The issue: The consolation is that this terrorist almost inevitably will be caught
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 victims, 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. It is an al-Qaida trademark to plant a second, delayed bomb in hopes of killing the rescue workers. 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, cell phone 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 cell phone 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.
The circumstances suggested some familiarity with Boston. Patriots Day is a public holiday in Massachusetts, but it is not widely celebrated, or even known, elsewhere. The bombs were placed on the side of the street with the largest number of spectators and were timed to go off not to catch the winners and the faster runners but to detonate when the great mass of middling runners reached the finish line.
WITH THE EXCEPTION of the 2009 mass shooting of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, by a deranged 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 New York City 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.