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Your Neighbors, the Boston Heroes

According to behavioral scientists, when you are under stress, you default to your natural behavior. You operate on instinct.  Thank God for that, in the wake of the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon last month.

boston-marathonMost of us have witnessed video of the explosions near the finish line, the initial confusion of the crowds, and then the panicked flight of people from the site.  But there were some images that seemed incongruous. Uniformed police officers disregarded danger to evacuate people and ensure access to the area by emergency personnel. Medical professionals immediately rushed into the area to provide aid. I saw a video of men from the Massachusetts National Guard, who had covered the entire 26 miles in uniform, and with full packs, removing barriers and escorting people to safety. Marathon officials in bright yellow windbreakers stayed in the street to escort confused runners and dazed bystanders to safety.

your-neighbors-the-boston-heroes

Photo: Military Friends Foundation

As we know from videos and photographs that were posted online, there were countless other individuals who, amid the panic and confusion, moved TOWARDS the finish line in order to help. To do whatever they could.

Three people in particular caught my attention: a student, an off-duty fireman, and a coach.

A photograph was taken of a runner who had taken off his shirt to be used as a tourniquet for a blast victim.  The runner was later identified as Everett Spain, a second year doctoral student at the Harvard Business School. He’s also Colonel Everett Spain, former aide-de-camp to General David Petraeus and an Army Ranger with the 82nd Airborne Division. During the Marathon, he served as a running guide to Steve Sabra for the last ten kilometers of the race. Sabra, from Omaha, Nebraska, is legally blind.  Spain and Scott McBride, a fellow Harvard student (and also a Navy veteran), signed up to accompany Sabra on the course. The three men were approaching the finish line when the first bomb exploded. McBride stayed with Sabra to keep him safe, while Spain ran towards the bomb blast to try to help others.

The shirt that Spain used as a tourniquet had a “Team RWB” logo on the front, which stands for Team Red, White & Blue. Team RWB is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to people in the community through physical and social activity. “ I can’t imagine a gesture that more visibly demonstrates Team RWB’s mission: participating in one of the great athletic events in our country, providing aid to a blind man, and then literally taking the shirt off his back to save someone’s life.

Several photographs from the event showed a man on his knees, leaning over a child lying in the middle of Boylston Street.  The man, Matt Patterson, is a fireman in nearby Lynn, who came to meet friends on his off day for lunch at Abe & Louie’s.  It was an annual tradition, to meet near the finish line to celebrate Patriot’s Day and soak in the energy, sounds and spectacle of the Boston Marathon.  When the bomb exploded, Patterson yelled for diners to move to the kitchen and away from the windows. Then he proceeded to run past them and out into the street.

Patterson enlisted in the Army out of high school and served two tours in Afghanistan.  He then returned home to the town of Lynn to join the fire department and receive paramedic training.  He recognized the sound made by the explosion and couldn’t sit still in the restaurant – he had to help.

He saw a child lying in a pool of his own blood, one leg amputated at mid-thigh by shrapnel. Another man rushed up and took off his belt, which Patterson used as a tourniquet. The man then helped Patterson carry the child to nearby medical personnel. The two men attempted to help another boy who lay lifeless on the street, but he could not be saved.  Patterson then ran to the aid of a thirty year-old man who had lost the lower portion of his leg, and this time Patterson used a shoelace as a tourniquet.

When interviewed the following day, Patterson expressed concern for the little boy, who had mumbled his name, which Patterson understood to be Shawn or Shane. As it turns out, the little boy they rushed to safety was actually a girl named Jane Richard, and the older boy who lay dead in the street was her brother, Martin.

The man who provided his belt and helped rush Jane Richard to safety was Michael Chase. He is the soccer coach at Danvers High School. He is also Student Support Coordinator at Northshore Academy, a school for kids with social, emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Chase had been standing in front of a restaurant near the finish line waiting for his brother to arrive when the first bomb exploded seventy-five yards away.  The second explosion was much closer. Chase was blown back by the explosion, but luckily, he was standing next to a three foot-tall planter that shielded his legs. A later visit to the hospital would confirm that Chase suffered a ruptured eardrum and a concussion in the blast.

When Chase separated from Patterson, he sat and comforted Henry Richard, the older brother of Jane and Martin, while the boy’s father went to check on his wife and two youngest children.

Michael Chase had tried for several years to join the Danvers Police Department, but due to some health issues, was unable to do so. It hasn’t diminished his desire to serve. He’s helping troubled teens at the Northshore Academy, and coaching high school students in soccer. And when he saw the Martin children lying on Boylston Street, he raced to their aid.

When you look at the backgrounds of Everett Spain, Matt Patterson, and Michael Chase, you realize that what they did following the bomb blasts on April 15th was not just an extraordinary reaction to a horrific event. It’s who they are.  It’s how they live their lives. Were it not for pictures and videos that went viral, their actions might have gone unnoticed. But the truth is they help others every day, and have an impact we’ll never fully appreciate.

I think those men represent the best of what exists in communities across our country.  They’re your neighbors. They’re standing next to you at the Little League baseball game, or handing you your coffee at Starbuck’s. They come in all ages, shapes, and sizes..

You’ll never know the lengths they’ll go to help you and yours. Hopefully, you can walk a little prouder and feel a little safer knowing they’ve got your back.

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