BOSTON — A snaggletoothed boy with a wide smile has captured the attention of the nation.
The youngest of the three casualties at the bombing near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 8-year-old Martin Richard and his family are members of St. Ann Parish in Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood.
In a picture on Facebook, Richard stands in front of St. Ann's with a banner decorated with a cross, dove, heart and chalice. Dressed in a white suit, shirt and tie, he posed on the occasion of his first Communion, which friends say occurred in May of last year.
Richard, his older brother and younger sister attend school at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester.
Original reports said that the boy, his mother and sister were waiting at the finish line for his father, who was running the marathon. Although the father is a runner, he was not on the race route that day. The parents and their three children were all spectators, cheering on family friends in the race.
After the explosion, the little boy was killed. Multiple media reports say that the blast injured both his mother and sister, who were still hospitalized on Tuesday. His younger sister, 6-year-old Jane, reportedly lost a leg. His mother, Denise, underwent surgery for a serious brain injury. The father, Bill, and oldest son, Henry, were physically unharmed.
In a statement released on April 16, Bill Richard requested privacy for the family. He also offered his appreciation for the sympathy they have received. “We thank our family and friends, those we know and those we have never met, for their thoughts and prayers. I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin,” he said.
Support for the Family
Nowhere was that support more evident than at a prayer vigil held in honor of Martin at Garvey Park in Dorchester on April 16 at 7:30pm.
Event organizers quickly ran out of the 800 candles on hand, when more than 1,000 people gathered to pray for the Richard family and others impacted by the bombing.
Two 15-year-old St. Ann parishioners — Katie Nolan and Casey Gaffney — came to the vigil to show support for the family. Both Nolan and Gaffney have served as Bible camp counselors and know the family. Martin’s sister was one of Nolan’s charges.
Nolan said she learned of Martin’s death through social media. As of press time, nearly 100,000 people had “liked” a Facebook page dedicated to the family and #prayformartin was trending on Twitter.
Word also quickly spread around town. “We’re a really close neighborhood,” Nolan said.
Father John Connolly, pastor at St. Brendan Parish in Dorchester, spoke to the crowd and led them all in prayer. St. Ann pastor Father Sean Connor did not attend because he had two wakes — unrelated to the marathon bombing — to attend that evening.
The vigil began with employees of Boston’s Public Health Commission offering grief services. Then, there was a moment of silence, and vigilers were asked to lift their candles in the air. The weather was cold, and the only sound was that of the wind whipping through the park.
Father Connolly said about the previous day, “We celebrated as a nation what we here in Boston celebrate so well — Patriots Day — the day that the shot was heard 'round the world, the first shot fired so that our freedom might be won, so that tyranny would be replaced on these shores by liberty.”
“We come together in this park this night — upon whose field the feet of young Martin Richard often trod, and we are saddened and shattered by the fact that he will no longer run and smile and jump and play and live and love among us,” he added.
Father Connolly asked those gathered to pray for the repose of Martin’s “beautiful and gentle soul.”
“Yesterday, near the finish line on Boylston Street, violence and evil came to our neighborhood and our parish here in Dorchester,” he said. “What once seemed to be something we watched in the distance or on television has come all too close to home.”
‘Broke My Heart’
Brian Cannon of Dorchester, a Boston Public Works employee on hand for marathon cleanup, said he was just a block away when the two bombs exploded just 20 seconds apart. He felt both blasts, saw the clouds of smoke, experienced the pandemonium and witnessed a grisly scene.
Cannon recalled the image of one of the more than 170 injured — a woman being wheeled in a wheelchair by a paramedic, her legs blown off at her knees. “I don’t want to ever see something like that again,” he said.
But he said of Martin’s death, “It broke my heart.”
“There’s no excuse to indiscriminately kill innocent people,” he said, noting that many of the marathon’s spectators are children.
Ann McGinn, also of Dorchester, said she started her day watching the marathon and felt uplifted by the inspirational stories of runners from across the country and around the world. A day that began with emotional joy quickly turned to horror. She said of the confusion surrounding who bombed the marathon and why, “Even if we get answers, it still is not going to make any sense.”
McGinn added that she does not want to give in to despair and hatred.
Said McGinn, “I am here to be with like-minded people who are here to heal, promote hope and not hate.”
Christine M. Williams writes from Quincy, Massachusetts.