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Reacting to the attack

April 16, 2013

The alert chimed on my phone just shy of 3 p.m. I pulled it from my jacket pocket expecting to simply dismiss another AP alert, an action I perform several times a day and probably in my sleep. But after a quick glance at the screen — and then a double take — I had a gut feeling that the afternoon was about to change.

“Two explosions reported at the Boston Marathon finish line.”

Sure enough, it did.

I was hanging around the town office waiting for Gov. Peter Shumlin to drop by and pay a visit to a handful of local officials. I needed to follow up on comments he had made earlier in the day to a group of local business owners. In the meantime, I asked employees in the town clerk’s office to bring up news coverage online. It didn’t look good.

Shumlin, ever the picture of vigor, bounded through the door, said his hellos, then reluctantly approached me, likely knowing I had questions. As a courtesy, I told him of the bombs in Boston. “What? How bad?” he asked. “Bring it up,” he told Assistant Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau. “Scroll down,” he said, apparently a fast reader.

Little information was known. But reports of victims losing limbs had already trickled out and was included in the initial stories. Shumlin expressed his horror then turned back to me, ready for my questions. I quickly prodded him to clarify his position on paid sick time, which he artfully dodged. I didn’t press, however, choosing instead to get back to the newsroom where I assumed my colleagues were gearing up for a long afternoon.

They were.

The miniature television (13-inch) in the corner of the newsroom was tuned to CNN when I got back. Everyone’s eyes strained to see the steady stream of video immediately available from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Again and again the blasts were shown — an older runner stumbling to the ground, smoke billowing, and the screaming.

Reporter Keith Whitcomb and Arts Editor Andrew Roiter were looking to connect with people in Boston, hoping to gather first-hand accounts from witnesses. They took to Facebook and Twitter to make the connections.

I knew a local attorney, Danielle Fogarty, was running Monday’s marathon to raise funds for the New England Patriots’ charitable foundation. I called her firm, Donovan & O’Connor, to check on her status and try to connect with her to get a local resident’s perspective and account of events. They hadn’t heard from her.

The marathon’s official timing Website indicated Fogarty was very near the finish line when the blasts occurred. Concern for her well-being began to escalate. As reports began to emerge that cell service was spotty, or maybe even shut down, I decided to email. It worked. She sent a very brief reply confirming that she was safe. There was no indication, however, that she was interested in sharing her experience.

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The intersection of Tremont and Columbus in Boston on Monday afternoon. (Photo provided by Shira Sternberg)

I began to see Facebook activity from local native Shira Sternberg, now a resident of Boston. I reached out on Facebook, and she began to tell me what she knew and how she felt.

Sternberg, a runner herself, said she was thankful she didn’t run this year. She was feeling “saddened for our country.”

Sternberg had been heading home to Tremont Street when the blasts occurred.

“Lots of sirens and people in shock and crying, screaming being carried by loved ones,” Sternberg wrote. “You could see the terror in faces.”

She told me she took a run through the streets of Boston to help clear her head. It reminded her of what the bombs stole on Monday from the many runners in Boston.

“This is prob overly emotional but I just ran and as a runner I know people run for a lot of reasons. I run because it makes all my problems seem a little smaller sometimes for a brief moment they disappear. So to take that away from the runners today leaves me speechless,” she wrote.

Sternberg’s thoughts, as well as the information about Fogarty were added to a file that my colleagues had also added their content to. Banner Editor Michelle Karas organized the hodgepodge of information we had collected and crafted a local reaction story for our readers to run alongside an AP story with the latest details available Monday night.

Often when there is a national tragedy Banner staff, like our readers, are just consumers of news and information. But Boston is close, and local residents have strong ties to the New England city and its sports teams. Monday’s bombing, on Patriots day, required an earnest effort to bring readers as much local perspective as policy. Hopefully follow up stories will bring more compelling tales.

Local residents react to Boston Marathon bombing on Twitter

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