The 13th Juror: ‘A bloody spectacle’ – and the will to survive

Boston CNN —  

There are no cameras to bring you the trial of admitted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But have no doubt: The images being presented here in federal court are powerful and indelible.

Hollywood’s hokey horror shows pale by comparison.

The 13th Juror

  • No cameras are allowed at the Tsarnaev trial. But CNN’s Ann O’Neill will be there every day. Think of her as The 13th Juror, bringing insights here weekly. And follow @AnnoCNN on Twitter daily.

    It might seem trite to compare what happened here on the afternoon of April 15, 2013, to a movie. But several survivors said that was exactly how they perceived it; they saw themselves as the players in a war or horror movie as their flesh burned, their stomachs churned and their ears rang, muffling the screams of others. They were shocked, confused, devastated.

    The special effects were real, and it took time for that to sink in.

    There is no wondering who is responsible. Tsarnaev did it. Even his lawyer says so. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, packed two pressure cookers with gunpowder, nails and ball bearings and set them off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

    “It was the type of bomb favored by terrorists because it’s designed to tear people apart and create a bloody spectacle,” prosecutor William Weinreb told jurors in his opening statement.

    Prosecutors revealed this week that Tsarnaev stood for four minutes behind a crowd near the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street before detonating his bomb. A photo shows Henry, Jane and Martin Richard in front of him, leaning against a barricade. Jane, who was 6, lost a leg. Martin, 8, took the brunt of the blast. It tore his body apart.

    “Martin Richard was only 4 feet, 5 inches tall and he weighed only 70 pounds,” prosecutor Weinreb said. The bomb blew open Martin’s chest and abdomen, “exposing his ribs and organs.” It tore his arm from his body and drove nails and BBs into his legs. The boy bled to death on the sidewalk.

    Lingzi Lu, a grad student from China, trembled and vomited before bleeding to death.

    Restaurant manager Krystle Cambell’s lower extremities were mangled and her body shredded by hot shrapnel. She said her legs hurt, then died clasping a friend’s hand.

    All the defense can do is ask the jury to consider how things got so bad for Tsarnaev that blowing people up with gunpowder, nails and metal shards could seem a worthy endeavor for a holy cause.

    But it is not his turn, not yet. That will come later.

    Now is the time when survivors of the blasts, as well as the rest of Boston, are engaging in a sort of cleansing ritual. They come to court to face the man who did this to them, and to their city.

    Their prosthetic limbs gleam in the bright courthouse hallways, catching light from the two-story windows overlooking Boston Harbor.

    As the survivors of Tsarnaev’s bombs tell their stories, each one is compelling, heartbreaking on its own. Taken as a whole, knowing they are but a sample, this testimony speaks to overwhelming, unfathomable loss.

    Some people in the courtroom, including jurors, are moved to tears as one person after another describes the smoke, the shattered bones and eardrums, the muffled sounds and sickening smells.

    Every horror movie begins the same way: The central characters are happy, the sun is shining and there’s nary a hint of the darkness and evil about to befall them. When the horror comes, it is so staggeringly awful, you can’t take it all in.

    ‘I saw blood everywhere’

    April 15, 2013, was perfect for a marathon. It was a bright, breezy Patriots Day holiday. School was out. It was Opening Day at Fenway Park. A lot of people planned to make it a day in downtown Boston.

    Thomas Grilk

    “It was a good day to run, and a good day to watch,” said Thomas Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, which puts on the marathon. In 2013, 27,000 people registered to run.

    “The crowds are loud, boisterous, they love the marathon,” said Boston police officer Frank Chiola, who has worked the marathon detail for nine years. “They hang out, cheer. It’s a good day for everybody.”

    On the sidewalk, under the flags fluttering across the street from Marathon Sports, Jeff Bauman was jostled by a guy in a black jacket and ballcap, wearing a backpack. He thought the guy was a little off. He didn’t seem to be having a good time like everybody else.

    A few minutes later, he saw the backpack on the pavement. A thought flashed through his mind: This is like those suspicious packages they talk about at the airport.

    “You’re in Boston, you know, that stuff doesn’t happen,” he told a friend. But he started thinking it was a good idea to get out of there.

