Bombings killed three people, injured scores and sent smoke and flame soaring near the Boston Marathon’s finish line, triggering an FBI investigation into what authorities described as an act of terror.
The explosions near Copley Square occurred as recreational runners were finishing about 2:50 p.m. local time yesterday, police said. Runners buffeted by the shock wave fell to the ground and one man walked away with clothes in tatters as white and orange fumes billowed into the air.
At least 140 people were hospitalized and as many as eight were in critical condition, officials said. Among the dead was an 8-year-old boy, the Boston Globe reported. A photo showed a gray-faced man, his thigh in a tourniquet, being rolled away in a wheelchair. His lower leg was mere shreds.
“This is the sort of carnage you expect to see in war,” Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, said at a news briefing. Peter Fagenholz, a trauma surgeon at the hospital, said in a news briefing that many of the wounded had shrapnel injuries and doctors had performed several amputations.
Witnesses described a joyous scene turned hellish as spectators watched runners finishing one of the greatest sporting challenges in the U.S.
Phil Kirkpatrick, a 59-year-old from Nashville, was watching the race when the blast blew his mobile phone out of his hand. He looked down to see a piece of flesh about the size of a button on his blood-spattered jeans, he said. Then, he looked up to see a man with his foot blown off and a medic trying to revive a woman with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“There were some very hurt people,” he said.
Martin Richard, an 8-year-old from nearby Dorchester, was killed in the bombing, which also injured his mother and sister, the Globe said.
Boston police had largely cleared the area where the blasts occurred last night and had no suspect in custody, Commissioner Ed Davis said at a news briefing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken charge of the case, said Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the bureau’s Boston office.
“It is a criminal investigation that is a potential terrorist investigation,” he said.
Authorities were questioning a foreigner with an expired student visa, though he wasn’t a suspect or “person of interest,” said a federal law-enforcement official who asked not to be identified because the official wasn’t authorized to speak as the investigation was continuing.
An apartment in the suburb of Revere was searched by police and several bags removed, Boston television station WBZ reported. The Revere Fire Department said it responded to a local address to assist “State Police Bomb Techs for a search of a ‘person of interest’ apartment in the town, according to a post on the fire company’s Facebook page.
“We still do not know who did this or why,” President Barack Obama said in a briefing at the White House. “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”
While he didn’t use the word terrorism to describe the attack, an administration official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the bombings are being investigated as an act of terror.
The Pakistani Taliban denied any involvement in the bombings, the Associated Press reported, citing spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan. The group provided training for the 2010 failed car bombing in New York’s Time Square.
The U.S. had no information that any foreign group was planning an attack, said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Intelligence Committee.
“We’ve known for some time that a public event where there were a lot of people would be subject to this possibility,” she said.
Officials in Washington and New York stepped up security, including in the subways.
The blasts at the Boston race, which attracts about 25,000 runners and 500,000 spectators each year, follow several bombing attempts since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a 21-year-old man from Bangladesh, pleaded guilty in February to planning to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison for the attempted car bombing in Times Square, and Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty to supporting al-Qaeda and plotting in 2009 to attack New York subways.
Nor was the attack the first bombing of a major U.S. sporting event.
A blast at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996 killed two people and injured more than 100. Eric Robert Rudolph, an anti-abortion activist, admitted detonating the 40-pound pipe bomb.
The Boston Marathon, first run in 1897, is considered the most prestigious in the U.S. and is held every Patriot’s Day, a statewide holiday celebrating the first battles of the American Revolution. Its 26.2-mile course runs from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.
The blasts happened at about the “thickest time” for runners finishing the race, said John Hanlon, 38, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, who was with his wife and two of their children near the finish line. The elite athletes crossed the line hours earlier.
“People were screaming and grabbing their families and getting the hell out of there,” he said.
Dan O’Gara, who was working at Marathon Sports, a running store on Boylston Street, said three injured people were brought in. Employees bandaged them with shirts.
As night fell, the city’s streets were quiet. The area around the finish line was dotted with hundreds of yellow bags left behind in the commotion.