The Horror. The Heroism.

Special Report: When the bombs went off at the finish line, they reawakened a nation’s sense of vulnerability to terror. They also reawakened its resilience

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The cover of TIME's digital edition, a Special Report on the Tragedy in Boston Read more:
Cover photograph by Bill Hoenk

And that was not all. The day after the marathon bombings came word of a letter laced with toxic ricin sent to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker in Washington; it was detected at a remote mail facility in Maryland. The Senate post office was shut down; then reports came of suspicious packages at Senators’ regional offices. On April 17 the FBI revealed that a similar letter, also laced with ricin and postmarked Memphis, had been sent to President Obama; both letters, the FBI said, contained the message “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” The Hart Senate office building was shut down when a suspicious package was found in the atrium.

So what happens now? All the hard targets are harder than ever: the White House is a fortress, the Capitol ringed with tiger teeth, the skyscrapers of Manhattan outfitted with metal detectors and bomb dogs. But you can’t harden the Rose Parade or Shakespeare in the Park, advise people to stay home New Year’s Eve, roll up our civic life and take it inside. We gather and cheer: that’s how we live, at least in our cities, scratchy and cozy and close. But security is about to tighten several more notches, and not just in New York and Washington and Chicago. More metal detectors, more cameras, more dogs, as safety takes one more step forward and privacy takes one back. Boston just gave the next big crowd one more reason to think twice and weigh the odds and wonder who might be looking for the perfect occasion for a hideous crime.

(MORE: Tragedy in Boston: One Photographer’s Eyewitness Account)

Battlefield Tactics
Lester Wasserman, 38, a New York shoe-store owner, was approaching mile 26 when he heard the blast. The runners slowed. “We think a transformer exploded,” a policeman told them. “We’re going to reroute you.”

But this was no accident. The blast site was a pile of metal barricades, bags, clothes, body parts. “The first thing I saw were people’s limbs blown off. Massive amounts of blood,” Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki told TIME. “It looked like BB holes in the back of some people. And a lot of anger. People were just angry.” He saw a man kneeling over a woman. “Obviously she was injured pretty badly, and he’s just ­comforting her.”

Fear and mercy scrambled the crowd; some ran toward safety as others raced into the smoke and chaos. The bomb was perfectly designed to shred bodies below the waist—unless the shrapnel hit a child, in which case the damage was even more horrible. “We started grabbing tourniquets and tying legs,” said Roupen Bastajian, a Rhode Island state trooper who had just finished the race. A cook took off his apron to wrap it around one woman’s bleeding stump. Former New England Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi carried an injured woman to safety. “The police were trying to keep us back, but I told them I was a physician and they let me through,” Dr. Natalie Stavas, a pediatric resident at Boston Children’s Hospital who had just finished the race, told the New York Times. She performed CPR on one woman: “She was on the ground, she wasn’t breathing, her legs were pretty much gone,’’ she said.

When a crowded city street becomes a battlefield, the hard lessons of two wars come sharply home. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been hardwired to expect secondary explosions. Every member of an infantry unit carried a tourniquet and knew how to use it; that knowledge saved limbs, and lives, in Boston. Dr. Lyle Micheli found himself working with an Army Special Forces soldier from Harvard Business School; they fashioned a tourniquet out of a running jacket, and used a hanger as a windlass to tighten it. The well-equipped medical tent that typically treats dehydration and blisters quickly turned into a MASH unit. Doctors accustomed to handling sports medicine were triaging patients who arrived with lacerations and burns, damaged organs, broken bones, ruptured eardrums; some had lost both legs.

MORE: Treating the Marathon Casualties: Inside One Boston Emergency Room

This story is part of TIME’s Boston bombing special tablet edition, available on iPad, Nook, Android and Kindle

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