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At Heartbreak Hill, Boston College responds
Located at Mile 21, near the crest of Heartbreak Hill, Boston College suddenly became the finish line on April 15 for more than a thousand runners of this year’s Boston Marathon, which was halted after two bombs exploded at 2:50 p.m. near the terminus of the 26.2 mile race. Communicating at first by phone, the Boston College Emergency Management Executive Team—a contingent of University administrators from 15 departments led by John Tommaney, director of Emergency Management and Preparedness—set three priorities: ensure campus safety; tend to the runners stopped by police and race officials at Mile 21; and account for the several hundred undergraduate Campus School Volunteers who were running that day. Immediately, Boston College, Newton, Boston, and Massachusetts State police checked campus buildings for suspicious packages inside and out, and found none.
By 3:30 p.m., Dining Services and 30 undergraduate volunteers from the Eagle Emergency Medical Services (EMS) had provisions—water, pizza, first aid supplies—in place at St. Ignatius Church to feed and treat some 400 runners. Students who had been watching the race on Commonwealth Avenue offered runners the use of their cellphones. (“Older men and women, most of whom had no idea how to operate an iPhone touch screen, asked me to dial their loved ones,” Tricia Tiedt ’15 wrote in the Heights.)
At about the same time, Sean Schofield, volunteer coordinator for the Campus School, located in Campion Hall, created a Google Doc spreadsheet for student runners to access on their smartphones and answer the question: “Safe?” Every year the publicly financed school for disabled children fields a fundraising team of runners; some 300 Boston College undergraduates had signed up to participate this time. The Office of News & Public Affairs sent an email to the Boston College community encouraging runners to check in and noting that a dozen resident and peer ministers were offering crisis counseling in Stayer and Vanderslice residence hall lounges should it be needed.
By 8 p.m., St. Ignatius was clear of runners, the Boston Athletic Association having shuttled into Boston those who were stranded, using buses and vans. Nearly every runner for the Campus School had checked in; none were injured.
At 11 p.m., Campus School runners Dani Cole ’15 (who had reached Mile 26 when the blasts went off) and Michael Padulsky ’15 (who was stopped at St. Ignatius), created a Facebook event page: “Boston Marathon: The Last 5‚” invited friends to honor the victims by walking the final five miles of the race on the coming Friday. “We decide when our marathon ends,” the event’s tagline read. Within three days, more than 18,000 people throughout the Boston area had signaled interest, prompting a change of plans. Rather than burden Boston area police forces with patrolling a large and lengthy demonstration, the organizers decided to hold a vigil on O’Neill Plaza. As events played out, that too would be cancelled.
At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the University held a Mass for Healing and Hope in St. Ignatius, celebrated by University President William P. Leahy, SJ. With the pews filled and students standing in the aisles, Fr. Leahy said in his homily, “We gather as members of the BC community with our feelings—shock, sadness, fear, hurt, sorrow, bewilderment, and, I suspect, anger as well. . . . How do we carry on? . . . We are called to be people who represent faith and hope and healing for those most in need of it.”
Outside the church, students signed get-well posters for Brittany Loring, MBA’13, JD’13, and Liza Cherney, MBA’13, who had been at the finish line to cheer on Meghan Zipin, MBA’13, and were seriously injured by the first blast. Nine days after the bombings, on April 24, NBC News would report that Loring was able to take her first steps in the hospital. According to the Washington Post on April 28, Cherney “is expected to make a full recovery.” (Zipin, who finished the race at 2:43, was unharmed). The University community also learned that Patrick Downes ’05, a psychology doctoral student, and his wife, Jess, suffered severe injuries. Websites have been set up by friends and family of the injured to offer support.
On Thursday, April 18, the Heights featured accounts by six students and alumni from near the finish line, including photographer Alex Trautwig ’12, who had been on assignment (for Getty) at Fenway Park and shot the scene at Mile 25 in Kenmore Square, and Amy Hachigian ’14, a spectator who was on Boylston Street waiting for a fellow student to run past when the second bomb exploded on the opposite sidewalk. “I don’t remember hearing anything except for my roommate’s dad yelling to us to ‘Get low, get low,’” she said.
Friday, April 19, brought a new test of University preparedness. With one of two bombing suspects dead in a police shootout and the other having escaped in Watertown (some three miles from Boston College), Governor Deval Patrick requested the residents of eight towns, including Newton and Allston-Brighton, to “shelter in place.” The BC Alert system notified students, faculty, and staff via email and text message at 6:28 a.m.: “Due to public safety concerns, BC is closed and classes are cancelled until further notice. Remain indoors.” The Boston College Police Department (BCPD) asked resident directors and resident assistants to station themselves near dormitory entrances to encourage compliance. Public Safety director John M. King called a second shift of police officers to duty.
In all, the University sent eight messages on Friday—five to the entire community, two to students only, and one to parents. The message to parents went out at 8:30 a.m. from executive vice president Patrick Keating. “BCPD believes the campus is safe,” it read. Dining Services “is looking to find ways” to feed resident students, Keating wrote.
In fact, Dining Services had the outline of a plan in place‚ the “storm plan,” followed most recently in February during winter storm Nemo. The blueprint confined operations to the three largest dining halls: Corcoran Commons on Lower Campus, McElroy Commons on Middle Campus, and Stuart on Newton Campus. With only 20 percent of scheduled staff on hand before the shelter-in-place order took effect, student employees residing on campus phoned in to offer help, and BCPD escorted 17 of them to the dining halls. From 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., Residential Life staff guided lines of undergraduates to the open facilities, dorm by dorm, beginning with the freshman and sophomore residences that lack kitchens. Keating notified students at 5:20 that the procedure would be repeated for dinner.
Although the fugitive suspect remained at large, the governor’s shelter-in-place order was lifted at 6:31 p.m. As BCPD maintained a quiet presence, some students enjoyed the warm spring day’s final hour of sunlight; but many remained indoors watching TV until Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken alive in Watertown at 8:45 p.m. A few minutes before 9:00, near the Mod residences, a student taped a poster to a fence that read, in red and blue marker, “Thank you, BCPD.”
On Monday, April 22, Fr. Leahy sent a letter to the Boston College community, thanking students for helping marooned runners and praising “Boston College police officers, dining services personnel, student affairs staff, facilities management workers, emergency management team members and academic administrators [who] willingly expended extra time and energy helping our University function smoothly during challenging times.”
And on Friday, May 3, the first study day before final exams, Dani Cole and Michael Padulsky’s plan for the final five miles was realized in what turned out to be a more intimate, Boston College family affair. Beginning at 10:00 a.m., some 700 students, faculty, and friends of the University walked around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, wearing T-shirts that read “BC Strong” and raising more than $6,000 for Liza Cherney, Brittany Loring, and Patrick and Jess Downes.
Read more by Zak Jason