Saturday, April 20, 2013

Marathon Finish!

It's over! It's finally over! Well, until we get to the Order part of this real life episode of Law and Order. But the law enforcement team has finished the first half of the episode. They have turned the suspect over. Now a brief intermission and the order team will step up to the plate. The prosecution will revel in its work. Bringing justice to the city of Boston. But never have they been asked to do so after so much tragedy, so much angst, and so much fear has swept the city. Boston has seen its share of high profile trials but, in these days of 24hour tv and 24 hour news cycles, instant access to goings on through social media, an era of transparency, the city is about to embark on what may become the trial of the century.  The men -creatures?- who flew four planes into oblivion and infamy on September 11, 2001 did not survive to face trial. Timothy McVeigh did, and lost his trial, lost his life. But while his act of domestic violence resulted in more deaths than the Boston Marathon bombings, his was directed at the government. The people were, and I don't intend callousness or disrespect, they were collateral damage. They were not a part of his message but just a means to deliver it.

The people in Boston were intentional targets. There's no question about that. These two young men, the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlin at 26 and Dzhokar, known here in America as Jahar, at 19, intentionally planted their weapons of destruction in areas that were crowded by true Americans, regular Americans, there to cheer on and celebrate those who had endured hardships to gain entry in one of the greatest marathons in the world, the 117th running of the Boston marathon. They are patriots who were there to celebrate Massachusetts' Patriots Day.

The runners, only a few of them slightly injured in the blast, had trained hard to qualify for this fateful run. Elated at being accepted to participate, they ascended on Boston with family and friends, many of whom awaited them at the finish line. Groups of runners were running to raise funds for charities. Many different charities that use some of Boston's greatest medical, science, and technology assets to develop treatment and cures for people afflicted with the conditions and diseases for which those charities were created. Another group was running in honor of the victims and survivors of Americas's most recent mass shooting, the killing of 20 children and six adults in neighboring Connecticut. Individuals running for their own causes, for personal reasons or in memory of loved ones. Or just to see if they could conquer one of the world's most famous and most difficult marathons. But those running in groups, raising money or awareness or both, are a special kind of people. Running not for personal best times but for others is a noble thing to do. It's an American thing to do, to selflessly give up indinidual goals for the common good. It's a New England thing to do. It's a Boston thing to do.

But the runners themselves were not the actual targets. It was the cheering section. People of all ages from all walks of life. Some family and friends of runners, waiting excitedly to see them run through the finish zone. Some were supporters and beneficiaries of charities funded by runners. Some didn't personally know any runners but cheered them anyway, lending their own kind of support. That's how Boston celebrates Patriots Day. But on Monday, April 15th, four days before the actual anniversary of "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" came the bombastic blasts heard 'round the world.

Back in my cycling days I participated in several charity rides. They were 80 miles long. Up hills and down, through small towns and farmlands. With breaks along the way, rest stops manned by volunteers who could not ride but were enthusiastic in their support, it is hard to descibe the feelings you have. But the most important one you take away from each stop, after the Gatorade and the banana, the potty break, the bike check, is that you must go on. You must finish. For the people. The people you're raising money for. The people who have worked so hard to set up and present the event. The people who have devoted a weekend to make sure you are well fed, well hydrated, blisterless. And at the end, the cheers. The noise! Oh, the noise! The hugs and kisses from people you've never met and whom you'll never see again. Young people, middle-aged and old people. Healthy people and victims of the insidious disease you are trying to help fund a cure for, Multiple Sclerosis. Though they did not ride The Pedal to the Point, they got the Point. Not Cedar Point, the amusement park destination, but The Point of the Ride. And amidst all the cheers and hugs of happiness, there was gratitude.

So I know what was happening throughout the day as the runners proceeded from water station to water station, and finally reached the finish line, bone and muscle weary, exhausted to the all-I-wanna-do-is-sleep-for-three-days point. Hungry, thirsty, jubilant and exultant. But first the search to hook up with friends and family, at the finish line or designated spots nearby.

