'Everybody was screaming for help': Marathon bombing survivors testify

Story highlights

  • "I remember screaming for someone to help us," one survivor recalls
  • The first day of the Boston Marathon bombings trial focuses on the survivors
  • Several survivors testify about the sights, smells and pain of that day

Boston (CNN)She knew something awful had happened. It was smoky and all she could hear were muffled screams. Her foot was turned sideways and her legs wouldn't work right. And her good friend, Krystle Campbell, was just lying there on the ground.

Karen Rand -- she's Karen McWatters now -- dragged herself across the pavement. She wanted to get closer to Krystle so they could talk and take comfort from each other in the midst of so much chaos.
"I got close to her, " she recalled. "For some reason, I got close to her head and we put our faces together."
    Krystle said that her legs hurt. They were the last words she'd speak. The two women held hands until Krystle's went limp.
    McWatters was the fifth witness of the first day of the terror trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of detonating pressure cooker bombs with his brother to punish the United States for policies they believe inflict suffering on Muslims.
    Three people were killed in the blasts: Campbell, a 29-year-old manager for a restaurant chain; Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy; and Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old grad student.
    More than 250 others were injured. And the first day of the trial -- after opening statements -- revolved around a number of survivors of the attack, who recounted in detail the chaos of that day. Prosecutors called them to the stand to paint a picture of the havoc and pain the bombings inflicted. Tsarnaev's attorneys chose not to cross-examine any of the survivors.
    McWatters fought her emotions as she looked at a photograph that showed her and her friend of eight years lying amid a heap of dazed and broken people.
    Their two faces, side by side, stand out among the jumble of limbs. Krystle's mouth is open, but she is very pale.
    "I was really scared," McWatters testified, "and I remember screaming for someone to help us. Everybody was screaming, everybody was screaming for help. It seemed like a long time before help got to us, but it probably wasn't."
    By the time first responders reached Krystle, it was too late. "They were doing CPR on Krystle and I started to think she didn't make it," McWatters said. She grabbed her friend's cell phone and tucked it in her pocket. By the time she arrived at the hospital, shock had set in. She was confused.
    For a while, that phone led hospital staffers to believe she was Krystle Campbell. When Krystle's parents rushed to her bedside and saw she wasn't their daughter, they were heartbroken, McWatters said. Krystle's boyfriend recognized her and called her parents.
    Two days later, doctors told her they were taking her leg. Her body was broken, and it hurt like crazy, she said. But not as much as losing her friend.
    Campbell's death was the first to be described in detail at Tsarnaev's trial. But descriptions of the other two deaths at the marathon and the death of a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will come soon.

    The blasts

    There were runners conquering a 26.2-mile feat nearby, but Noah's attention was elsewhere, playing with rocks and pretending to be a scientist.
    The 5-year-old thought it was a very cool idea to handle the rocks, his mother, Rebekah Gregory, told jurors.
    Gregory recalled that she thought it lucky that Noah was happy playing scientist.
    The next thing she remembers is being hoisted and thrown back.
    Other witnesses used similar phrases: Blown through the air, deafening explosion, cries for help.
    Shane O'Hara, the manager at Marathon Sports, a running store near where the bombs went off, said it sounded like a loud cannon, followed by an instant cloud of smoke that covered the windows.
    O'Hara recalled stepping outside to the smell of gunpowder and burning hair.
    The decisions about whom to aid first -- those among the injured needing help before others -- still haunts him, he said.
    There were cries, sirens and screams, he said in answer to prosecutors' questions.
    He sniffled as a photo of the blown-out storefront was shown in the courtroom. He told the jury the plea he heard: "Stay with me, stay with me."
    Outside, Gregory tried to sit up, but could not rise much.
    "My first instinct as a mother was where in the world was my baby, where was my son," Gregory said.
    She couldn't see her legs, but she saw her bones lying next to her on the sidewalk, she testified.
    "At that point I thought that was the day I would die," she said. Gregory lifted her arms and her bones were sticking out of her flesh.
    Somehow, over the cacophony, she heard Noah calling for her.
    She wasn't imagining it.
    Colton Kilgore, who was also part of Gregory's group and another of Wednesday's witnesses, remembered the terrified boy looking for his mother.

    The things people said

    The day's testimony was dramatic and emotional, most likely as the prosecutors wanted it.
    Anyone who follows the news has seen footage of the bombings and read accounts of what happened. The power of the survivors' testimonies in the courtroom was in the details that made what some would call an unimaginable crime into something very real.
    They shared small memories, like what people said in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
    Gregory told the jury about how she knew Noah was being cared for.
    Then she focused on the tourniquet that was being twisted on her leg by aid-givers.
    "We have an amputee," she saw one of them mouth.
    What they told her aloud was something along the lines of "This is really, really bad, but we will help you."
    Another survivor, Sydney Corcoran, testified that after the blasts -- which left her ears ringing "just like leaving a concert" -- she was hurt but didn't know that she was severely injured.
    She limped to a railing, grabbed it, and passed out, she said.
    Eyes open again shortly afterward, she found herself on her back, with a group of men applying pressure on her thigh, trying to figure out where she was bleeding.
    "I remember a man putting his forehead to my head and telling me I'd be all right," she said.

    Saved, but not spared

    Corcoran was a senior in high school. After the one man told her she would be OK, another said he could see her eyes going white.
    "I could feel my body going tingly and I was getting increasingly cold. I knew I was dying," she testified.
    In court, she was asked if she knew why she was feeling cold.
    "I was dying. The blood was leaving my body. I was bleeding out," she answered.
    It felt like she was sliding into sleep.
    Almost peaceful, Corcoran said. Like she was going to go to sleep and fade away.
    Doctors saved the teen, but her life was not spared the pain of the attack.
    Corcoran awoke in a hospital and saw her father, she testified.
    Because she was intubated, she motioned for a pen and a paper and wrote a question for her father. Was her mother alive?
    "Once he looked at what I'd written he started to cry," Corcoran told jurors. The father responded: "She's OK, but her legs are gone."