Americas

Tuesday 22 July 2014

'This town will never be the same. We will be better'

Exhausted after ending the siege, police raised a glass to remember fellow officer Sean Collier, writes Kevin Cullen

Kevin Cullen

Published 21/04/2013|04:00

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Bostonians cheer the police after the second suspect is captured

Jerry Foley, the great barman, cleared a table for them on the lounge side of JJ Foleys, the famous hostelry in Boston's South End.

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The young cops, their faces a mix of exhaustion and exhilaration, ordered beers. Danny Keeler, a Boston police detective, and a role model for the younger cops around him, betrayed his experience and sophistication, ordering a red wine.

They raised their glasses, to a job well done. A 19-year-old kid who held one million people hostages in their own homes was finally in custody, and maybe, just maybe, Bostonians will get some answers to why he and his disaffected 26-year-old brother decided to kill and maim innocents at the finish line of an old, beloved marathon.

They kept their glasses aloft. "To Sean," they said. "To Sean."

Sean Collier was a beautiful kid. All he ever wanted to be was a cop. He was 26 years old, and he was not only admired by the students on the sprawling urban campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was loved.

There was the young woman who was assaulted on campus. She was terrified about pressing charges. Sean Collier literally held her hand, sitting next to her in court, and she felt safe.

There was the graduate student with brown skin who said he came from a culture where the police were not trusted, but he trusted Sean and took great comfort when he left his lab at MIT and saw a smiling Collier sitting in his police cruiser in the courtyard in Cambridge.

But now Sean Collier was dead, assassinated as he sat in that cruiser, by the Tsarnaev brothers, the murder that was the beginning of the end of the nihilistic rampage by a pair of ethnic Chechens who turned on the very country that offered them sanctuary.

Eddie Kelly, a firefighter, stood just to the side of the table, a sad smile on his face. "This is one of the finest days in the history of the BPD," he said. "You guys are the best." The cops nodded in appreciation.

"You see those guys," Kelly said, turning to me. "Some of those guys were with us at the finish line, after the bombs went off. And there they were tonight, taking that son-of-a-bitch in. They didn't kill him. They brought him to justice. I couldn't be more prouder of our guys."

If it seemed odd that the most eloquent testimonial to the courage and tenacity and sheer professionalism of the Boston Police Department should come from a Boston firefighter, it shouldn't.

It might be a cliche to suggest they are a band of brothers, but they are. Theirs is a fraternity forged in the blood and the mangled tissue of the people they worked feverishly to save last Monday when evil came to Boylston Street.

"Those guys have our backs," Kelly said, gesturing over to the table of cops, "and we have their backs."

We are a funny lot in Boston. We are mostly Irish, and as Bruce Bolling, the first African-American president of the Boston City Council once told me, "Kevin, in this town, we're all Irish by osmosis".

For all the good that means, it can sometimes mean bad. We have a tendency to begrudge. When someone's head gets too big, we knock it off.

But don't punch us. Because if you punch us, we will punch you back. In Boston, we will take two punches to land one. And I wouldn't want to be hit by Danny Keeler or any of the other Boston cops who helped end the siege.

"It's been a bad week for the city," Kelly said. "But I've never been more proud of the town. Look at the way we came together, the way we reacted."

The firefighter was off-duty and had brought his kids to watch his wife run the marathon. She had just finished, and the family was walking down Boylston, away from the finish line, when the first bomb went off. Kelly ran two blocks to the fire house where he's assigned to Tower Ladder 17. He grabbed his gear from his locker and ran to the bombing scene.

"It was horrific," he said. "It was like a battlefield."

Kelly dove into it, alongside his mates from Ladder 17 and Engine 7, which is housed in the same station. He looked up and saw a fellow Dorchester guy, Bill Richard, standing amid the carnage, disoriented. "I can't find Denise!" Bill Richard yelled.

Denise Richard was lying nearby. Shrapnel had pierced her brain. Her eight-year-old son, Martin, lay dead beside her. Her six-year-old daughter, Jane, a fine Irish dancer, was nearby, her leg blown off.

Kelly saw one of his fellow firefighters scoop up little Janey Richard and carry her off. Kelly's daughter is in the same Irish step-dance school as Janey and even as he concentrated on saving the life of a woman who was bleeding profusely, tying a tourniquet around her leg, he wondered in the back of his mind would Janey ever be able to step dance again.

"Our guys were unbelievable," Kelly said. "They ran toward the bombs. They knew there might be secondary explosions. They assumed whoever did this might release biological weapons. They didn't care. They just reacted and did what they always do, and that's save lives. It wasn't just firefighters. The cops dove right in. The Boston EMS (emergency medical services) were phenomenal. They saved so many lives."

The forces of evil that planted bombs on Boylston Street failed miserably. They never had a chance against cops like Danny Keeler and firefighters like Eddie Kelly and the ordinary civilians who ran toward the bombs.

One of the bombers is dead. The other will face justice in a court of law.

We will bury our dead. We will heal our wounded. We will care for our tramautised first responders. And we will always be Boston.

"This town will never be the same," Eddie said, looking over to the table of cops. "We'll be better. And I know that in my heart. We'll be better."

Kevin Cullen is a columnist for the 'Boston Globe'.

Irish Independent

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