Sunday, April 20, 2014

One-year later: Why Boston is still our city

It’s hard to put into words, what seemed like a million emotions that I went through that Monday afternoon when tragedy struck the heart of the city of Boston on April 15, 2013.

A day that will forever feel like a bad dream, that we wish we could wake up from and never have to re-live or think about again. I kept telling myself “I could have been down there,” for the simple fact that for the past few Marathon Mondays prior to this one, I was down there.

I was one of many cheering on runners while handing out Boston Marathon posters and taking pictures of happy children and their families, being a part of one of the most important days in New England and it was special.

I could feel it when I would see the smiles on the faces of thousands from all over the world enjoying a day off from work, school or just visiting my city. You couldn’t help but notice the spirit of Spring in the air, when you look forward to catching an early Red Sox game and then you make your way down to Boylston Street and cheer on those running for a good cause or simply just those who want to cross that finish line.

Little did any of us know, that evil would rear it's ugly head on such an innocent day.

For the first time I was not a part of the festivities on this Patriot's Day Monday. Instead I was a few miles away receiving a phone call from my father like any other normal day.

“Did you hear,” as I could sense the panic in my father’s voice. “There was a bomb at the Boston Marathon.”

Time stood still for what seemed like forever. I looked up, noticing a round analog clock in front of me as my father tried to explain that my younger brother Josué, who I knew was working on Boylston Street, had called to ask him if he was watching the news? Just minutes after the second explosion, Josué was able to make a quick phone call to our dad to let him know he was okay, and that he and a group of co-workers were walking out of the area as quickly as possible.

That was at 3:07 PM.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, explosions, and bombs???

At that moment I tried getting in contact with Josué by calling and texting him, I got no response. I couldn’t help but feel anxious as I tried to gather more information on what was going on, and to at least hear from my brother so I knew in fact that he was alright.

I only had access to my phone, so I immediately started to search the internet for answers since it was reported that all calls made to any cells phones in area effected weren't getting through.

Was this a terrorist attack on the city?

I was thinking the worst, because I wasn’t there. I couldn’t feel ‘OK’ until I was able hear my brother’s voice.

Two hours later, which felt like an eternity, little news of the actual bombings had surfaced and where the explosions took place. Josué and his radio station co-workers were a mere blocks away, and there was not a damn thing I could have done to protect him.

In a last resort of trying to gather more information as people were giving me all types of ‘hear-say’ news, even on social media, I turned on WEEI (a Boston sports radio station), where my brother works for as a producer and at the time worked for their promotions team (the reason why he was down near the finish line to begin with). I didn’t know why it had not dawned on me sooner to check if they were in fact talking about what had now became breaking news.

On their afternoon drive show; I heard a familiar voice, and friend Bill Neville. He happened to be working with Josué as they both were live on the air in the studio talking about what they witnessed in the immediate aftermath of what they described as the "ground shook" and they heard a "loud boom" followed by the sight of smoke and "complete panic" on the faces around them. They did the only thing they could, move their team quickly out of the area while trying to remain calm themselves. They ended up on Commonwealth Ave, over by Boston University, where they were picked up and brought back to the station, safe and sound.

Thank God.

I could hear how Josué was still shaken up about what he had experienced. Even though I finally got to hear for myself that he was physically OK, I was grateful and angry at the same time. This was as ‘close to home’ as you can get, and for my little brother to have to see or go through something that horrific where I couldn't be there for him, bothered me, and it still does.

You see growing up it was just the two of us, I was taught no matter what you have to be there and protect your brother. That’s something instilled in me as far back as I can remember. God forbid if the unthinkable had happened, I don’t know how I would have handled it.

We finally spoke to each other over the phone shortly after he got off the air, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief, as we both told each other "I love you." He told me how scared he was, and I told him I was sorry for not being there for him, and that I was thankful that he was not alone.

Later that night we finally got the chance to give each other the biggest embrace I think we had ever given one another. He was OK, my little brother was OK. But we both knew that he and his team were one of the lucky ones that day.

Our city was bleeding, and we prayed for the victims, their families, the first responders and all who were affected. We were all left asking why us? Why did this happen? How could anyone or group want to harm innocent people? How dare they come to my city, my backyard and do this to us. We felt violated and vulnerable because they snuck up on us and forever tainted a day of tradition that goes back decades and all for what?

These questions that we probably would never have answers to or we couldn't even begin to understand the reasons behind. Why would anyone want to strike fear in the faces of thousands of innocent men, woman and children?

Three days went by before we were shown the faces of those who had attempted to break our city. While flipping to the local WHDH-TV channel 7-news station to catch the 11 o'clock evening news about 15 minutes before its start time, I noticed they were already covering a breaking news story of an apparent car chase through Cambridge, MA. A man was shot and killed on the M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) campus, that was later revealed to be officer Sean Collier.