The elite runners were long gone, having finished hours before. Now it was the
 people's race. The guy down the street who once borrowed your lawn mower. The woman your sister-in-law works with. The groups with little in common but a common charitable cause. They were running to the shouts, the cheers, the waving flags and signs of the spectators near the finish line. The kid who plays hockey, sometimes with your kid, sometimes against. The grandparents, the best friends, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. All waiting to deliver their own huzzahs, their own hugs and kisses, their own excited congratulations! And then, BOOM! A fireball enveloped a part of the crowd. Bits and pieces of metal and plastic flying through the air, shearing and shredding limbs, destroying ear drums, impaling soft human tissue with BBs and nails. A cloud of smoke that soon dissipated, revealing what was often described as carnage. Terror ensued. Yes terror, because that is what was the intention of the act. An act of terrorism. Then, nearly fifteen beats of a heart later, two football fields away,  BOOM, another blast! More injuries, more confusion, more fear.

Immediately came the trained response from nearby police, firefighters, and servicemen. Running towards the carnage were doctors, nurses, trained medical staff.  Coming to the aid of the victims. Coming to take over for the average citizen who maybe learned CPR in a classroom but had never put his skills to use...until today when he dropped to his knees to help the spectator who just seconds ago had been standing next to him with a big grin on her face. A stranger caught up with him in the excitement of the day, a stranger who know depended on him for her life. Average citizens who knew if you didn't put a tournequet on that leg the victim would bleed out. Maybe they learned that on tv, but in the face of gruesome injuries,images they'd never before seen but that would forever be etched in their minds, they acted instinctively and lives were saved because of it.

Some civilians literally gave the shirts off their backs. Some gave words of comfort. But all gave what they could, running selflessly and spontaneously into what has repeatedly been likened to a war zone. Not knowing if this was it, two quick blasts in succession, or if there was more to come. They came, each finding a job, tearing down barriers, giving aid and comfort, getting the victims to help anyway they could, on gurneys and stretchers, in wheelchairs, literally carrying strangers in their arms as they ran towards waiting ambulances.

Some runners understandably reacted with shock, searching desperately for their support teams. Some returned to their hotels to try and process what had happened. And some continued running, straight to designated blood donation areas, hospitals where the wounded were taken. The injured would need life giving blood to replenish what was lost on the scene. Some would need life saving blood as they underwent surgery to remove severely damaged limbs or repair the effects of crude amputations caused by flying shrapnel and bomb parts.

It was a sick and gory scene. Stomach wrenching. So nauseating one prominent newspaper doctored its front page photo to lessen its impact.

But immediately that terror was replaced by acts of kindness, of bravery. Law enforcement immediately got to work, cordoning off what a few minutes earlier was the cheering section of a major international sporting event and was now a crime scene. Local Boston Police and Boston Firefighters were soon joined by first responders from neighboring towns, neighboring states, the federal government. Police and fire investigators were joined by The ATF, The FBI, the Dept. of Homeland Security. All with the same purpose. Find out who caused this. Who committed this heinous act of cowardice. Yes, cowardice. Because that's what terrorists are, cowards.

And so the manhunt began. Security camera footage was gathered. Ordinary people dropped off or emailed cell phone  and camera photos of the crowds. Interviews, questions, searches. Tips poured in to hot lines. Tips by the thousands, all had to be evaluated, many checked further. suddenly, after just three days of searching through unknown bits and pieces of information, clear and grainy film and photos of crowded scenes, somebody, somehow, picked out two men as possible suspects. And the search, the tangible search, was on. Narrowed down to two men. And shared with the public to help find them. 

Clarified pictures were shared through every outlet possible. Law enforcement took to social media to get the photos out across the country and to international agencies like Interpol. By then the two could have been anywhere in the world. But they weren't; they were right in our backyards. At the end, literally in somebody's back yard.

