Bombings cancel college welcome days

Michael Sugerman

Hank Gerba ’12 was sitting in his Northeastern University dorm room when a notification popped up on his iPhone.

“Are you blown up?” read a text from his friend.

“He said that there were just two explosions at the end of the Boston Marathon,” Gerba said. “And I realized that if I listened to what was going on outside my room there were helicopters and sirens and people screaming.”

For Gerba and other alumni in Boston, the drama was beginning to unfold just down the street.

“It was something out of a movie,” Blaise Ormond ‘12, a student at Boston University said. He was a mile away from the Marathon finish line when the first bomb was detonated.

Gerba grabbed his camera and walked the five minutes from his dorm to the edge of the police perimeter at Boylston Street, where the first bomb was detonated Monday, April 15.

“I didn’t even think of the fact that there might be future danger,” he said. “I figured this was a pretty important event that had happened and to be able to be there and capture some of it on a camera would be a good thing do.”

After snapping numerous photos, Gerba was about to head back to his dorm when he noticed a man covered in blood and clutching a bloodstained American flag.

“He looked disoriented and it was immediately clear that he had been at the explosion,” Gerba said. “Some people went up to him and asked if he was hurt or okay. He assured everyone that he was fine and that it wasn’t his blood, which was a strangely good thing to hear.”

The man was Carlos Arredondo, who was one of the first citizen reactors to the Marathon explosions. Many may now recognize Arredondo from a dramatic Associated Press photo, where he is pushing a wheelchair with a Marathon runner who lost both of his lower legs.

Gerba took video as Arredondo spoke to reporters, and was incidentally featured in NBC’s street interview with the hero.

Three days after the Marathon bombing, the suspects reappeared, engaging in a shoot-out with police at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and killing MIT Officer Sean Collier.

“I was really scared, because I was at Stata Center an hour before the shooting happened,” Jeffrey Sperling ‘11 said. “The place where the police officer was shot is not a remote part of campus; it’s one of the hearts of campus. I’m there every day.”

Fellow MIT student Jennifer Plotkin ’11 met Collier through her work with the school’s Emergency Medical Technician program, befriending the officer the week before he was slain.

“We instantly hit it off,” she said. “He would come hang out with us and play Halo. Right after the marathon he messaged me and made sure the crew and I were okay.”

Plotkin was in her sorority house when the suspects opened fire on campus. She began to worry about her new friend when she heard an officer had been killed, and her fears were confirmed when she checked his Facebook profile the next morning.

“I started sobbing,” Plotkin said. “When I heard an officer was shot, I was immediately worried about [Collier], but I thought ‘Oh, what are the chances?’ It was devastating.”

During the manhunt for the suspects in Watertown on April 18, most Boston-area schools were put on lockdown, subsequently shutting current students in and some prospective students out.

Harvard University cancelled its admitted students weekend, April 20-22, causing Michael Rothberg ’13 to stay home altogether. He said he made the decision while he was in line to board his flight to Boston at 6 a.m. April 19.

“The city was on lockdown while the local, state and federal law enforcement were searching for the Marathon bombing suspects, so Harvard decided that it wouldn’t be safe to accommodate kids on campus,” Rothberg said. “Also, public transportation in the city was shut down, so it would have been impossible to get from the airport to campus at that time.”

Harvard did not reschedule the admitted students weekend, which Rothberg called “a major bummer.” Unlike Rothberg, Elle Wilson ’13 flew into Boston’s Logan International Airport that day and was forced to stay there while the city was locked down.

Rebecca Aaron ’13 was to visit Boston University April 20 while on a tour of the East Coast with a friend. However, because the city was on lockdown the night before while police searched for the second bombing suspect, her mother called and told her not to go.

Although the suspect was caught later that night, Aaron doesn’t regret her decision to skip a stop in Boston.

“At the time, it was unpredictable,” she said.

Demren Sinik ’13 arrived in Boston to visit Harvard in the early afternoon April 18. When the city went on lockdown that night, Sinik found himself stranded in his hotel.

Maddie Lear ’13, who arrived in Boston April 18 and was staying at Harvard with a friend, was confined to campus for all of the next day and left on April 20. Harvard had reopened its campus by then, and Lear said that although the student reception remained cancelled, Harvard students and organizations planned unofficial events for incoming freshman. Sinik decided to stay through Monday, and sat in on a few classes when school resumed.

Christine Sasaki ’13 toured Northeastern hours before the MIT shootings that instigated a city lockdown. Although her tour of Boston University was cancelled for the next day, she said that given the circumstances, it wasn’t a top priority.

“Everything that happened was terrifying, especially when they linked the [MIT] shootings to the Marathon bombers and said they might have planted explosives around the city,” Sasaki said. “But at the same time, I got to see everyone in Boston come together after the tragedies and the entire city shut down for this cause. Seeing the city unite made me feel like a part of a greater something. It was almost welcoming. Here everyone is just looking out for each other.”

Esther Zuckerman ’08 covered uplifting Boston stories throughout the week for The Atlantic Wire in New York City.

“I was actually waiting to hear who had won Pulitzers this year when I heard about the bombings via Twitter,” she said. “I had seen one Tweet passed around from NBC Sports Network that told of Marathon runners that had continued running to Mass General to give blood, and decided that I wanted to write about the stories of kindness that were emerging. Once I had that idea I began scouring social media and various publication’s reports for other like stories. I used accounts that came from reporters that were on the ground or marathon runners or spectators that were documenting their experience.”
Michael Kaplan ’08 also contributed to Boston coverage, helping produce Scott Pelley’s interview with the Boston Police Commissioner for CBS’ “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday night.

Since one suspect was killed and the other taken into custody, Gerba said the streets of Boston have been packed with celebratory citizens.

“The street that all the dorms are on was packed with people cheering, and the Boston police did a miniature parade,” Gerba said. “Even when I went back to my room, just through my window, people were roaring. It was pretty cool, honestly, to hear.”

While Sperling has enjoyed the celebrations, he is happiest with the city’s return to normalcy.

“People have been running on the Boston Bridge and all over,” he said. “One of the slogans after the Marathon bombings was ‘Run Boston, Run,’ as in keep going despite the tragedy. The point of terror is to make us abandon our daily habits, and it’s really nice to see everyone coming together and resuming their everyday activities.”