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Charlie Greenwald Reports From Boston

Here’s my son Charlie, weighing in after the craziest week in his life.


What a Wild Week

Ever been in the middle of a terrorized city for a whole week? I have.

I go to Emerson College, which is located in downtown Boston. Emerson is a small, liberal arts college with a diverse student body of focused individuals. My dorm room is maybe 5 blocks away from where the explosion at the Boston Marathon occurred—a 15-minute walk. Several Emerson students were there, and while none of them were seriously injured, the psychological and emotional damage hit everyone hard. I myself was a few blocks away, but I came outside ten minutes after it happened only to see ambulances and police cars speeding while screaming and bloody people bolted past me and into the Boston Commons. I knew something was wrong, and it only took two or three social media posts to confirm what I already suspected.

I ran back inside. I couldn’t stay out there and watch this chaos so helplessly. Watched the news for hours that day. My phone flooded with text messages and phone calls from concerned family members and friends, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in years. I had to call tons of people and reassure them that I was okay while simultaneously explaining a horrible situation that I didn’t know much about. I’ve never had to tell people that I survived something before—it just felt weird. I tried to comfort several students who were shaken up, but it was difficult to ignore the carnage we all saw on the television. Everything I did was difficult. It was difficult connecting with friends and confirming that they were okay. It was difficult watching the pictures of so many legless people being rushed to the hospital. It was difficult knowing that there were bombers on the loose in Boston, with no idea who they were, why they did this and what they could do next. It was difficult falling asleep.

But that wasn’t nearly the end.

After a horrible, seemingly endless Monday, the administration made the appropriate decision to cancel school in order to mourn and rest. Tuesday was a day to grieve and remember, and many students went down to the memorial sites to pray and leave flowers. I went as far down Boylston Street as I could, before the police blocked it off. There was leftover paper, jackets, meals abandoned at tables. It was a heartbreaking scene. I cried at the scene. An 8-year-old and two young women were killed, with hundreds injured and many limbless. I could only imagine the psychological damage. I felt like screaming. I went home that night and sent an email to several hospital employees asking to volunteer, but they all asked for patience and said they would get back to me in a few days.

Wednesday was a sorrowful day too. Although I resumed school, both of my classes were dedicated to discussing Monday’s tragedy, and it was clear that our professors were as rattled as we were. At 11:00, Emerson’s President, Lee Pelton, spoke to the student body on how impressed he was with our courage and how honored he was to represent our college. It was a cathartic day and a step forward in the healing process. The seven Emerson students who were injured were all out of the hospital. They were standing just 10 feet to the left of the bomb. Some of them had shrapnel in their legs. One of them had a concussion and hearing damage. Some were limping mildly. I didn’t know any of them by name, but they appeared to all be very close. They were all in the same sorority, and the tremendous amity between them all was beautiful.

Then Thursday arrived.

We addressed the subject in school, but we were all beginning to get our minds back on track. Teachers began teaching again. The semester was coming to a close, and this was an important week to finish up classes. We had final projects and final exams. I tried not to think about it all day. I was sitting doing homework at about 3 when I first saw the pictures of the suspects on the Boston Globe website. There were only a few photos released by the FBI. I looked at them, but I didn’t think much of it. I thought to myself, “I hope they find them soon,” and then kept doing my homework. I updated my relatives and friends on the situation and how Emerson was starting to come to life again, but that Boston was still very much in shock. I kind of wanted to go home. Boston wasn’t the same. The streets weren’t as crowded and many stores were still closed. Nobody could stop thinking about the events. The media was covering it relentlessly and there were giant Army trucks and policemen everywhere.

At night, I tried to take my mind of things. I was messaging several friends from home on Facebook. I was watching funny videos on YouTube. I was finishing up an essay. I was lying in bed, trying to get an early night’s sleep. Because we missed Tuesday classes, we were making them up on Saturday. I needed rest. Then, at around 10:00, I saw on Facebook that there had been a shooting at the MIT Campus. At first, I thought it was unrelated. I thought that there was a school shooting of some kind, but that it wasn’t the two suspects. My eyes widened and I leaned forward in my chair.

I then knocked on the door of my neighbor’s dorm. I told him about what had happened, but he said he already knew, and that he heard it was the two suspects. He said that one of them was dead but that the other has escaped and is on the run. I was shocked. I went to several news sources and they confirmed it—police officer shot and killed by two suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers. Tamerlan, the older one, was fatally wounded in a firefight but the other, Dzhokhar, escaped. Suddenly, the two guys who were identified today and that I just glazed over when visiting news pages were in the middle of a manhunt. One of them was killed and the other escaped.

I knew exactly what this meant—no school tomorrow and lockdown immediately. Just as we were getting over it, a mass murderer had escaped and was on the loose. This was the last thing we needed. Students were all on edge, trying to recover from a traumatic experience unlike anything most of us had ever gone through. I was trying to stop reading the news but all I could do was look at it again. Now there’s a huge threat to the city running around with a possible bomb strapped to his chest… there is no way this is happening. No way.

An email was sent out shortly after. School cancelled tomorrow, Emerson on lockdown.

I went to bed, frustrated and anxious.

