We don’t know whether 8-year-old Martin Richard was killed by a domestic or foreign terrorist. But all Americans tremble in our hearts when we think of the agony now being experienced by the family of this Boston boy killed at the Marathon finish line.
As a native of the same Boston neighborhood where the Martin family resides, I walked the same Dorchester streets that Martin took to get to the playgrounds. I played on little league teams in the same parks where Martin was learning the fundamentals of baseball.
On Monday, a Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the valor of those who fought in the American Revolution, I was back in that neighborhood to meet friends before heading off to Fenway Park for the annual Red Sox game on Patriots Day.
On his way to meet us, the friend who scored the Fenway tickets had walked by the Richard family home on Carruth Street.
Getting together with the guys you grew up is always a special treat. And the day was made more glorious by the fact it was both Jackie Robinson Day and Patriots Day rolled into one. Our moods were further uplifted when the Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in dramatic fashion, with a walk-off double off the Green Monster, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
As we traipsed out of Fenway to the parking lot where our driver had parked his van, we passed Boston Police officers on motorcycles and cruisers. They smiled at the passersby and nodded in appreciation when people gave them a wave. There was no sense of the impending calamity just blocks away on Boylston Street.
A half hour later, we were back in Dorchester, having lunch at a restaurant in the old neighborhood. Then the television came on. When those initial pictures of the carnage at the Marathon finish line were shown, we knew instantly that this was no longer a day of great joy.
It had become one of infamy.
I then recalled getting a phone call 18 years ago this week from a high-ranking police official. He advised me that a young man from western New York had just been apprehended and was about to be charged in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.
I took the next flight to Buffalo that afternoon, rented a car and drove to Lockport, where I found people who had grown up with Timothy McVeigh, the Army veteran who would later be convicted and executed for the killings of those toddlers at the Oklahoma City Federal Building. At a bar, a guy told me that McVeigh’s mother had abandoned the family when he was a boy.
Monday afternoon, as I left Dorchester, I first tried to make it north to the Massachusetts Turnpike, then turned around when I ran into an impenetrable traffic bottleneck and drove back to Dorchester.
Now, in a parking lot outside a supermarket where I had bagged groceries as a teenager, there were more than 15 police cruisers with blue lights flashing. The police officers were cordoning off a yellow Penske moving truck in the lot. They were investigating it in connection with the Marathon bombing.
Thirty or so minutes ticked by and the police released the truck — but it was unsettling in that time to see a place so interconnected with your own life suddenly caught up in a frightful drama involving terrorism, malicious mayhem and murder.
We wondered how any human being could be so callous and malicious toward innocent civilians, that he or she or they would set out to maim and murder in this way.
I recalled what Timothy McVeigh had said before he was executed, that he saw those babies in Oklahoma as “collateral damage.”
Tuesday morning, after having left Boston, I learned that the young boy killed at the finish line was part of the same closely knit neighborhood as the guys who had accompanied me to Fenway one day earlier.
Boston, with the Freedom Trail and the many landmarks of the Revolution, is a place where kids grow up with an acute understanding of the determination and sacrifice that gave us the nation we have today. It’s likely no accident that during the Vietnam War, Boston’s working-class neighborhoods of Dorchester, Charlestown and South Boston had some of the highest killed-in-action per capita totals of any communities in this nation.
Freedom is not an abstract concept.
Of course, we have no way of knowing whether the perpetrator of this evil deed, once apprehended, will try to justify the crime with the same warped logic used by McVeigh.
We just know that until there is such an arrest, the hand of evil will be among us.
And from this day forward, we will recall Martin Richard — a young boy who recently made a poster stating, “No more hurting people. PEACE” — as a martyr for freedom.