‘We heard two loud bangs, and then people started running’
On April 15, 2013, a team of 30 BU Journalism students set out to cover the Boston Marathon for BU News Service as they do every year. They profiled runners and organizations, photographed and recorded video and audio of events, and created interactive graphics. And on race day, they live blogged updates from locations along the route.
Just as the team was about to shut down its coverage, a cell phone rang in the newsroom. Prof. Michelle Johnson answered. It was a student reporter, Lisa Kashinsky, who was in the vicinity of the finish line. “We heard two loud bangs and then people started running.”
BU News Service earns national recognition
The Online News Association named the The BU News Service as a national award recipient for their student coverage of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15. View the award-winning BU News Service special edition.
She was told to start tweeting updates from where she was. This set in motion continuous coverage of the marathon bombings by BU News Service, which followed the story from the initial blasts, through the shock and confusion, through the loss of a BU student, vigils, memorials and remembrances, a visit from the president, and finally several shooting deaths, a lockdown of the city, and the capture of one of the suspects alive. Local and national news organizations, including CNN, NBC, boston.com, and WCVB-TV, ran stories, photos and video produced by BU News Service and the team published continuous updates to the BU News Service Website.
This was no class exercise. It was a fast-paced, real-world immersion in covering a major breaking news story. This archive showcases the work produced by the BU News Service team.
By Kiva Liu
When I came to United States last September, I prepared enough English to survive. I had enough money to pay my tuition and enough determination to work hard, but no expectation to face up to death continuously.
The chance for me, an ordinary young girl, to come so close to death may be as small as winning a lottery. I knew about death only from the news or TV series until a morning in last December.
On my way to school, on the Green Line, I saw a body covered by a white cloth. Red blood dotted on the white. A life ended at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Pleasant Street near a huge truck. At that moment, I did not know the victim was Christopher Weigl, my first American friend, my partner in the “Ambassador Program” between American students and international students.
In the last four months, I tried to write about Chris three times, every time I started, I could not finish because the pain was still there. It has taken me so long to admit that the tall guy who walked me home in the dark night… who teased about my English pronunciation… who cooked me terrible dinner and… who told me about the girl he liked, had disappeared in the world.
In the service in memory of him, I saw his excellent work as a photojournalist. I remembered a night, when we were talking about our future in journalism. I told him my confusion.
“I have no concentration. I may write, produce video or take photos for any media,” I said.
He paused, and said to me, “You need to know what exactly you want to do, and work hard on that. If you want to do photo, how can you compete with a photo guy like me?”
Sitting among the mourners at the memorial service, my eyes welling with years, I suddenly realized that if the person who died were me, I would have achieved nothing to show the world. The feeling of shame somehow inspired me. If I will die someday, I want to die with the glory that Chris has.
I felt my dream closer this semester, when I knew my first independent documentary — about a runner in Boston Marathon — could be used by the BU News Service. I did not have the chance to tell Chris that I finally found my concentration — in making documentaries, which combines my art background and journalism ability together.
For two weeks before Marathon Day, I followed a runner. Her name is Rebecca Roche, who regards running as a dream in her life. However, her ankle was fractured when she was 15 and was injured again and again later in her life. She quit running because she was injured when she was training for the 2009 Chicago Marathon. After she signed up for this year’s Boston Marathon, she was injured again this January. When everyone was worried about her injury, she said: “I will finish the Marathon anyway, even on my hands and knees.”
I prepared everything before filming the final footage about the race, by editing whenever and wherever I could, no matter whether I was on a car or in the deep night.
Last Monday morning, I arrived at Marathon Sports store on Boylston Street in Boston. I interviewed Roche’s parents, boyfriend and friends, and stayed with them.
“I will kiss her and hug her when she finished,” said John Silvia, Roche’s boyfriend. He works in Marathon Sports and met Roche when she came to buy shoes. We got a good spot on the sidewalk outside of the store to wait for her.
Soon after she crossed the finish line, Silvia darted to meet Rebecca near the finish line. When he disappeared from my camera shot, I hesitated whether I should follow him or not. I knew I might not be able to find him in the crowd and that they would come back to the store, where I could interview them.
But then… thinking about the image of their kisses and hugs, I ran with Silvia with my camera and tripod, leaving my camera bag with my purse outside the store, and my backpack with my passport and laptop in the store.
“I will watch out for you, honey,” said Beth Roche, Rebecca Roche’s mother, when I left.
A blast happened behind me when I left for two-shops away, and then another continued.
“What are you looking at? What are you waiting for?” A lady behind me yelled at me when I stared at the smoke, trying to figure out what happened.