    ‘Silence, then the screaming began’

    BOOM! It was 2:39 p.m., and a flash of white light was followed by a fireball and a plume of smoke. Something had happened in front of Marathon Sports. Twelve seconds later, BOOM! Another a block and a half away, in front of the Forum restaurant. This blast seemed larger and louder than the first.

    “I remember there was a loud explosion, lots of white smoke, people running, screaming,” said Chiola, the police officer.

    “At one point afterward there was a silence and then the screaming began.”

    He was running toward the first blast when he heard the second. But he kept going, heading to the sidewalk outside Marathon Sports.

    “I saw blood everywhere. I saw shock on people’s faces. You couldn’t tell who was alive and who was dead. People were lying all over the ground. … It was chaos.”

    The blasts kept 5,600 people from crossing the finish line. Three people died, and 16 lost limbs. More than 250 others were scarred and maimed by hot metal shards, nails and pellets rocketing through the air.

    The smell of gunpowder, burning hair and burning flesh was everywhere.

    The officer rushed to a woman wearing a bright blue shirt. “From the waist down, it’s really tough to describe,” he said, fighting his emotions. “It was complete mutilation, that’s as far as I can go.”

    He started giving her CPR.

    She had a friend there calling out her name: Krystle Campbell. She was pale, and seemed to be in shock. She kept coughing.

    “As I applied chest compressions, smoke was coming out of her mouth. She had to be in a lot of pain. I helped as best I could.”

    Karen Rand McWatters

    Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager, was with one of her best friends, Karen Rand McWatters. They’d just finished posting smiling Facebook selfies when the bomb went off.

    McWatters thought she was in a dream. “My foot was turned sideways, so I knew something was really bad with my leg,” she recalled. She dragged herself across the ground to Krystle.

    “There was so much chaos and so much screaming, for some reason I got close to her head and we put our faces together. She very slowly said her legs hurt and we held hands. Very shortly after, her hand went limp and we never spoke again.”

    Rebekah Gregory

    Rebekah Gregory noticed her 5-year-old son, Noah, was getting antsy, so she persuaded him to pretend he was a scientist collecting rocks on the sidewalk outside Marathon Sports. She remembers thinking she was surprised he bought it, and then she was knocked to the ground by the first blast.

    “My first instinct as a mother was, ‘Where in the world is my baby?’ ”

    She couldn’t see her legs. “My bones were literally lying next to me on the sidewalk.”

    She couldn’t hear much, but she could hear Noah’s voice, calling “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” She reached for him, vaguely aware of the burning sensation in her hand.

    “When I lifted up my arm, all of my bones were sticking out through the flesh.”

    “This is going to be the day I die,” she thought, lying back on the pavement. She said a little prayer: “Alright, this is it. Take me, just take care of Noah.”

    She scanned the crowd for her son, and instead saw a woman she later learned was Krystle Campbell. It was obvious she was dead

    Sydney Corcoran

    Also in the heap of broken people in front of the sports store was Sydney Corcoran, a 17-year-old high school senior who was at the finish line with her parents to cheer for an aunt.

    She remembers feeling sublimely happy just before the blast. So, when it happened, she didn’t believe it was real at first. As she gathered her wits, she realized she was badly hurt; blood was gushing from her femoral artery.

    “I felt cold. I was dying. The blood was leaving my body. I was bleeding out.

    ” ‘This is it,” she thought. “I’m going to die. I’m not going to make it.” She felt almost peaceful, like she was just going to sleep.

    A note to the FBI

    Bauman didn’t get out of there. He didn’t have time. He was still wondering about the somber man in black, the backpack he’d dropped on the ground when there was a flash, three pops and Bauman was knocked to the ground. He remembers looking up at the blue sky. The view was pleasant. Then he saw what had happened to him.

    Jeff Bauman

    “I looked down and saw my legs, and it was just pure carnage. I could see my bones and the flesh sticking out, and I just went into tunnel vision. I thought, ‘This is really messed up, this is messed up,’ that’s all I said in my head.”

    He thought he was a goner: “This is how it’s going to end. This is it. I had a great life. I saw the world. I played sports growing up. I had a lot of friends. … I made peace with myself at that point.”

    He heard the second explosion and thought, again, “This is messed up. We’re under attack.”

