By Dave Rogers
---- — AMESBURY — First there was a loud noise, powerful enough to send forceful sound waves into the thousands of people lining Boylston Street on Patriots Day. For a moment afterward, there was complete silence followed by a wall of white smoke. Then you could hear people screaming.
That’s how Remy Lawler recalled the moments after the first of two homemade bombs were set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. The 25-year-old Amesbury High School graduate was standing near the finish line to take photos of her roommate, Erin Hurley, who was about to complete the marathon, when the bombs went off.
Three people were killed and more than 200 people injured when Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placed two bombs in different locations near the finish line and coolly set them off, showering the crowd with nails, ball bearings and other projectiles traveling hundreds of miles per hour.
Lawler was standing next to another roommate and their mutual friend Jeff Bauman. A photo of Bauman, who lost both legs as a result of the bombings, being wheeled away as a man in a cowboy hat lends assistance has become an iconic image of what transpired that day.
Lawler, who has been recovering from her wounds, spoke with The Daily News yesterday, describing her progress and her memories of that day.
For about 15 minutes after the bombing, Lawler didn’t even know she was among the injured. Instead, she was too busy running for the safety of a doorway and looking for her friends. It was only after she was plopped into a wheelchair and taken to a medical tent, originally erected to treat cramps, scrapes and other running ailments, that she realized that a piece of shrapnel had torn into her right thigh.
“I literally ran for my life,” Lawler said.
There she saw one of many who had lost their legs in the explosion.
“That’s when I freaked out,” Lawler said.
While awaiting transport to Faulkner Hospital, a man held her hand, assuring her that she’d be all right. When she asked him for a hug, the man obliged, hugging her for minutes.
“All I kept saying was ‘why were they doing this to us,’” Lawler said.
At the Jamaica Plain hospital, Lawler underwent the first of two operations. The first was to remove shrapnel from her leg and stabilize the wound. A second operation closed the roughly 9-inch wound and inserted a drainage tube to remove excess liquid.
Six days after the bombing, April 20, Lawler left the hospital and returned to her parents’ home in Amesbury. Save for the temporary use of a cane, one couldn’t tell that Lawler was injured. In fact, Lawler and her parents, Maryellen and Arthur, said she will feel no ill effects of the wound after it heals.
But according to her parents and herself, most of the damage done was inflicted emotionally.
But the resilient and spunky Lawler said she was determined not to think too much about why the bombers did what they did, but rather look at the positives, such as the overwhelming support she has received from her family, the community and people she hardly knows. Since the bombing, Lawler has received get-well cards from past teachers, members of both the Newburyport and Amesbury communities and messages from complete strangers.
“First of all is to say ‘thank-you’ to everyone who has been so supportive. It’s just been amazing, the support of the community,” Lawler said.
Her philosophy of staying positive even in the face of such senseless terror is summed up well by the large tattoo on her left forearm. “Learn from the past; live in the present; create the future,” her tattoo reads.
This weekend, Lawler is expected to take her first real outing since the bombing to witness her younger brother, Jeramey, graduate from college. Lawler is close to graduating herself, attending Lesley University in Cambridge, while working. Since returning from the hospital, Lawler has been doing what she can to resume normal activities such as visiting friends and getting her fingernails painted.
Still, Lawler said some days are better than others in terms of staying focused on the positive and not questioning the motives of the bombers. Aiding her in that endeavor is the overwhelming sense of camaraderie expressed by the entire region who have remained Boston Strong since.
“I’ve always loved Boston. It’s my hometown, I love it,” said Lawler, who has lived in Boston since 2005. “It really shows the heart of Boston. I feel like we have such a strong sense of community.”
Lawler said she mainly avoided media accounts of the bombings and even turned off the television when she heard there had been a massive shootout between the suspects and police.
“I was upset, I couldn’t watch it. So I turned it off,” Lawler said.
Asked whether she would attend the next Boston Marathon, Lawler was adamant.
“Yes, I will be there. There’s no way I’m not going to be there. It’s going to take a while to get back to Boylston [Street] — to see the spot where I was standing. But I’m not going to let these stupid boys ruin the Boston Marathon for me. They don’t get to win, they lose,” Lawler said.
Lawler didn’t try to hide her anger toward the two bombers but stressed that their attempt to hijack the Boston Marathon and fill Greater Boston and the country with dread failed miserably. In fact, she said, their actions only served to bring Boston closer together and restore her faith in humanity.
“They set out to make people afraid, to ruin people, to break people. They have not accomplished anything. They lose. Everyone is stronger because of it,” Lawler said.