The annual Boston Marathon came under attack on April 15 when two explosives detonated near the finish line, killing three people and injuring over 140, according to a report from the Associated Press. While located over 200 miles away, the college community watched in horror as the bombings and the subsequent week-long manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers unfolded in and around the city of Boston, Mass. The week’s events resounded on a campus where many students hail from the Boston area.
One such student was Dylan Whitaker ’13, a biology major from Cambridge, Mass. who attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) with Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers allegedly responsible for the bombings at the marathon’s finish line.
Whitaker was a senior and the captain of the high school wrestling team when Tsarnaev was a sophomore at CRLS. When news and media outlets began circulating photos of the two suspects last week, several of Whitaker’s old classmates and teammates recognized Dzhokar Tsarnaev as one of the two men.
“When I woke up on Friday morning, I had all these texts and Facebook messages from people at home saying, ‘Is that Dzhokar? I think its Dzhokar,” said Whitaker. “All of my friends were sending me pictures and messages being like, you have to check this out … but I didn’t actually think it was him.”
The phone calls and messages Whitaker received came not only from peers, but also from several news organizations hoping to speak with someone who might be able to shed some light on the Tsarnaev brother’s past.
“The news outlets started contacting me immediately Friday morning,” said Whitaker. “My friend works for The Harvard Crimson, so he contacted me first. But then once my name got out, they all started calling. I got calls from MSNBC, from the Associate Press, from CNN … from a lot of places.”
Despite feeling overwhelmed by circumstances and the flurry of phone calls, Whitaker went on the air in an interview with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC on Friday night.
“Dzhokar was a good wrestler, and I never knew him to be malicious in any way,” Whitaker told MSNBC. “Knowing that, and knowing him to be a strong individual and not one to be easily bullied or swayed by peer pressure, it makes it especially surprising to think that he might have been influenced to do something like this.”
Kylie Atwood ’12 also contributed to the news coverage of the events in Boston, reporting live from the scene in Copley Square on Monday night.
Atwood, on a day off from work as an executive assistant to Bob Scheiffer, the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, had traveled to Boston from Washington, D.C. to watch her friend compete in the race. Her friend had crossed the finish line at four hours and one minute, and Atwood was standing in the street celebrating and congratulating her friend one block away from the finish line when they heard an explosion.
“It was such a loud noise that I didn’t realize what it was at first,” said Atwood. “But when I turned and looked, it became blatantly evident. Smoke was coming out of the blast, and people were racing towards us, faces mounted in fear. No one knew where to go.”
Luckily, Atwood kept her wits about her and her journalistic instincts kicked in.
“[After the second blast] I freaked out, and there was such mayhem, but I realized I needed to take pictures and document what was happening.”
When she called CBS to let them know that she was unharmed, the network recognized that Atwood was in a unique position to report on the situation.
“At the time, I didn’t really realize I was one of the few people who worked for the media who happened to be standing directly between the two blasts when they went off. I was one of the first people to be able to give a first-hand account of what was happening.
“[CBS] told me at 5:00 p.m. that they wanted me to be on the evening news, and I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that I was going to be reporting live,” remembered Atwood. “I was thinking, ‘What do I need to tell people?’ and trying to explain what was right in front of my eyes. Let me tell you, I was scared. But in those two hours, I learned more about the profession of reporting than I had ever learned before.”
Several current students and alumni either competed in or attended the race.
Lauren Barrett ’11, who was running in the race, was barely half a mile from the finish line when the explosions happened.
“When the bombs went off I was at mile 25.8,” said Barrett. “So I couldn’t actually see the explosions, but felt and heard them. I had no idea what had happened at that point and it didn’t even cross my mind that it might be a bomb. At first I just stood there waiting to see if we were going to begin running again and then realized I wasn’t going to cross the finish line that day.”
Several hours after the bombing, Barrett eventually located her family and made her way to her brother’s apartment in Beacon Hill.
“We sat and watched the news for a few hours to see what had happened. Everything felt surreal. While we were watching the news I completely forgot I had run the marathon. It was no longer about the runners and finishing but about bombs exploding and people being rushed to the hospital.”
Many of the students and alumni who were present for Monday’s events and in Boston over the past week have described the city as tense yet unified.
“As horrifying as Monday was, the following days were really just a testament to the human spirit,” said Atwood. “There have been so many random acts of kindness, and Boston has come together through this.”