BOSTON — In the chaos that descended on Boston’s Boylston Street after two bombs detonated at the finish line of the city’s beloved marathon, heroes emerged from every direction.
A young surgical intern who had just finished a 14-hour hospital shift pushed his way through the police lines to treat victims at the end of a marathon route. An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan soothed a seriously wounded young woman by showing her his own shrapnel scars, assuring her that she would survive. And then there were the scores of Bostonians who ran from their apartments offering water, shelter, cellphone chargers, the shirts off their backs to disoriented runners, small slivers of grace amid the horror.
It was the urge to help, even in some small way, that sent all of them racing to the scene after Monday’s explosions.
Rick Bowles, the 34-year-old surgical intern, had just finished a 14-hour shift at Beth Israel Deaconess when he heard the two booms and got a text from a friend asking if he was safe. Without a second thought, he grabbed his white doctor’s coat, ID badge, and a pair of trauma shears and rushed to the medical tent near the finish line.
Inside the tent, the ground littered with surgical gloves and soiled gauze, Bowles was directed to a patient in critical condition but found a body covered with a sheet. He moved on to other victims — their faces drained of blood, in shock. Beside him were doctors and nurses from his hospital, who had been watching the race and headed into action.
“I was 23 when Sept. 11 happened,” said Bowles, who is from Kentucky. “I can remember waking up that morning and seeing it on TV and wanting so badly to help in some way, feeling powerless. … I always told myself that if God forbid I ever found myself in a similar situation, I would be running to it, not away from it, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that that’s what I needed to do.”
In some instances, the victims and heroes came together for only a few minutes. But it was long enough.
At a Tuesday news conference, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick made a plea on behalf of a wounded young woman named Victoria, who had been comforted after the bombing by an Afghanistan veteran. She wanted to thank him, but did not know his full name. A friend saw news reports and alerted Tyler Dodd that Victoria was looking for him.
“I just saw the terror in her eyes,” Dodd told Fox News Tuesday night. (Hospital officials would not confirm his identity or details of her condition.)
“She was obviously in extreme pain,” he said. “I just knew that I had to talk to her. If there was nothing else I could do, I could talk to her.”
Dodd said Victoria held his hand and asked him to stay by her side. Though they were strangers, it was “some kind of connection on a spiritual level,” he said, “because when I told her it was going to be OK, she believed me.”
Vikrant Rana, the 26-year-old manager of DeLuca’s Market on Newbury Street, had just taken his break and walked down to the grandstand to see the finish when the explosions rang out — so powerfully that he “could feel it all the way up to my knees,” he said.
Pushed back by police, he and others assisted the injured on Newbury Street, where some removed shirts and belts to use as tourniquets. They moved the wounded, including a girl with a bleeding leg, and stayed with them until paramedics arrived.
“It was a humanitarian thing. They were tying the wounds, holding the hands. I was so scared — everyone was crying,” he said.
When he reached DeLuca’s again, a spectator was lying in the street outside. Rana and other employees passed out bottles of water and juice. “Everybody was doing their part,” Rana said. “Boston is known as a neighborhood city. Our store is a community store — we see a lot of regular customers.”
The store reopened Tuesday and business was brisk Wednesday. “People are not really feeling afraid. They’re trying to help each other,” he said as he stood on Newbury Street in his apron, people streaming by. “People are healing.”
Rana is originally from Nepal, where he said he saw his share of carnage in warring conflicts. He was encouraged, Rana said, to see his new community come together the way neighbors in his homeland helped each other.
“This event showed what Americans are made of,” he said. “You see a lot of unity — opening homes to people. It really brought out the best in people.”
There were countless others who contributed small acts of kindness.
A 25-year-old runner named Laura Wellington was about a half-mile from the finish line when the bombs exploded, she wrote on Facebook. Diverted from the course, she desperately tried calling her relatives and, after determining they were safe, sat down and cried. A couple spotted her and came over. The woman asked if she was all right.
The man, who had finished the race and was wearing his ceremonial medal, asked Wellington if she had completed the race. When she said no, he removed his medal and placed it around her neck.
“You are a finisher in my eyes,” he told her.
“This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be OK,” she wrote in her post, accompanied by a picture of the medal.
As runners like Wellington were diverted from the course when police stopped the race, residents came out of their apartments with clothing and blankets to guard against the April chill. Will Ritter, a Republican campaign aide who lives a few blocks from the explosions, said he watched one man peel the sweatshirt off his back to warm a shivering runner.
Ritter and his girlfriend were among the dozens of people who offered to take in stranded runners and travelers via a Google spreadsheet full of addresses and phone numbers that went viral on the Web on Monday night. Others, like a man Ritter spotted Tuesday, tried to show gratitude to the National Guardsmen keeping watch by offering them powdery confections from a giant white pastry box.