It must be a terrorism attack, which is the information I read from the fear and tears in people eyes. Will the third bomb hit me? I wondered, when people behind me pushed me forward along the street until I could not see or smell the smoke. I was standing on the open space near Copley Station, where I remembered that I’m a journalist, because my camera was with me.
Should I go back to report? You are the only child in my family. I told myself. I started to run desperately and heavily, hugging with my camera and tripod. After I ran away about three blocks away, I realized that no one knew where would be safe. I had no choice but stay calm. I started to report and interviewed people, in order to distract myself and make up for the loss of my work in the laptop, which was still in the store.
I came back to school and edited a news package with my shaking hands. After I turned it in and left school, I finally started to cry.
The FBI had taken my camera and SD card with my work as evidence in the same night. I was still glad to accept the fact that I had lost many important things . . . but not my life.
I borrowed money from a friend to live on.
I reported my safety to my mum almost every hour, especially after HangZhou Daily, a newspaper in south China misused my picture as Lingzhi Lu’s last picture in her life.
I woke up in the deep night and tried to understand what happened in my life.
I talked to tons of officers and FBI agents, trying to find my bags and camera. They hold my efforts and my dream in a foreign country.
I trembled when I heard the police or ambulance alarm.
I said no to any journalist who tried to interview a mutual friend of Lingzhi Lu and I.
I got a chance to cry again in a gathering in memory of Lu. The gathering was almost for me.
When we were all kept at home last Friday, I had got used to live without everything I relied on. When everyone was relieved about the capture of Suspect No.2, I still wondered whether it was the right person. I heard the laughter from the street, from the party downstairs. People always can move on, and they have to, while nothing can bring the dead back.
It might be the time for me to move on in my way. I told myself.
Soon after the capture, I heard another news that an earthquake happened in my hometown in China. I could not reach my parents and any other friends for about one hour.
Images of the earthquake in my hometown in 2008, images of Chris Weigl’s body and images of the bombs flooded into my head together. Crying was the only thing I could do when waiting for the update from the earthquake.
Finally, I found my parents safe and sound. It became my mother’s turn to call me almost every hour and report their safety.
Three months after Chris Weigl’s death, I went to visit his parents. They still cried when we talked about Weigl. However, they still showed me all the pictures with his stories in their house. In the picture they took with me, Chris Weigl was looking at us with a smile in the picture on the wall.
More than two thousand people, most of them did not know Lu, attended her memorial at BU. I showed up although I was afraid to go.
I bought some flowers and wrote a letter to Danling Zhou, a Chinese girl who was injured in the explosion, even though I did not know her.
I visited Rebecca Roche’s Mother, who was injured after I left. She loved the Chinese silk I gave her as a gift.
I write everything happened down now, although it was a torture for me.
I think that the reason I could do all these things is that I realize that sometimes the pain could always be a part of my life. It never goes away, no matter how hard I try. I have to learn to live with it.
Sometimes I felt living may be harder than dying. But as long as I’m alive, I have the responsibility to live for the ones who are not able to live anymore.
I complained about the bad luck, until I realized that I’m the luckiest among the lucky ones.
The more frustrating life is, the more I want to flight for it.
I’m too lucky to give up, while life is too short to waste.
My First Boston Marathon
By Panicha Imsomboon
One of my new year’s resolutions for year 2013 is watching the Boston Marathon.
I remember myself posting this Facebook status some time in May of last year. It was a few months before I came to Boston. It was a little odd for me to post about my new year’s resolutions mid-year. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a book by Haruki Murakami, was the origin of this status; Murakami compared running with writing. There are some parts that he mentioned the Boston Marathon, because he had ran it several times. I was coming to Boston and I was reading about this great event, with no reason not to put it on my must-do list.
Spotted a chubby fake marathon runner at the finish line.
On the night before the marathon, I posted a picture of myself at the finish line. I went to the Boston Public Library to return some books. Then I took a walk around the area a little bit to get a visual of what would happen the next day. I ran into a classmate, so I asked him to take a picture of me at the finish line.
I borrowed three books about the marathon from Mugar Memorial Library. My original intention was to write about fashion on marathon day. I wanted to see how marathon runners in the old days dress and compare it with this year’s marathon. I took a picture of those books and posted the image online before I left my apartment with a caption ’42.195.’ I was ready for the event.
If I knew in advance that watching the marathon would be this fun, I would have come at 5 a.m.
I went to the marathon alone. I knew it would be great, but I didn’t expect it to be as fun as it was. I was among the crowd at Kenmore Square. When I was there, I realized that I didn’t have to know anyone to enjoy the moment. I cheered. I high-fived with runners. I called their names. I called their numbers. I yelled their countries. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this event, just as I had thought I would.
Too many good-looking runners, I’m distracted.
