Boston surreal for Franklin County man

Officials suit up in tactical gear at Boston Common, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, one day after bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The twin explosions near the marathon’s finish line killed three people, wounded more than 170 and reawakened fears of terrorism. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Officials suit up in tactical gear at Boston Common, Tuesday, April 16, 2013, one day after bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The twin explosions near the marathon’s finish line killed three people, wounded more than 170 and reawakened fears of terrorism. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

“This morning, I drove into Boston, as close as I could get to the site of the bombings. It was eerie.”

Matthew Cavanaugh, of Greenfield, recounted his Tuesday in the state’s capital. A freelance photographer, he was called to document the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing that left three dead, and many more wounded, for the European Pressphoto Agency.

“One of the first things I came across was a restaurant, Stephanie’s on Newbury Street,” he recalled. The restaurant, and the nearby area, were evacuated after the bombing.

“It was like the Twilight Zone. All the tables were left mid-meal. There was food, half-eaten sandwiches, half-finished drinks, and checks on the tables. It’s like time froze Monday afternoon.”

Even with his press pass in hand, Cavanaugh couldn’t get very close to the scene of the explosions, the Boylston Street finish line.

“You couldn’t really see the finish line (from outside police barricades), you just get a distant look down Boylston or one of the cross streets,” he said.

At the edge of the cordoned-off zone, he said, he ran into a woman who had finished the marathon just two minutes before the first bomb went off. She was placing flowers at the barricade.

Runners were easy to spot Tuesday, he said, because of the green and yellow jackets given to competitors.

“I also saw a group of three women runners, looking at the scene, holding each other, and crying,” he said.

The mood in Boston Tuesday, he said, was a sombre one.

“Everywhere, people looked shell-shocked,” he said. “I could tell a lot of them were runners who didn’t get to finish the race. They have a look that says they just can’t believe it. There’s a lot of sadness in Boston.”

But, in Boston and the rest of the world, life must go on after tragedy. Many got up Tuesday and decided they wouldn’t let Monday’s bombing keep them down.

“Surprisingly, I saw a lot of runners Tuesday,” said Cavanaugh. “Some of them looked like they never stopped running. It was an eerie scene, very quiet, very sad.”

It’s a harsh blow, said Cavanaugh, to a country that has just begun to come to terms with the tragic school shooting that left nearly 30 dead in Newtown, Conn., and other recent tragedies.

“Just when people thought it was safe, and things were getting back to normal, there’s another attack,” he said. “A lot of people seem to be expressing that sentiment.”

Though people may be on-edge after the attack, a stepped-up police presence is there to protect them.

“There’s a heightened sense of awareness in Boston today,” state police Lt. Michael Habel, of the Shelburne Falls barracks, said Tuesday.

“We’ve been down in the subway stations in the greater Boston area,” said Habel. “We have a trooper in each (of 31) stations, along with transit police and the National Guard.”

A supervisor with the state police Special Emergency Response Team, Habel is overseeing troopers in eight subway stations.

“We’re working 16 to 18 hour shifts,” said Habel. “When the T closes, we will close.”

Part of the job, he said, is just making their presence known.

“We’re keeping an eye out for anything suspicious, and we’re also there to ease the minds of people living here,” he said. “You can’t go very far without running into some sort of law enforcement personnel.”

Habel said it seems to be working.

“People have been very nice, and have come up to thank us,” he said. “They’ve been very appreciative of our presence.”

During the attack, said Habel, he and his troopers were stationed about halfway down the marathon route. When the call came in that there had been an explosion, they jumped into action and headed for the finish line, along with scores of other public safety crews. It was tough going, he said, with so many spectators around, and roads into the city being shut down for safety.

Habel said he’s not sure how long he’ll be stationed in Boston.

“They’re assessing things each day,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the ongoing investigation (of the bombing). I don’t know how long there will be such a heavy presence here, but I assume it will probably last a couple more days, at least.”

Jeffrey Chaisson, of Greenfield, was volunteering at a Red Cross first-aid station when the bombs went off. Stationed eight miles back from the finish line, he didn’t hear the explosions go off as the slower runners passed him.

“When the explosions happened, the news came over our radios,” said Chaisson. He, and his fellow volunteers, were gathered together by their supervisor, who broke the news.

“I was pretty dumbfounded; it took a minute to settle in,” he remembered. His next thought, he said, was to help. He, his uncle, and two friends, had all come to volunteer together, and they all decided they’d stay there, and continue to help.

That was the consensus, he said, among his fellow volunteers. They all wanted to know what they could do to help, he said.

Chaisson, his uncle, and their friends were moved to an advanced life support station by the Quincy Town Hall, where they mostly dealt with those who were stranded, with no way to get back to Boston and their waiting rides, hotel rooms, or airplanes.

“The biggest thing to worry about was paranoia” rather than another attack, he said. “People were reporting unidentified packages, moving trash barrels, things like that.”

Though many are shaken by the bombing, and some local runners told the Recorder yesterday that they may not run in the Boston Marathon again, Chaisson said he won’t be deterred. The former EMT has been helping out at the marathon for eight years, and plans to continue.

“I will absolutely volunteer at the marathon again,” he said.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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