    A man wearing a cowboy hat rushed toward him with a wheelchair. Bauman, who lost both legs, was thrown into an ambulance and taken to a hospital. When he came to, he remembered the man in black with the 5 o’clock shadow and the backpack. He couldn’t speak – a tube was in his throat. So he wrote a note to a friend to tell the FBI.

    By then, agents were busily collecting surveillance camera tapes. They wanted to know more about these two men, one wearing a black cap, the other, a white one.

    Shane O'Hara

    Shane O’Hara, manager at Marathon Sports, was standing by the door when the blast shattered his window and sent dazed and bloody people running inside. Because he sells sneakers for a living, he said, “I’m funny about feet.”

    He saw one woman’s foot soaked in blood, and fashioned a tourniquet from athletic apparel. Later, he grabbed an armful of clothing, still on the hangers, and rushed outside to make more tourniquets to help save others.

    Like many first responders, O’Hara said the decisions he made that day still haunt him. They were difficult choices: Who do you try to help? Who is beyond saving?

    “It was a scene like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘Platoon,’ ” he said.

    War movies.

    ‘I don’t have a leg’

    Roseann Sdoia was standing in front of the Forum restaurant with friends and, like everyone else, she swiveled her head to the left at the sound of the first explosion. “I decided I should run, turned to my right and ran and saw two explosions of white light at my feet.”

    Roseann Sdoia

    She knew before she hit the ground that she’d lost a leg. She remembers looking at “a foot with a little sock on it” next to her on the ground and wondering if it was hers.

    What shoes did I wear? Did I wear socks?

    She decided the foot belonged to someone else.

    It felt like she was wearing strappy sandals. Only later would she figure out that the “straps” were what was left of her foot.

    “Somebody came over to me and told me I had to get out of here. I told them I couldn’t get up. I don’t have a leg.”

    She was sure she didn’t want to live the rest of her life as an amputee. But then she thought about the alternative. She would miss her friends and family. She couldn’t give up. She couldn’t do that to them.

    She willed herself to live, to fight until she got to the hospital. She kept her eyes shut because she is squeamish by nature. “I’m not good with a paper cut, let alone what was going on out there that day.”

    She was loaded into a paddy wagon and taken to the hospital. She remembers being brought in on a gurney and “the doors opening up.”

    “In my mind, I kept myself alive to that point, and after that, it was up to the doctors to save me.”

    She lost her leg above the knee. That was one of the awful lessons to come in the days ahead: An amputation below the knee was better, with a much quicker recovery. Above the knee meant you lost the joint, and the ability to swing and pivot. It is much harder to walk.

    She still feels “phantom pain” from a limb that is no longer there.

    “It seems at times I’m getting Tasered on my right foot, and there’s no foot.”

    Officer Thomas Barrett, a 10-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, was standing across the street from the Forum, but he saw both blasts.

    With the first, “I could see white smoke, then a little black smoke and an orange flame,” he said. “The second one sounded much like the first, but a lot louder.”

    He saw an orange fireball, then white smoke, and then black smoke. He ran toward it.

    “It smelled like sulfur, as if you were at the firing range, the heavy smell of gunpowder. I felt the heat. I’d liken it to opening up the oven, I could feel it right on my face.”

    Even much later, he could feel heat radiating from the ground at the spot where the second bomb exploded.

    He encountered dozens of people, some of them grievously injured. “It was hard to choose where to begin, who to help first. I was just trying to pick who was hurt the worst.”

    He ran up to a man who was on fire, and patted at the flames.

     Dzhokhar Tsarnaev during testimony of Officer Thomas Barrett, who picked up Leo, 3, after the bombing.

    “As I was putting out the flames, somebody came up behind me and poured a beer or a drink on him to help me.”

    Someone yelled, “There’s a kid here,” and he scooped up 3-year-old Leo, who was bleeding from a head injury. He carried the crying boy across the street and handed him off to other first responders, who placed him in an ambulance.

    He used somebody’s belt as a tourniquet for a man who had lost a leg.

    “It was brutal There was a lot of blood on the ground mixed with what looked like charring. There was a person’s leg that was on Boylston Street. I stepped on it. People were missing legs. The legs were ripped off, it wasn’t anything clean or neat. A lot of people had clothes that were torn or shredded.”

    He saw a woman who was sitting up. “She had been eviscerated across her abdomen,” he recalled. “She was holding on to her insides, she was holding them in.”

