Emerson community remembers marathon bombing 10 years later

By Bailey Allen, Former news editor

On April 15, 2013, 19-year-old journalism major Madeline Bilis ‘16 stood on Newbury Street with a classmate by her side and a camera, tripod, and microphone in hand.

Bilis and her classmate, Wendy, were scanning the sea of finished Boston Marathon runners for willing interview participants for a class project when suddenly, they were rattled by the jarring sound of an explosion in the direction of Boylston Street while their camera was rolling. Shrugging the interruption off as a truck backfiring, the two went back to interviewing runners until they heard the second explosion.

“That’s when we realized it wasn’t just a garbage truck on the street over,” Bilis, who now lives in Newton, said in a phone interview with the Beacon. “In fact, it was much more severe. And then we turn around and we see folks running down the cross streets.”

Soon after, the police told those gathered to run. Bilis picked up the tripod and camera—which was still rolling—and thought for a moment about whether or not she should go and record the events. She and Wendy ultimately decided against it, she said.

“I did have this flicker of whether I should go try to cover what was happening, which was a good journalistic instinct, but I was 19, so we ran with this crowd over to the Esplanade,” Bilis said.

The 2023 marathon marks the 10th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 250. On Saturday, loved ones of survivors and victims gathered near the finish line two days before this year’s marathon to pay tribute to those killed.

On Tuesday, Interim President William Gilligan wrote in a statement to the Beacon that many Bostonians, Emersonians, and people around the world were affected by the tragic events.

“Emerson remembers and honors the victims and survivors of this tragedy, and we recognize the resilience and strength that has followed and that has brought our community closer together,” Gilligan said.

On the day of the attack, when police were sealing off the area, journalism professor Doug Struck, who had previously worked full-time for The Washington Post and was then freelancing for the paper, was contacted by an editor to report.

“I got a call on my cell phone from an editor at the Post saying, ‘Have you heard?’ and I said, ‘No, what?’” Struck recalled in a phone interview with the Beacon. “He said, ‘There was a bombing. Can you come quickly? Can you get down to the center of Boston?’ So I just drove directly there and miraculously found a place to just leave my car for the next two days.”

While walking toward the marathon finish line from the Boston Common, Struck recognized “quite a few” Emerson students outside. He said there were two categories of students—those who were running away from the bombing site, and journalism students who were heading toward it.

“There were students with cameras and microphones and reporters’ notebooks,” he said. “I thought it was a commendable instinct on their part.”

Struck interviewed witnesses of the bombing on the Common, his story making the front page of the Post the next morning. Those he spoke to shivered with fear because it was a cold day, Struck said.

“A few of them I spoke to had not reached all of the relatives and all the people that they wanted to tell that they were safe,” he said. “It was a fairly chaotic scene and one in which a lot of people were traumatized. You knew this was something that was going to stick with them for all of their lives.”

When Bilis was at the Esplanade, she spotted a group of Emerson students sitting with their heads in their hands and covering their ears, she said. Some of them were crying and when Bilis went to ask them what had happened, she received no response.

Later, she found out that those students were much closer to the finish line and had their eardrums blown out by the explosions, so they were in a lot of pain, she said. Walking back to her Paramount building residence, Bilis logged onto Twitter and watched the horror unravel, realizing that a bombing had taken place.

Eight Emerson students were taken to local hospitals and treated for minor injuries, according to a Beacon story by Evan Sporer published that Thursday, 10 years ago. They all had temporary hearing loss, and some had “lacerations from shards of glass, minor bruising, and scrapes.”

The college went into lockdown soon after, so students were asked to stay in their dorms, Bilis said. Staff members delivered students sandwiches and salads because they were discouraged from walking to the dining hall, she recalled.

Only those with an Emerson ID could enter buildings and were subjected to bag checks, Sporer wrote in the Beacon story.

As the city of Boston hosted its 127th marathon on Monday, 10 years after the tragic events, the tone of the race was bittersweet. Some runners briefly stopped at the memorial sites on Boylston Street before speeding up again to cross the finish line.

Over the weekend, the college projected the slogan “Boston Strong” in gold and purple onto the facade of the Little Building, serving as a reminder to downtown Boston and the Emerson community—most of which were children at the time of the bombing.

On the Tuesday after the attack, hundreds of people, including many Emerson students, gathered at the Parkman Bandstand in the Common for a candlelight vigil, where singers sang “Amazing Grace,” according to a Beacon story by Jackie Tempera and Brittany Gervais.

That Wednesday, over 1,000 Emerson community members gathered in the Cutler Majestic Theatre, where former Emerson President M. Lee Pelton addressed the mourning and shaken crowd, Tempera and Gervais wrote.

“Shock slowly gave way to pain, and grief, and suffering, and anger, and guilt, and sadness, and confusion,” Pelton said at the gathering that day. “And then love. And passion. Emotions that have no name.”