But before that ending, the search. We don't know where these two brothers, Cambridge residents who immigrated from Kyrgyzstan as youths and who were granted asylum because their country was at war, one eventually becoming a US citizen, spent the first two days after the bombings. We don't know if others were involved, a possible terrorist cell hiding them until they could safely return to normal lives. Or if they acted alone and had gone underground to hide until the pressure eased. But then the photos were released.  The public knew what they looked like even if we were yet to learn their names. Soon the names were known, identifications were confirmed. If there was a terrorist cell, they could no longer risk themselves by being associated with the Tsarnaevs. If they acted alone, the brothers likely knew their chances of evading law enforcement were none. So on Thursday they took to the streets. They carried with them another pressure cooker bomb, pipe bombs, home made grenades. And at least one gun. They made their way to the campus of MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The school where some of the brightest young minds in the world gather to learn to do great things, to find answers for the world's problems, to develop medical technologies, to engineer solutions. Given that they had more IEDs with them, it is assumed they were there to plant them around the campus. Why MIT? Who knows. There doesn't seem to be any connection between them and the school.

There was an MIT police officer on duty that night. One of thousands of officers in the region keeping an eye out for the two brothers, their brothers' faces committed to memory, the officers on heightened alert. What happened on that campus, at that intersection, we'll probably never know. The only real information we have is that a young police officer, only a year on the job, was executed as he sat in his cruiser. Executed by one of the brothers, likely Tamerlan, the older brother. Tamerlan had described himself as an outcast, unable to make friends in his new home country. He was not happy here. Unlike his younger brother, his request for citizenship had been denied because of a charge of domestic violence against his girlfriend, the mother of his child. Yes, this terrorist was a father. He returned to Eastern Europe for a period of time. There is speculation he trained with a terrorist or militia group while there. Certainly he had seen war as a Chechen teen in Kyrgyzstan before emigrating to the United States with his family. So with the loss of Officer Sean Collier, the city mourns another senseless death. Another family grieves over their loved one. And the hunters become more determined to catch their prey. Because if there's anything that comes close to an attack on the public in setting law enforcement on a mission, it's the loss of one of their own, a brother.

As cruisers raced to the scene at MIT in response to the calls of an officer down, the suspects' vehicle is spotted and a chase ensues through the streets of Cambridge, heading to nearby Watertown. Along the way many gunshots ring out, cars are hit. People, too. Good guys and bad guys. A few explosives are tossed out the window in failing attempts to deter the chasing officers. At one point the suspects stop their car. The driver gets out. Shots ring out and he drops to the ground. We don't know if he was dead or alive at that point, but then the younger brother made his way to the driver's seat and somehow managed to back over his brother's body, possibly delivering the fatal injury.

The younger brother drove away, and the chase continued. Events that happened up to this point and beyond are not quite clear. During the chase, Officer Richard Donahue was shot and wounded, listed in critical condition at the hospital. Fifteen other officers were injured in the chase. Did the boys rob the 7-Eleven where they stopped? Yes. No. We're looking into it. At some point they switched cars, hijacking a Honda, holding the driver hostage for thirty minutes, admitting to being the bombers, forcing the man to withdraw money from his ATM to fund their escape. Then they stopped the car and Tamerlan exited, getting himself shot and run over by the vehicle now being driven by his brother. Somehow, with details still muddled, Jahar, the younger of the two, survived. He made his way to Watertown. He abandoned the car and escaped on foot. The city of Boston was already locked down, streets blocked off, people urged to stay home. Then the suburbs were locked down. Residents ordered to remain in their homes, away from windows. Don't answer your door until you have positively identified the person as a law enforcement officer. Please open your house to a search. We don't care about anything we find except this kid.

Bostonians complied. The people of Watertown and some surrounding areas were under seige, hidng their children, glued to the radio or tv and computer screens, following the stories on their phones. Texting, Facebook, Twitter. All the lines were burning up much as they had on Monday after the horrific acts took place. As if in a prison, they were in lock-down mode.

