EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 17, 2013

Column: Marathon bombings reveal vulnerability, strengths

Dale McFeatters
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The festive national flags at the finish line of the Boston Marathon had barely stopped flapping from the force of the bombings when the crowds did something noble and unexpected.

Instead of fleeing from the site of the bombings or staring numbly at the wreckage, they rushed to help the wounded, offering reassurance, applying tourniquets and carrying the wounded to the arriving ambulances. These were not just first responders, but the runners themselves and family members and other spectators who had gathered for a celebration that was never to be.

This is not what the experts counsel. But that quick, humane reaction says something wholly admirable about the people gathered on Boylston Street and, by extension, the people of Boston, too.

We like to think other Americans would have reacted the same way; equally, we hope they are never called on to do so.

As of Tuesday, the toll stood at three dead, including an 8-year-old boy. His sister and mother were among at least 170 wounded.

With the FBI in the lead, law enforcement began the painstaking work of gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and hoping, in the words of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, to turn up “witnesses who don’t know they are witnesses.”

And detectives began the work familiar to any viewer of a modern crime show, gathering up the great number of photos from videos, cellphone cameras and store and traffic surveillance cameras. Davis pledged that police would study “every frame of every video.” In this age, it is very likely that somewhere there exist images of the perpetrator or perpetrators.

And police will examine the records of all nearby cellphone towers.

Barring hard evidence, we are left with speculation. If foreign terrorists had committed the bombings, they almost certainly would have bragged about their actions by now.

With the exception of the 2009 mass shooting of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, by a deranged Muslim major, this is the worst terrorist attack on a U.S. city since 9/11. But there have been at least 19 close calls, including the Underwear Bomber aboard an aircraft in 2009 and the thwarted Times Square bombing in 2010.

The lesson is that vigilance and preparation can greatly mitigate, though never completely block, a determined terrorist. The consolation is that this terrorist, or terrorists, almost inevitably will be caught.

Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.