the Boston Marathon was senselessly bombed. For those injured, the wounds are only beginning to heal, and the road to recovery remains a long one. For the families of Krystle Marie Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard and Officer Sean Collier, life will never be the same. Not much can be said to ease the pain of those suffering from the tragedy, but let this be known: the terrorists have failed.

Look at the people injured: runners, men and women pushing themselves to the limit of human spirit and endurance, unbreakable people who, six months later, have still not broken. The One Fund has raised over $60 million to help those injured by the bombings, and those affected are making slow but sure progress toward normal lives. The Red Sox, who were predicted to have another horrible year at the start of the 2013 season, are now in the ALCS, a metaphorical sign of Boston’s strength and perseverance.

The bomber was a peer of mine but I will never comprehend what drove him to attack the Boston Marathon or what he thought he would accomplish. He needed only to look at the New York City skyline and see One World Trade Center, now the tallest building in New York, to realize that any terrorist attack, no matter how big or small, is a fruitless endeavor from the start. The Boston Marathon will continue to take place annually as it has since 1897, and like its runners, like the people of New York, like every American, the people of Boston will endure.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]