With all the heighten police presence throughout the city and greater Boston, I was surprised that these 'suspects' were that stupid to think they would get away with this, after just 72 hours of everyone being on high alert. Little did I know what would transpire throughout that night and into the next day.

I still remember Adam Williams’ (the on-site channel-7 reporter) face and his voice as if it were yesterday. He became my hero as he kept me informed throughout the next 24-hours. I watched this breaking news story transform from chasing murder suspects, into the apparent same two-suspects that were involved in the Marathon bombings. The same assholes the police were chasing through Cambridge to begin with, who just so happened to be brothers.

I couldn’t go to sleep as I had to witness the capture of these two cowards. As more details developed throughout the night, by morning the manhunt was officially on and it focused on Watertown, MA. A city I used to live just minutes from and worked in just one-year prior and had friends who still lived in the area.

By 5:00 AM, I was on the phone contacting everyone I knew in the area to wake up and watch the news if they weren’t already. The city was about to be under lock-down after it was reported one of the suspects was dead and the other was still on the run.

That Friday was my late grandmother’s birthday, I prayed in her name for the capture of this man. It was a nice warm day where I should have been celebrating her life but instead I was stuck indoors waiting and watching, just as the whole world was for horrible individual to be caught.

We learned more details of this suspect’s life and it only made me want them to catch the bastard even more. He was nothing more than a scared punk kid looking for his 30 seconds of fame; a follower. How could this prick even think of messing with my city and get away with it?

Before we knew it, what seemed liked days had gone by instead of just 17-hours, a complete shutdown of Boston (Newton, Waltham, Watertown, Cambridge, and other surrounding towns and cities) worse than any blizzard since 1978, you heard across all news outlets, and police scanners were the words “We got him!”

I feel to my knees and said "Amen." He was in custody and all I wanted to do was scream like we had won another one of our many championships again (Thank you Red Sox for that. six months later). It was over. We could come outside and live our lives again. It was simply amazing, how less than 24-hours could change everything.

The very next day, Saturday, April 20, the only place I needed to be to celebrate a major victory for Boston was Fenway Park. The Sox were hosting the Kansas City Royals and David Ortiz was set to make his return into the lineup from an injury.

God couldn’t have scripted this any better. After almost a week and a city under siege, we would come together to say thank you to the police and everyone involved for a job well done, and honor the lives of Martin Richard (8), Lingzi Lu (23), MIT officer Sean Collier (26) and Krystle Campbell (29).

On this day I wanted to do something to show my support the best way I knew how; handing out Red Sox posters around the park just like old times with the WEEI street team.

Normally they would have a big red K (for strikeout) on them, but instead for this special game-day poster, they had B Strong on one side, with the website on the other where people could go to donate to the families affected by this horrible tragedy.

It was a fitting way to lift and remind us to stay strong, despite us being knocked down, we had to get up and keep running. After the hundreds of visits to the place that I had gone to before for different events and games over the years, I couldn’t remember a time when I saw Fenway Park so packed full of people.

No opening day, or playoff-game in recent memory that I could think of that this good amount of fans came out to catch a ball-game. Of course this was no ordinary Red Sox game day and as I passed out these special posters, I a got a 'thank you' from every single individual who grabbed a poster from me. Something small to others but something that still sticks out to me, when I think about that great day.

Afterwards I was lucky enough to be able to enter the park with my brother, Josué and my extended WEEI/WAAF family who I still keep in close contact with. We got to watch the pre-game ceremony, the national anthem and of course Big Papi’s great speech.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t scream ‘F**K Yeah’ to the top of my lungs after he reminded Boston and the world, that this indeed was our 'F’n city,' and no one was going to scare us ever again.

In a sea of B Strong posters there was a roar from the Fenway crowd so loud that could probably be heard all the way down to the Boylston Street Boston Marathon finish line.

It was truly one of those moments that you could finally exhale and tell yourself that everything would be OK.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of that speech. The Sox of course put the city on their backs all the way to a World Series pennant. I look back and see how ‘Boston Strong’ has took on a special meaning for different people.

To me, it means family, because I feel like Boston is a family, a way of life. When someone or people mess with your family you take it personal, no matter what.

I thank God every day for being able to hug my brother, to see and touch him. We make sure to make time for each other, even though we rarely discuss that April afternoon, it’s still remains in the back of our minds.

We know that in a split second things could have gone the other way. Josué and I never lose sight of that ever, we know life can be short and it can be unfair at times. But I’ll never forget that day and how it changed us and our city.

Tomorrow during the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, I'll be there cheering the runners on; as we are now Boston Strong-er one year later!

I would like to to dedicate this piece to the memories of Martin Richard, Lingi Lu, Sean Collier, Krystle Campbell and those who are no longer with us; we will strive to finish the race in your honor, in your names we pray… Amen.

Joel Pavón

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