BOSTON — "This is what we expect from war."
Those were the words used by a doctor to describe the civilian carnage caused by two bombs that exploded in the crowded streets near the finish line of the Boston Marathon at 2:50 p.m. yesterday. The fiery twin blasts took place about 10 seconds and about 100 yards apart, killing at least three people, including one child, and injuring more than 140 people, at least 17 critically.
The explosions knocked runners to their feet, shattered windows, sent dense plumes of smoke over the street and through the fluttering national flags lining the course. Blood stained the pavement and huge shards were missing from window panes as high as three stories.
"They just started bringing people in with no limbs," said runner Tim Davey of Richmond, Va. He said he and his wife, Lisa, tried to keep their children's eyes shielded from the gruesome scene inside a medical tent that had been set up to care for fatigued runners, but "they saw a lot."
"They just kept filling up with more and more casualties," Lisa Davey said. "Most everybody was conscious. They were very dazed."
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still unfolding, said the attack was being treated as an act of terrorism. A senior U.S. intelligence official said two other bombs were found near the end of the 26.2-mile course in what appeared to be a well-coordinated attack.
As the FBI took charge of the investigation, authorities shed no light on a motive or who may have carried out the bombings, and police said they had no suspects in custody. Authorities in Washington said there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
President Barack Obama vowed that those responsible will "feel the full weight of justice." Obama also told Mayor Tom Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick that his administration would provide whatever support was needed.
"We still don't know who did this or why," Obama said at the White House, adding, "Make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this."
Boston hospitals that were prepared to treat injuries from a rigorous road race instead mobilized disaster plans to treat the more than 140 people injured. The victims' injuries included broken bones, shrapnel wounds and ruptured eardrums. At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alisdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said: "This is something I've never seen in my 25 years here ... this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war."
One of Boston's biggest annual events, the race winds up near Copley Square, not far from the landmark Prudential Center and the Boston Public Library. It is held on Patriots Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, at Concord and Lexington in 1775. The Red Sox always play their home opener on Patriots Day and schedule it so the game ends in time for fans to leave Fenway Park and cheer on the more than 23,000 runners in one of the world's oldest and most prestigious marathons.
The bombings occurred about four hours into the race and two hours after the men's winner crossed the line. By that point, more than 17,000 of the runners had finished the race but thousands more were still running.
The attack may have been timed for maximum carnage: The four-hour mark is typically a crowded time near the finish line because of the slow-but-steady recreational runners completing the race and because of all the relatives and friends clustered around to cheer them on.
Glenn Herlihy of Haverhill was standing just in front of the Lenox Hotel on Boylston Street waiting for his brother Mark to finish his first Boston Marathon. Mark Herlihy was expected at any minute when the first bomb exploded to Glenn Herlihy's right. Before he could process what had happened, the second went off to his left. He was caught right in between the twin blasts.
"People just started going crazy," Glenn Herlihy said. "They knocked over the barriers and ran onto Boylston Street. People thought maybe there was a bomb in the Lenox and other places. People were dropping backpacks and bags everywhere, which was scary too. A lot of people started crying in disbelief and shock."
Herlihy worried about his brother, but soon found he had stopped about 300 yards before the explosion where thousands of others were halted by police.
When the second bomb went off, the spectators' cheers turned to screams. As sirens blared, emergency workers and National Guardsmen who had been assigned to the race for crowd control began climbing over and tearing down temporary fences to get to the blast site.
Peter Gravelle was in the VIP seating area at the finish line, waiting for his son and granddaughter when the blasts happened. He saw one victim sail through the air — followed by what he believed was a severed limb. His wife, Mary, said she'll never forget the horror of what she saw.
"My heart breaks for all these people," she said. "They actually fell down in the road. The poor souls, yelling for help."
Andover High School track coach Peter Comeau was a block from the finish line near Trinity Church, volunteering and handing out blankets to runners as they finished the Boston Marathon. After hearing the explosions, he ran toward the scene.
"When I got to the finish line (area), it was chaos. Bodies were on the ground everywhere," he said." It was like a war zone.”
Instead of handing out blankets, Comeau found himself helping the medics.
"I heard people yelling for gauze pads, so I went over to the (nearest medical tent), put on some gloves, and brought gauze pads over to the medics," said Comeau. "It was scary. I saw one person laying there without any legs. It was awful."
Competitors and race volunteers were crying as they fled the chaos. Authorities went onto the course to carry away the injured, while race stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site.
Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Smithfield, R.I., had just finished the race when he heard the blasts.
"I started running toward the blast. And there were people all over the floor," he said. "We started grabbing tourniquets and started tying legs. A lot of people amputated. ... At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing."
Bruce Mendelsohn was attending a post-race party in an office building just above the Boston Marathon finish line when an explosion knocked him to the floor. The former Army medic rushed outside to find blood, glass and debris everywhere. He began applying pressure to gruesome wounds.
"This stuff is more like Baghdad and Bombay than Boston," said Mendelsohn, who works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It was pretty terrifying."
The bombings forced an abrupt end to the race. Cellular service in the area went down, making it difficult for many to find loved ones on the course.
The Boston Athletic Association which organizes the event posted this statement on its website: "Today is a sad day for the City of Boston, for the running community, and for all those who were here to enjoy the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. What was intended to be a day of joy and celebration quickly became a day in which running a marathon was of little importance."
The race honored the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting with a special mile marker in Monday's race. Boston Athletic Association president Joanne Flaminio previously said there was "special significance" to the fact that the race is 26.2 miles long and 26 people died at Sandy Hook Elementary school.
The senior U.S. intelligence official said the two other explosive devices found nearby were being dismantled. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the findings publicly.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis asked people to stay indoors or go back to their hotel rooms and avoid crowds as bomb squads methodically checked parcels and bags left along the race route. He said investigators didn't know whether the bombs were hidden in mailboxes or trash cans.
He said authorities had received "no specific intelligence that anything was going to happen" at the race.
Gov. Deval Patrick said Boston can expect "heightened vigilance" today. Copley Station, which is located close to the bombing sites, will remain closed. Certain exits off the Massachusetts Turnpike will also be closed. Several colleges in the area were also being closed today.
Last night, the Boston Bruins cancelled its game at the Boston Garden. The Boston Celtics game scheduled there tonight has also been cancelled.