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

But the nature of the bomb did not necessarily point investigators to al-Qaeda or its freelance affiliates. The instructions to build one appear on white-­supremacist websites as well, one of which called the Inspire story “highly recommended reading.” Pressure-­cooker bombs are also discussed in detail on anarchist sites, one of which describes how to build what is “affectionately known as a HELLHOUND.” The possible link to violent antigovernment groups was already much on investigators’ minds. Security experts had instantly registered the significance of the day: April 15, Tax Day, Patriots’ Day, which in the twisted visions of alienated radicals is a day to protest against symbols of authority. It was the third week of April in 1985 when the compound of the white-supremacist group the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Law was raided in Marion County, Arkansas; that group was plotting to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Ten years later, Timothy McVeigh fulfilled that mission, on April 19, 1995; by then Patriots’ Day had acquired even more symbolic resonance as the anniversary of the siege at Waco, Texas, that left more than 70 cult members dead. McVeigh in turn inspired the Columbine killers, who struck on April 20, 1999.

Heart of the City
The fastest route back to ordinary life is paved by extraordinary kindness. To those who were witness to the horrific violence, the city of Boston opened its arms. Many runners who escaped unharmed were left wandering in the growing cold that night, no ID, no credit cards, no money or luggage, unable to return to their hotels because they were locked down in the blast zone. Boston residents emerged from their homes with sweaters and plates of food; girls on Newbury Street passed out white flowers to runners, asking them to return for next year’s race. A rabbi who’d been at the finish line offered the National Guard troops guarding the site some pastries and thanked them for their service. On the other side of Boylston Street, marathon organizers were giving out medals to anyone with a runner’s bib, and a nearby Starbucks was serving free coffee and doughnuts to everyone on the street. By nightfall more than 6,000 people had offered places to sleep for the displaced, while the Red Cross opened shelters.

(PHOTOS: Marathon Carnage: Explosions in Boston)

Runners Hill and Schlitt spent long minutes after the bombing frantically trying to call their daughter, who’d run the race with them. They were elated when they finally found her. “But there are people for whom this hasn’t ended so well,” said Hill, playing with her ­marathon medal. “I wasn’t sure if I should wear this. At first I hid it. It seems silly to be proud of finishing this race when there are families out there who’ve lost someone.”

But already normal was shoving its way back into the foreground. The bars of Boston’s hotels did a brisk business long into the night.

Yankee fans may have sung the Red Sox anthem “Sweet Caroline” at their home game, but that won’t become a regular thing. By April 17, runners were posting their marathon medals on eBay; they were going for hundreds of dollars. Officials in London were finalizing their plans for Sunday’s marathon; they weren’t worried that no one would turn up.

And when they were finally able to get back into their hotels, collect their belongings and head for home, the Boston runners knew they would be back. KEEP ON RUNNING, BOSTON, read a sign with the heart, taped to a barricade.

— With reporting by Andrew Katz, Nate Rawlings and Jay Newton-Small / Boston; Massimo Calabresi, Michael Crowley and Mark Thompson / Washington; and Andrea Sachs / New York City

MORE: Marathon Bombings: Our Favorite Tributes to Boston

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