And then, they found him. A citizen noticed blood on the white plastic covering his boat in his backyard. He should have called the cops. That's what I would reasonably have done, or you. For days we'd been told to NOT approach the suspects, who were armed and dangerous. But bravely or foolishly he decided to check it out himself. What he found was a bleeding young man lying at the bottom of his boat. He then did what he should have done in the first place. He called the police. The police surrounded the house. Negotiations began. A stand-off ensued as the kid refused to come out of hiding. Whether he was injured to the point he couldn't come out on his own, the police didn't know at the time. But eventually, after suffering the effects of concussive blasts and gas grenades, he emerged from under the thin layer of plastic. It was an unlikely hiding place for someone fearing for his life. It offered little protection. It was easily discoverable. and there was little he could do for himself as he lay there. No food, no water. And with the entire neighborhood alert and vigilant, no hope for an undetected escape. After several hours he surrendered. After being handcuffed he was given medical aid. Because that's what Americans do. On the battlefields and in our backyards, we give medical aid to our enemies. To do any less would be unconscionable, barbaric, something terrorists would do. But not in Boston. In Boston they take you to the number one trauma center. They do everything humanly possible to save you. Even knowing what you did, that you will likely spend the rest of your life behind bars.

So now the physical danger is over. The emotional issues, not so much. There will be steps to go through. Steps similar to those normally thought of when grieving the loss of a loved one. But I have a feeling the anger will live on, way past the point where one should move to the next step. Anger will live on through Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev's trial, unless he takes mercy on his victims and pleads guilty. He may do so in exchange for his own life. While Massachusetts does not support the death penalty, the crimes allegedly committed by the Tsarnaev brothers  meet the guidelines of federal crimes that call for the death penalty. The surviving brother, Dzhokhar, will likely be bound over to federal court, where federal charges will be brought. Except for trips back and forth to a courtroom and views through a small slit of a cell window, he will likely never again see the light of day. He will likely spend time in a solitary cell in maximum security, his only human contact being meetings with his legal team, brief contact with guards escorting him to the exercise or shower rooms, maybe, for the first few months, visits from some loyal friends.

The thing is, Jahar DOES have loyal friends. While his brother bemoaned his inability to establish friendships in the United States, feeling like he didn't fit in, focusing on training for the individual sport of boxing, Jahar was assimilating as an American. Only eight when he arrived in the country (Tamerlan was 15), Jahar quickly made friends. He was a gifted athlete and a likeable kid. He maintained close friendships with classmates and teammates, right up until the time he was captured. Some of his friends recognized his photo as a suspect but, in the words of one, they were joking about it and didn't report it because "No, we didn't want to throw somebody under the was too much to bring to the FBI's attention for my group of friends." He later added, "you don't want to implicate anybody that you know..." Had these young men had the decency to do the right thing, the grown up thing, the MANLY thing, despite being friends with the suspect, perhaps Sean Collier would still be alive, and sixteen other officers, including the critically wounded Officer Donahue, might never have been injured and might be home with their families today. 

Perhaps in the time between Tsarnaev's arraignment and his trial, if there is to be one, his friends will reconsider their ties to him. Some have already said they will testify on his behalf, that he never would have acted except for an overwhelming desire to be like his brother, his ability to be influenced by his brother, his desire to be accepted by his brother. Always the brother. They will say it's all Tamerlan's fault. But at nineteen years old, a young man has to take responsibility for his own actions. And hopefully these young men, loyal to a friend who is now accused of committing an act of terrorism against his own country, against all Americans, against them as Bostonians, perhaps they will reconsider. Perhaps they will recall something that was off, some conversation, some reference to his brother, his beliefs. But they are young. Perhaps they can be excused for their unabashed loyalty to a young man they have called friend. But that loyalty may be called into question when it's learned when they knew Jahar Tsarnaev was the suspect police were searching for and whether they could have prevented the carnage of Thursday night by coming forward with their knowledge.

Their friend will be provided good legal representation. Better than he could ever hope to afford. He will be defended at the taxpayers' expense. The very same taxpayers he tried to kill. The very same taxpayers who, through generous donations, will help the victims of his actions, and their families. The same taxpayers who will pay for his medical care for the injuries he suffered in the commission of his crimes. And he will get a fair trial. Because what he did, he did to America. 

I'd like to give credit for the photo but don't know the original source.