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Mon April 22, 2013
In Search of Normalcy Following Terror in Boston
By now you’ve seen the headlines: "CAPTURED!!!" read one. "The hunt is over,” read another. And a cop is quoted: “The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody."
But what does it now mean to return to normal?
Days after the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the killing of his older brother in a gunfight with police, I am standing at the top of Boylston Street not far from Copley Square --staring into the face of a video camera; the technology that helped bring a murderous spree to an end.
Because of this technology millions of Americans like Mark Lumus of New Jersey suddenly became deputies in the war on terror: Minutes after the images were released by the FBI, Lumus was watching them on a TV screen in the lobby of the Back Bay Sheraton.
"What they did was inexcusable," Lumus said. "Anything I could do to help, I'd be glad to do it."
So, can we ever think of ourselves in the same way again? Will we ever think of video cameras without thinking of how they were used in this instance? The same question can be asked relative to other aspects of this sad, tragic affair as we journey back to normal.
On Thursday night after covering the day’s press conference I was sitting on a city bus crossing the Mass Ave Bridge and watching the sky over MIT light up in police blue. In Central Square I hopped in my car and drove to the corners of Vassar and Main to see what was going on.
I learned a policeman had just been murdered. And then came word via police scanner of another startling development.
"Be advised, shots being fired, stolen SUV, from the state police," police said on their radios. "Stolen SUV from the state police."
The state police advisory set in motion a whirlwind of law enforcement activity the likes of which this region has never seen. Two men possibly the suspects had hijacked a Mercedes SUV and were leading police on a high speed chase in Watertown, firing weapons.
At Vassar and Main in Cambridge, police vehicles by the dozen were leaving in a hurry and reporters followed, including this one. Meanwhile in Watertown at that moment a resident named Brendan was looking out his window at a unbelievable sight.
"As the car was, I believe, making a left of Mt. Auburn onto my street, Adams, that's when I heard the police say, 'Stop, stop.' And I just saw lots of muzzles flash.
When the gunfire subsided, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, lay on the ground shredded by bullets and shrapnel. With his death and the dramatic capture 24 hours later of his brother, Dzhokhar, Watertown returned to normal.
But will residents here ever listen to a police siren in the same way again? Some Watertown residents I spoke with here said returning to business as usual will not be easy. Some need to know why this happened, and that’s why cousins Mariana and Natalas, from Brazil, say they’re happy one Tsarnaev was taken alive.
"We’re glad he was caught alive," Mariana said. "I think he's going to bring important information, and to be honest, I like the idea he's going to be given a second chance to change the destiny of things."
"We were a little scared, we live just right down the street," Natalas said. "But we’re just happy that he got caught even though there’s a pain inside, a compassion in me for this gentleman."
There was no such compassion from Watertown resident Sean Boygoyne.
"Honestly I wish they had taken him out," he said. "He’s done a lot of damage and hurt a lot of people."
The end of this dramatic ordeal elicited different reactions from different residents; from different people in various towns affected.
Several times a week, I pass by this high school. Both Tsarnaev brothers attended Cambridge Ridge and Latin, a paragon of diversity of race and religion, and when I pass by this school, I’m thinking not of young terrorists but of young minds being educated in broad, worldly topics. But today after headlines and celebrations of a return to normal, a bomb squad vehicle is sitting in front of the school; a precaution no doubt, but very much a scene out of the ordinary.
Linda Jane Stavis, who graduated from the high school with Dzhokhar in June 2011, and knew both suspects, has been thinking a lot about the what it all means.
"We were in the same circle of friends, so even though I'd see the younger brother in class, I'd occasionally see the older brother at social outings and whatnot around the neighborhood," she said. "He could've easily influence the younger brother, who was reserved and probably a little naive. Between the two of them, if there was one that was overtly political, it would have been the older one."
Talk of possible connections to radical groups in Chechnya and Dagestan seem totally disconnected from the ordinariness of this day in Boston’s Back Bay. Melody Morris a scientist, and Jonathan Greiner, a teacher, are walking along Commonwealth Avenue, festooned with new magnolia blossoms, one day after the advisory to stay indoors was lifted.
"As far as our personal lives go, I don't know how much it's affected our long-term personal life," Greiner said. "Melody got a day off of work yesterday and we sat inside and hoped for the best. But that was all we could really do, so I don't know if it really affected our personal lives deeply in the long term."
"We'll obviously remember it," Morris said. "Every time we see the magnolia trees we'll remember this time that is both associated with a heinous event, but then also when the city came together, which I think is the really nice story here. We weren't paralyzed yesterday, we were taking a day off and letting the police do their job. That's what will affect my memory there will be a round, full memory of both something bad and something good."
On Newbury and Gloucester, a military policeman standing guard keeping the curious away from the crime scene we know as Boylston Street is puzzled by my question. Have we returned to normal?
"I don’t know," he said laughing. "I do not know. I’m here until they don’t need me, which is fine."
In the days after police hunted down the prime suspect in the bombing that took place a few blocks from here, outdoor restaurants are filled with patrons; drivers jockey for parking spaces; and a meter reader is putting tickets on windshields.
"That's a good sign sometimes," she said, laughing. "We're really light."
And some of the 400 businesses that were closed are NOW open including Life is Good, where I'm being offered a free hug.
"We always offer hugs, but the sign is due to this weekend," said Jess. "But we're always offering hugs."
At the corner of Boylston and Hereford Streets life is anything but normal: A makeshift memorial has been set up against the steel barriers, stuffed with flowers, cards, letters and signs dedicated to the four victims of this tragedy and the many, many injured.
A few yards away at the Boylston Street firehouse, a tall, somber fireman is standing in the doorway looking past the barriers at the empty street filled with debris. He doesn't think we've returned to normal.
"Takes time," he said. "Normal medicals, false alarms, the usual. Nothing way out of whack, so … I was in the war, and this hits it home."
In covering this story I found in several interviews that though shocked, people were not totally unprepared for the unimaginable. 9/11 set us up for that.
A return to what we view as normal is predicated on hope, obviously, but also in getting answers to the question: Why?
A street musician, Laird Kopp, summed up what many I interviewed felt.
"We obviously have a determined spirit here in the Northeast," he said. "… It'll always be in the back of our mind, but we'll also make an effort to live life and enjoy people and do what we do here in Boston."
And in retracing the route of the Boston Marathon, I arrive at Mass Ave, short of the finish line. And a cop directs traffic, a homeless man pushes a cart, a mother pushes a stroller. My bus arrives on time and life, perhaps, returns to normal.