By Alex Lippa
---- — The photo of Carlos Arredondo in his cowboy hat pushing the critically injured Jeff Bauman in a wheelchair is one the most recognized images from the Boston Marathon bombings in April.
“I knew the picture I had was important when I shot it,” Associated Press photographer Charles Krupa said in an interview Friday about the tragedy and how he covered one of the most important news stories of 2013. “It said a lot. Not only because of the trauma, but because of how people stepped up and did something for a perfect stranger.”
But, Krupa, a resident of Derry, was almost unable to make it to the scene.
Two bombs had exploded near the finish line on April 15. Three spectators, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed and more than 260 spectators and runners were injured.
Krupa was in the press room at the Copley Plaza hotel when he heard the first explosion.
“I had just finished filing our marathon photos and we were just packing up to leave,” he said. “I heard the first boom. It resonated. It sounded like it might have been a forklift outside. I figured they were starting to break down the infrastructure and a pallet of metal pipes had fallen on the ground or something.”
Less than 10 seconds later, Krupa heard a second boom.
“My first instinct was that it was definitely an explosion,” he said. “Shortly after that, security came in and told us that there was an explosion, and that everything was in lockdown.
“You have a press room full of journalists,” he said. “Their instinct was to cover the story. But they were told no one in, no one out.”
There were guards at every visible exit to the room. But Krupa, who was covering his 25th Boston Marathon, knew one exit that wasn’t covered.
“Behind a podium was blue drapery, and behind that was a door,” he said. “I was the only one who knew that was there. So I was able to somehow get out that door.”
When Krupa got out of the hotel, it was oddly quiet. Krupa saw one person walking the opposite direction, but he still had no idea what exactly had happened. He then turned onto Boylston Street and what he saw was terrifying.
“It was horrible,” he said. “There were police officers, medical responders, runners, all trying to do something. Somehow I wasn’t seen, and I was able to go right down Boylston Street to the finish line.”
Just as he got onto Boylston, he saw the wheelchair.
“I saw a man in the cowboy hat with a wheelchair and he was running toward me, because the ambulance was behind me.” he said. “Jeff Bauman must have stared at me from 150 feet. As they passed, I ran alongside of them and took the picture that I took.”
Only a minute passed between the second explosion and the time Krupa took the picture.
“You really have no idea what you’re looking at,” he said. “You know there was an explosion, but I didn’t know if it was a gas main or some sort of freak accident. But as you get to the scene and see the carnage, it was pretty obvious that this was no accident.”
Later that night, officials confirmed that it was a terrorist attack.
Arredondo was at the finish line of the marathon, handing out American flags in honor of his son Alexander, a serviceman who was killed in the Iraq war in 2004, when the two bombs exploded. Arredondo leaped over the barricades and put a tourniquet over Bauman’s legs and rushed him to safety.
Bauman, 27, of Chelmsford, lost both legs, but lived.
Krupa filed his photo and within minutes it was viewed by people around the world. But in the chaos, he was unable to identify who was in the picture. Little did he know, it was someone very familiar to him.
The next day, a friend asked Krupa if he knew who Arredondo was. The name was immediately familiar to Krupa because he had photographed him twice before. The first was at a vigil for his son Alexander, he also photographed him with his son Brian, when Arredondo became a U.S. citizen in 2006.
“It just shows what a small world Boston really is,” Krupa said.
Since their two paths crossed in the middle of Boylston Street, Krupa and Arredondo have spoke about a dozen times.
“We’ve sat down and talked and tried to figure out what each one of us did,” Krupa said. “We talked about his sons and what a great thing he did for Jeff.”
Krupa has written Bauman’s family twice and spoke to him briefly at a Patriots game, but other then that the two have not spoken. Bauman has an exclusive book deal with the New York Times and is not allowed to speak to other media outlets.
“I don’t want to speak to him as a journalist, I’d just like to speak to him as a human being,” Krupa said.
On April 18, officials identified brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as suspects responsible for the attacks. That night, the suspects killed a MIT police officer and shot a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer. Tamerlan was killed in gunfire with other officers.
The next day a city-wide manhunt was set up for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. After many hours of city residents being ordered to stay inside, Dzhokhar was found in a covered boat in the backyard of a Watertown home.
“I must have been in Watertown for about 18 hours straight that day,” Krupa said.
Several months after the bombings, Krupa sat down with Arredondo for a cup of coffee. Throughout the chat, several people went up to Arredondo and recognized him.
“As we’re speaking, people would just be like “you’re Carlos aren’t you,” Krupa said. “The reason why they know it’s Carlos, is because of my picture. To hear them say what he did changed their lives is something I had an impact on.”