At least two explosions at the Boston Marathon today left several people injured, with the effect amplified through social media.
The scene in Boston remains chaotic and few details have been confirmed, including just what caused the twin blasts at the finish line at about 3 p.m. Eastern time. There have been reports of multiple injuries, and a web-hosted Boston police-EMS-Fire Department scanner, frequently tweeted, contains reports of a “several suspect packages,” including at least one reported at the Mandarin Hotel. A Vine video apparently captured one of the explosions.
“There are a lot of people down,” one man, whose bib No. 17528 identified him as Frank Deruyter of North Carolina, said, according to ESPN.com.
First responders are requesting explosive-ordnance disposal units to the scene of the suspect packages. Voices over the scanner warn that people, including runners, currently hurried into bars and restaurants near the marathon, need to remain indoors until a street sweep for possible explosives can be found. “People should get away from the area as quick as possible” is a message that Boston first responders say they want put on social media.
A secured command post is being put together at the Copley Square Westin Hotel. There are reports of a “possible incendiary device” at the JFK Library at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. (SEE 4:25 P.M. UPDATE.) Helicopters are reportedly en route.
It is far too early to speculate about what was responsible for the blasts in Boston. First reports of such disasters are almost invariably incorrect. But those caveats may not be enough for an era of social media. Within minutes of the blast, photographs of the gruesome scene rocketed across Twitter and Facebook. Unconfirmed reports and frequent commentary – including those warning about premature speculation – have been flying across Twitter, compressing the cycle of reaction to the disaster.
We will update this post as soon as additional confirmed information becomes available.
Update, 3:56 p.m.: There is a police-controlled detonation of a suspicious item on Boylston Street.
The Boston Marathon stated on its Facebook page that the explosions were caused by “two bombs.”
A White House official sends a statement: “The President has been notified of the incident in Boston. His administration is in contact with state and local authorities. He directed his administration to provide whatever assistance is necessary in the investigation and response.”
Update, 4:11 p.m.: Col. James Sahady, a spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard, confirms there were over 400 National Guard troops present for the Marathon. It’s unclear as yet what, if any, bomb detection tech they had on the scene.
Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, says he’s unaware of any current requests from Massachusetts for additional military assistance. That may be liable to change.
Boston police have tweeted that there are currently 23 people injured and two dead.
Update, 4:25 p.m.: The Associated Press is reporting that first responders are detonating two additional suspicious items.
Another White House update: “Shortly after being notified of the incident around 3 p.m. EDT, the President received a briefing from Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco and other members of his senior White House staff in the Oval Office. The President called Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to express his concern for those who were injured and to make clear that his administration is ready to provide needed support as they respond to the incident.”
The JFK Library tweets that a fire that appears to have started in an electrical room is extinguished: “Investigators are investigating. Any tie to Boston Marathon explosions is pure speculation.”
Update, 4:37 p.m.: Important to note: not every report of an explosive device pursued by first-responders is evidence of an explosive device. First responders get flooded with information during disasters like this.
Update, 4:55 p.m: In the first official statement since the blast, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis confirmed that there was an “explosion” at the JFK Library that he is treating as related to the two explosions at the Marathon, which he said took place on Boylston Street. That’s seemingly in contradiction to earlier accounts from the Library, but Davis said he did not know for sure that the incidents are related.
The Boylston Street incidents took place about “50 to 100 yards apart.” Each scene resulted in “multiple casualties,” Davis said. Several people at the Marathon scene “deposited bags [and] parcels” that Davis warned would be “treated as… suspicious devices.” Explosive-ordnance demolition teams may detonate them to be safe.
“We have not found another device,” Davis said, despite at least one controlled detonation. Davis declined to speculate about terrorism, saying, “You can draw your own conclusions.”
Contrary to some unconfirmed reports, Davis did not mention any suspect in custody. Despite a report going across the police scanner about a suspicious truck purporting to gain access to a secured area, Davis declined to say any specific truck was under investigation.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick urged people to “stay out of crowds and calmly make their way home, or, if they’re visitors, hotels.”
Update, 5:09 p.m.: Boston’s Logan International Airport reports on Facebook that the Federal Aviation Administration is grounding air traffic at the airport.
