BOSTON - It may be one of the biggest cities in the country, but Boston was a small town on Tuesday as it mourned the losses it suffered in mayhem a year ago and as it honored the sense of community that emerged from the ashes.
“There are no strangers here,” Gov. Deval Patrick said to an overflow audience of 2,700 at the Hynes Convention Center on Boylston Street. “We are all connected to each other, to events beyond our control, to a common destiny.”
He was addressing families and loved ones, first responders and medical professionals, runners and spectators, all brought together by their ties to last year’s Boston Marathon. One of the best-known sporting events in the world, it turned deadly last year when two homemade bombs, planted close to the finish line, killed three people: Krystle Campbell, 29, Lu Lingzi, 23, and Martin Richard, 8. The bombs wounded 260 others and cost 16 some of their limbs. The two men accused of the bombings are alleged to have killed a fourth person, Sean Collier, 27, a police officer at MIT, a few days later.
The tribute at the convention center was the central event of a gloomy, rain-soaked, tear-streaked anniversary that began with a wreath-laying ceremony near the finish line and ended with candlelight vigils.
But the evening observances were disrupted when the police saw a man walking barefoot in the rain with a backpack near the finish line on Boylston Street. The man told the police that he had a rice cooker in the backpack, which the police confirmed. Randall Halstead, the police superintendent of the night command, told reporters that the man, in his 20s, was taken into custody and charged with possession of a hoax device and disorderly conduct.
The bomb squad then “rendered” the backpack safe, Halstead said, creating what sounded like a contained explosion. He said the contents of the backpack were under investigation.
Streets in the area were cleared of pedestrians, and traffic was blocked off for almost three hours.
Earlier, one of the most emotional moments of the day came at the beginning, when Jane Richard, 8, and her brother Henry, 12, helped lay a wreath for Martin, their brother, in front of the Forum restaurant, where one of the bombs went off last year. Jane, her prosthetic leg visible below her dark skirt, briefly touched the wreath, and she and her brother stood quietly for a few moments before turning to their parents for hugs.
At the tribute, Patrick took note of the few degrees of separation among those at last year’s race. He said that Martin had carried a Deval Patrick campaign sign when Martin was only 2. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who also spoke at the tribute, had been the boy’s Little League coach.
“It felt like we knew everyone who was hurt, everyone who was suffering,” Walsh said, reflecting a quirk about Boston - that everyone seems to know everyone else, and if they did not know one another before the marathon, they did now. They have learned their back stories and followed their progress.
The sense of community was evident, too, in the crowds that gathered in the downpour for a flag-raising ceremony at the site of the explosions. Many recognized Carlos Arredondo, the cowboy-hat-wearing bystander who became famous last year when he helped rescue Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs. But Kristen McKenzie, 34, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, even recognized someone in the crowd far more anonymous: a man who had stood guard at a makeshift memorial that sprang up after the bombings.
“He was guarding that, day in and day out, so it was nice to see him,” she said.
Perhaps the most intense bond that has been forged is that among a completely random group of people who had little in common except their enthusiasm for cheering on runners and then the grave injuries they endured.
The survivors have helped one another recover, moving from hospitals to rehabilitation together, some of them forming deep friendships. More than 100 of them even went on a cruise together in December.
“To our fellow survivor community,” said Patrick Downes, speaking from the lecturn at the tribute, “what would we do without each other?” Downes and his new wife, Jessica Kensky both lost their left legs in the blast.
Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke last at the tribute, leaned on the lectern and clasped his hands in front of him, saying it was an important day, not just for Boston but for the country because the city had inspired everyone.
In a rousing finish, Biden summoned an image of next Monday, when runners will again line up to start the marathon, now in its 118th year.
“You will send a resounding message around the world, not just to the rest of the world but to the terrorists, that we will never yield, we will never cower, America will never ever, ever stand down,” he said. “We are Boston! We are America! We respond, we endure, we overcome and we own the finish line!”