I know that this status sounds lame. But it actually was what I posted after watching the event. I felt I was distracted from my reporting assignment several times.
Some events have the power to inspire. The Boston Marathon is one of them.
I was done with my assignment around 2 p.m. I got quotes from runners, which were enough for my story, but I didn’t stop. I loved the event so much that I decided to walk from Kenmore Square to the finish line at Copley Square. The marathon had some unexplainable inspiration. Seeing thousands of people running and cheering inspired me. The marathon absolutely had impact on me in a positive way. I even told myself that I would do everything to come to this event again next year. Also, it was a pure joy to see runners and spectators. I spotted one family, a mother with two boys, who came with a sign ‘Go, Dad! Go!’ The family saw the father and all of them tried to run along with him. I tried to run after them, but I was too slow. I thought they might get to the finish line before me. But right now, I wish they had been slower than me.
I deleted this status half an hour later.
It is too sad to be true.
The ecstatic feeling I sensed from the crowd around Kenmore Square couldn’t compare with the crowd at the finish line. The closer, the more ecstatic they were. I walked until I could hear the announcement of each runner’s name. I smiled, because I was so genuinely happy with them, although I knew only two runners in this race. The first one was in the leading group. He had reached the finish line an hour before. I talked to him while he was walking to see his wife and his child who were waiting for him at Kenmore Square. The second runner was probably among the last horde of runners, because she told me on Friday that she was a slow runner. She said she wasn’t qualified for the event, but she ran anyway for an organization.
I was at Boylston Street and Exeter Street when I heard the first explosion. If anyone asks me, “What did you see?” I will say I heard before I saw. I heard the explosion, and then I turned in that direction. It was on my left, less than half a block away from me. I saw the smoke rising as high as the buildings around that area. People were frozen. It was the second explosion a few seconds after that which stirred chaos. This time it was on my right. I was standing between two explosions, closer to the first one. The crowd didn’t move when they saw the first explosion, because no one knew what happened. But when the second one followed it, I felt it was that moment that everyone realized there must be something wrong and tried to get away from the scene as fast as they could. I know I can’t say on behalf of everyone who was there, but I think all of us were afraid that there would be a third one.
“Run!” I heard someone shouting. I turned around and walked along Exeter Street. I saw some people fall, because we were walking and pushing at the same time. I was afraid that I would be one of them. Some people were screaming. Part of me wanted to escape from that place. I didn’t know what happened, but I knew I wanted to be safe. But another part of me wanted to know what happened. In the end, I decided to do what I knew my mom would be angry with me for doing: I stopped walking before I reached Public Alley.
Everything I saw after that was like a movie, but it was happening in front of me. Some people were crying and calling the names of their loved ones because they didn’t know what might happen to them. A husband had to drag his wife away; she didn’t want to leave the area, because they were watching their son approach the finish line. A group of people, whom I guessed were around my age, tried to soothe each other and kept checking their phones worriedly. It was that moment when I truly understood the meaning of heartbreak.
Then I heard a child cry. He was probably around three or four years old. The boy was with his mom, dad, and older brother. I think at first his parents didn’t realize that he was injured, because he was able to walk. But when they rolled up his pants, they saw that one of his legs was injured. They tried to call the police and the ambulance, but no one stopped. So the mom decided to carry her son and ran to find another ambulance.
A few feet from where I was standing, an Asian woman lay down on the sidewalk. I recognized her, because she had been standing not too far from me before the explosions. I thought she didn’t know that she was hurt until a moment before. I remembered seeing her standing and waiting for her friends to catch her before I heard that boy crying. She was injured on her neck. Her friend was holding her hands and another woman was trying to stop the bleeding. “Here! Here!” people who were still there, including me, tried to shout at the ambulance, while the woman began to look worse and worse. Someone asked if anyone there was doctor or a nurse, or knew how to do first-aid. Another person asked for napkins. I didn’t have any, but I had a scarf. So I handed it over, although I knew it might not have been clean enough to use as a bandage. I left the scene after the ambulance team came to take care of her. One of my classmates sent a message to me after he knew what I had witnessed. He said I was brave. But I felt I wasn’t, because I cried while I walked away, and it took me a while to stop.
One moment, the marathon was one of the greatest things I had seen in my life. And the next moment, it was one of the saddest things I had ever witnessed.
I walked until I reached Public Alley. A woman came to talk to me. She asked me what happened because she had also heard the explosions. I told her that there were two bombs near the finish line. Her son, who was probably four or five years old, listened to our conversation. After his mom and I said goodbye, the kid looked to me and said, “I hope it wasn’t a bomb.”
I smiled at him and said, “I hope so too.”
And I really meant it.