Update, 5:16 pm.: Google has set up a Person Finder for those looking for loved ones in the explosion.
Update, 5:24 p.m.: White House says Obama has been briefed by FBI Director Robert Mueller and Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, “on the active investigation and response to the incident in Boston, including the ongoing coordination with state and local officials.”
Update, 5:29 p.m.: Boston police department updates to say it believes the JFK Library incident “appears to be fire-related.”
Update, 5:50 p.m.: Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, says the Defense Department has still not been tasked with providing additional equipment or manpower to the ongoing Boston situation.
Update, 5:58 p.m.: Boston Police Commissioner Davis formally says, “There is no suspect in custody. We are questioning many people, but there is no one in custody.”
Additionally, he clarifies, the JFK Library incident was “incendiary or a fire…. We haven’t linked that to the incident.”
Update, 6:10 p.m.: “We still do not know who did this or why, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have the facts,” President Obama said in his first remarks about the Boston Marathon explosions. “Any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice. … We will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.”
The FBI has yet to confirm a statement on CNN that what took place in Boston was a “terrorist attack,” which Obama notably did not say.
Update, 6:30 p.m.: Maj. Lisa Ahaesy of the Massachusetts National Guard confirms to Danger Room that the National Guard contingent on hand for the Marathon before the explosions included two Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support teams. (I’m not keen on the “WMD” catch-all term, but that’s the proper noun for the teams.) One of those teams would have been from out of state. The teams have mobile lab equipment to detect and mitigate nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological equipment, but it is not clear right now what gear was specifically on the scene.
The Massachusetts Air National Guard has not established Combat Air Patrols to monitor the airspace above Boston.
Update, 6:35 p.m.: Obama did not describe the Boston Marathon event as terrorism, yet a White House official who would not speak for the record emailed reporters said the federal government will initially approach it as such.
“Any event with multiple explosive devices – as this appears to be – is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror,” the official said. “However, we don’t yet know who carried out this attack, and a thorough investigation will have to determine whether it was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic.”
There remains no claim of responsibility for the explosions yet – credible or otherwise.
Update, 7:21 p.m.: The AP’s Lolita Baldor reports that at Massachusetts’ request, the Navy will send a three-person explosive-ordnance detection unit to Boston from nearby Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. The team represents the first U.S. military contribution to the Boston response under federal control.
Update, 10:30 p.m.: Not being a marathoner, I have no idea whom the affected runners would be. Who crosses the finish line at 4:09?
Carl Ciochon knows. Today was the 49-year old Oakland lawyer’s fifth consecutive Boston Marathon. In Boston, the Marathon “is not just some sporting event,” he tells Danger Room. “People have come up to me to tell me Marathon Monday is their favorite day of the year.” As seriously as the average Bostonian takes it, the Marathon committee is even more intense: would-be competitors have to submit a qualifying time for their previous marathons to assure themselves of a spot; and the Marathon verifies that they’re representing themselves truthfully.
Or at least they do for the first two waves of runners. The third consists of less-dedicated marathoners and people running for charity. That’s not a knock: given the intensity of a marathon – in which you push your body beyond the limits of your endurance – “it makes it all the more of an accomplishment for them to finish,” Ciochon says.
Those were the people who crossed the finish line at Copley Square after four hours and nine minutes. People running for charity; and the supportive Bostonians who cheer them on. By the end, the marathoners are blurry-eyed and exhausted, focusing on finishing their race, not on their surroundings.
It was perfect running weather this morning, Ciochon says. In the low 40s, a light headwind during his 10 a.m. start time. By the time Ciochon finished, at 1:14 p.m. – marathoners are exact about their time – he walked a half mile to ensure he didn’t cramp up, picked up his checked baggage, and, as he’s done four times before, laid down in the Boston Public Garden to enjoy the day. He didn’t even realize anything had happened nearly two hours later until friends and family texted him to ensure he was unhurt.
This was supposed to be Ciochon’s last Boston Marathon. “The novelty has worn off a bit,” he says. “But I’ll be back next year.”
Update, 10:57 p.m.: The death toll stands at three people. The toll of wounded at over 140 people. Reports are coming in from Boston hospitals about major amputations.