2:17 PM EDT, April 20, 2013
We are all Boston. It's something we said on Monday, when we were at a loss for words to describe our shared sorrow and horror at the marathon bombings, when we knew no other way to express our solidarity with a city reeling from terrible loss. Four days later, it is something we said as we cheered along with all those gathered on a quiet street in Watertown as police captured the second suspect in the bombings alive, put him in a squad car and drove away. We say it now out of pride for a city that responded to tragedy in a way we all hope we would and brought a terrifying week to a close with a professionalism and dignity that represents the best in us all.
We now know just enough details about the two men believed to be responsible for the bombings to invite speculation about what could have led them to commit such a terrible act. The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was a promising amateur boxer who experienced troubles in this country. A domestic violence complaint prevented him from gaining citizenship, and his occasional traces in the media suggest a young man troubled with what he saw as a wayward society. The younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, beloved by many friends at Cambridge Ringe and Latin High School, where he was captain of the wrestling team. He was devoted to his older brother and appeared to have trouble adjusting to college. The are ethnic Chechens, though neither was born there or spent significant time in that troubled province of Russia where terrorism is common in a lengthy sectarian and nationalistic conflict. Tamerlan traveled recently to Russia and spent six months there with his father. The Russian government was reportedly sufficiently concerned about his travel plans that it asked the FBI to question him, which it did, though officials said they found no reason for concern.
Had Tamerlan Tsarnaev become radicalized here or during his trip abroad? Was he manipulating his brother? Was the motivation for the attack connected with radical Islam or with the conflict in Chechnya? Was this an isolated incident or does it represent an ongoing threat? Were there signs that the FBI missed when it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev? Perhaps Dzhokar Tsarnaev will provide the answers to those or a thousand other questions, and perhaps he won't. But even if we learn the hows and whys of the bombing, it will almost certainly remain forever beyond our understanding.
What we can seek to understand is this: When confronted with an act of sheer nihilism, a city responded with a breathtaking swiftness, determination and shared purpose to restore order. In the seconds after the blasts, emergency medical personnel and ordinary race goers rushed to aid the scores of injured runners and spectators. Police immediately closed down the marathon course and ushered the crowds away to preserve the evidence that was left at the crime scene. Businesses, the media and bystanders shared thousands of photographs and videos taken at the scene with investigators, who pieced the clues together within two days to identify a pair of suspects. A day later, officials made the risky decision to share images of those suspects with the public, and within hours, the case broke open. After a series of confrontations Thursday night that left an MIT police officer dead and a transit authority policeman gravely wounded, authorities put names to the faces picked out of the crowd. What happened next was an extraordinary lesson in our collective will to turn back the forces of darkness and destruction.
When police captured Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was badly wounded and had been run over by the SUV in which his brother escaped, they took him immediately to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a hospital where some victims of the Monday bombing were still recovering. Doctors there suspected who their patient must be, but they sought frantically to save his life anyway. That is what we do. Within hours, thousands of police officers had massed in the area where Dzhokar Tsarnaev had disappeared, and the governor asked the residents of Watertown, Cambridge, Boston and several other towns to stay inside until further notice. They did. If anyone was complaining about it, they kept it to themselves. That allowed a painstaking, door-to-door manhunt to proceed without interference. Shortly after the request to "shelter in place" was lifted, a Watertown man walked outside, noticed the tarp covering a boat in his driveway was askew, looked inside and saw a wounded young man. He called the police, and within three hours Dzhokar Tsarnaev was in custody.
Hearing the news, crowds of people who had been cooped up inside all day spilled out onto the streets. As each police car drove by on the dark and empty streets, they cheered them on as if they were marathon runners making a final push to the finish line. And a week that began with a display of the worst that humans are capable of ended with the triumph of the best. Boston, you made us all proud.
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