    He decided there was nothing he could do to help her.

    ‘She wasn’t alone when she died’

    Another officer, Lauren Wood, ran up to two woman, including the one clutching at her insides. She quickly saw her friend beside her was in much worse shape. She was vomiting profusely as an EMT tried to perform CPR.

    Lauren Wood

    Wood tried to clear the young woman’s airway. “I briefly saw that her lower torso had extensive injuries, particularly to her legs. I specifically saw blood, flesh, bone. There were people already working on her lower half so I stuck with what I knew, the CPR and clearing her airways.”

    She crouched on her shins, and noticed the vomit and debris in the young woman’s hair. “I would say her whole body was shaking, quivering. Her eyes kept rolling back and forth.”

    The other first responders decided she wasn’t going to make it and moved on to help others. Wood tried to make eye contact, but the woman seemed shaky and confused, “like she couldn’t understand what was happening to her.”

    She looked into the young woman’s handbag and learned who she was: Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old graduate student from China.

    She kept talking to her.

    “Lingzi, stay with us. You can do this. Stay strong.”

    Firefighters helped her carry the woman to an ambulance, but they were told to take her out. It was too late. They needed the space for the ones they could save.

    Wood covered the woman with a white sheet and stayed with her, even when she was told to leave the scene because there were fears of a third bomb. “I wanted to take her with us, but the captain said no, she’s part of the crime scene. You’re still alive. You have to go.”

    Wood said she couldn’t leave her. She thought about what would happen if another bomb took her face. She wanted Lu’s parents to be able to see their daughter one last time.

    Alan Hern, a high school football coach from Martinez, California, was more worried about his wife than his kids. She was running the marathon even though she had just learned she was pregnant. Later, she told her husband that she thought about how happy she was as she neared the finish line.

    “She turned the corner, thinking how thankful she was, how things were working out with her family, how things were going well with the baby. She was feeling good, and that’s when the bombs went off.”

    Hern was knocked off his feet and disoriented. It felt as if everything was happening underwater. He took his daughter, Abigail, across the street, away from the carnage. She was unhurt but screaming hysterically.

    He went back to look for his son, Aaron.

    Parents seem to have some special radar that makes it easy to pick their child out of a crowd, even when that child is almost unrecognizable. Hern’s eyes quickly found Aaron’s; the boy’s eyebrows had been singed by the blast.

    “He had black soot all over his face and his hair was standing straight up, but I knew him right away.” Aaron had a gaping hole in his leg. Hern eased him down onto the sidewalk, grabbed a belt and applied a tourniquet.

    Hang in there, he told him.

    “It really hurts, Dad. It really hurts.”

    Doctors later found bone fragments from another person inside Aaron’s leg wound. He had to undergo a powerful round of anti-HIV drugs, just in case.

    But he was lucky in comparison to the boy who had been standing next to him. The blast didn’t just take Martin Richard’s leg. It blew his body apart.

    William Richard knew his son wouldn’t make it the moment he saw him. “I just knew, from what I saw, there was no chance.”

    He left the 8-year-old on the sidewalk in front of the Forum restaurant. Martin was with his mother, who was blinded in one eye by shrapnel. Richard focused on his other two children. His 6-year-old daughter, Jane, had lost a leg and was in danger of bleeding to death.

    He struggled to scoop her up; a surveillance camera captured the scene. The video shown in court brought tears to the eyes of spectators and at least one juror. He walked across Boylston Street carrying Jane with his other son, Henry, clinging to him.

    At the hospital, he learned Henry would be fine, but Jane faced a tougher battle.

    “You know it’s not going to be good when you see the look of horror on doctor’s faces.”

    Jane’s leg was amputated below the knee. She had at least 20 pieces of shrapnel throughout her body. As he identified her in photos and videos, Richard said more than once, “That’s Jane with two legs.”

    Afterward, he left his wife and kids at the hospitals and went home and took a shower. He wanted to process what had happened to his family, and to wash away the sickening smell of gunpowder and burned flesh.

    “I was injured but not as severely as so many other people,” he said. He lost some of his hearing, and there’s a permanent ringing in his ears.

    “But I can still hear you, I can still hear music. I can still hear the beautiful voices of my family.”