I slept in on Friday. I knew we were on lockdown and that school was cancelled, so I didn’t even think about getting up early. I got up at 1:00, called my mom and told her that I was safe and wasn’t leaving my dorm building. I went to lunch in the dining hall, where I was amazed employees had come in to serve us. I thanked them. I then checked the news on my phone, as I had been doing all week—suspect rumored to be in Watertown. Police department going door-to-door. Massachusetts authorities ask residents to stay inside. I didn’t think he was going to be running down our streets, but I knew why people were being encouraged to stay off them. Let the Boston authorities travel the roads without cars or people distracting them. Let the first responders get to resources as quickly as possible.

After lunch ended at 2:15, I went with a large group of students to the First Lutheran Church to pet some of the comfort dogs that were brought in. It was organized on Facebook. Some of us at Emerson were so stressed out and frustrated by this horrible week that we wanted to go spend some time with these amazingly beautiful creatures that were trained to make us feel calm and loved. The dogs were brought in to multiple hospitals but they made camp at the church and kindly let us visit, since several Emerson students were at the Marathon when the explosions went off.

The MBTA was shut down and taxis were nowhere to be found. Walking to and from the Church was like walking through a ghost town; a huge city with nobody on it. It was eerie and disturbing. I hated it. It reminded me of what it was like Monday morning and Tuesday—a city paralyzed by stress.

When I walked back to Emerson at around 5, I decided to call my grandparents and tell them how I was doing. When I got off the phone, I went down to dinner at 5:45. About thirty minutes in, my friend told me that on Twitter, someone had posted about shots being fired in Watertown.

I dropped everything and ran to a television.

I followed the standoff all night. This man is going down. He’s going nowhere. He is getting caught. I watched it with several of my friends, filling to the brim with anxiety.

This was gripping television.

Three hours of anticipation. It was the slowest 3 hours of TV I have ever watched in my whole life. I was texting some girl who wanted an interview for my hometown high school magazine on how I was dealing with this week—an interview I had given two times already to two other people. I answered as best as I could without diverting from the news.

Oh my God. I dropped my phone on the table for a second. I was glued.

I can’t even really describe the next half hour. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the TV. I was just waiting for the words we all wanted to hear.

Police descending upon scene. Suspect in boat. Suspect being surrounded. Suspect unconscious. May or may not be armed. Tarp of the boat is off.

My friends looked at me. We looked back at the TV.

Suspect captured alive.

He was caught. The man in the boat was captured alive. We could question him and find out why he did this and if he was part of some broader scheme.

I high-fived my friends so hard my palm throbbed for ten minutes after. I hugged this random hot girl next to me but didn’t catch her name. That was a bummer, but I was so caught up in the moment. We screamed America at the top of our lungs.

At the time this happened, you had a few over-reactors, who were sobbing uncontrollably, a few under-reactors, who wouldn’t look up from their League of Legends, and a select few who reacted accordingly. I was one of the few who, I believe, acted accordingly.

“It’s over,” I said to myself.

Thank God.

In what seemed like a flash, people were storming the Boston Commons to celebrate. Kids were pouring down beers and ripping off their t-shirts screaming. Car horns were honking in every direction. People of all shapes and sizes—college students, entire families, scores of police officers, and even senior citizens— all were in the heart of Boston screaming for joy. The American flag was raised and being flown around with ferocity and pride. People were drinking American beer and singing signature Boston songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “Shipping Up to Boston.” An entire city was out on the streets, releasing all their stress and grief from the past week into the air. Kids were hugging and crying, stripping and dancing, taking pictures with police officers and howling in the rain. There was an unparalleled hometown pride and I have never felt more patriotic. I screamed too. I ran up and down the streets. I embraced my friends. We were safe, and we love this city to death.

At night, before I went to bed at 2:00, I paused to think—this was all because one man was caught. The government dropped everything to make sure that we were safe. They didn’t care that it was only one guy; they were shutting down the city and stopping at nothing because we wanted to do everything possible to put and end to this madness.

This week had some of the biggest lows and some of the biggest highs the city of Boston has ever seen. It had an entire city mourning for days and on edge all week. But, most of all, it had an incredibly strong, brave and powerful response to the people who tried to hurt our innocent civilians on a beautiful Monday afternoon. It showed us who the real heroes out there are.

On a more personal level, it was the closest I have ever been to terror. It was the closest I had ever been to the center of the news world. It was the furthest I had ever felt from my family. And then, when it ended, it was the most patriotic I had ever felt in my life.

That’s what, I suppose, events like this does. It shows us the darkest depths of the human soul and the unpredictability of our universe. And then, in response, it shows us how many heroes walk our streets every day. Boston is the birthplace of this nation. It is also, as everyone saw this past week, an incredible American city emblematic of this country’s values: pride, resiliency, and the power of good.


  1. April 21st, 2013

    barbara kellerman

    this is a terrific post, smart, complete, and heartfelt – conveys in admirable detail what it was like to be this memorable week an eyewitness to history.

  2. April 21st, 2013

    Pam Blackburn

    Great post, Charlie. Thank you for he illuminating first hand account.
    Pam Blackburn (Katy and Jackson’s mom).

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