Injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, Northeastern student Victoria McGrath became an inspiration to all. 10 years later, friends and family keep her memory alive

firefighter James Plourde carrying a bleeding Victoria McGrath
Boston firefighter James Plourde carries Victoria McGrath from the scene after a bombing near the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013. AP Photo/MetroWest Daily News, Ken McGagh

Ten years ago, a photograph of Boston firefighter James Plourde carrying injured Northeastern University student Victoria McGrath to a stretcher became an iconic image of the Boston Marathon bombing.

On Monday, Plourde’s wife, Michelle, will be at the starting line in Hopkinton. She will run her first marathon ever to raise money for a foundation established in Victoria’s name.

The McGrath and Plourde families became close following the bombing and even closer after Victoria and another Northeastern student, Priscilla Perez Torres, were killed in a car crash in Dubai in 2016. The university awarded both women, who had been set to graduate in May, posthumous degrees.

“Being together has been part of the healing process as we laugh together, cry together and share stories of Victoria, all to keep her memory alive,” Plourde says.

Plourde won’t be alone in carrying on the legacy of Victoria who was noted for inspiring other survivors after suffering a serious leg wound in the bombing. 

In addition to three other people running Boston to benefit the Victoria McGrath Foundation, 35 members of Team McGrath will run or walk a 5K Saturday to raise money for projects helping adults and children with disabilities.

Among the walkers will be Krystara Brassard Nadeau, a Northeastern graduate who was injured during the bombing alongside Victoria, whom she considered her best friend and soul sister.

“She was so passionate about helping others. She brought so much happiness to other people. Being around her, your mood would instantly be lifted,” Nadeau says.

It sits well with Plourde that major beneficiaries of the Victoria McGrath Foundation are adults and children with disabilities, including those served by the adaptive sports program, Waypoint Adventure, and Joni and Friends accessible Christian retreats and camps.

“Being a special educator, this is very personal to me,” says Plourde, who is currently the special education teams facilitator for Brookline public schools.

Victoria thanked her rescuers

Victoria became friends with the Plourdes after she reached out to thank her rescuers following the bombing and a nine-day stay at Tufts Medical Center.

“After the bombing, there was a lot to process. Victoria quickly became family to us,” Michelle Plourde says. “Together we were able to support each other through the emotional recovery process and to support Victoria through her physical recovery process.

“Coming over to our house was a place to get a home-cooked meal, do her laundry and relax and unwind away from college life,” Plourde says.

Victoria had a sweet tooth and liked to join the Plourde’s two daughters, now 9 and 11, in baking sweet treats, Plourde says.

Nadeau says Victoria’s penchant for sweets was evident just moments before the bombing, when Victoria ducked into a now-closed candy store known as Sugar Heaven on Boylston.

The two women had met during an program in Australia as first-year students and formed a quick bond that also included Northeastern students Makenzie Murray and Torres.

“We all became inseparable,” Nadeau says. “We were the four besties that stayed together throughout the rest of our Northeastern careers.”

The day of the bombing, Victoria joined Nadeau and Nadeau’s parents to cheer on a family friend who was running the marathon. Nadeau estimates they were standing 15 to 20 feet away from the first bomb that exploded.

“It was a really loud boom. At first I thought a transformer blew out,” she says. “My body was instantly in shock. I didn’t hear the second one at all.”

A Nadeau family friend who was nearby ended up having both legs amputated. Victoria and Nadeau’s father had serious wounds, while Nadeau herself suffered shrapnel-type injuries up and down her legs.

Victoria McGrath hugging Krystara Brassard Nadeau
Photo of Victoria McGrath, left, and Krystara Brassard Nadeau, a Northeastern graduate and close friend of McGrath who was also injured in the bombing.

“We were yelling for help,” Nadeau says. “I didn’t feel any pain at all until I was in the medical tent sitting next to Victoria.”

Victoria and Nadeau’s father were transported to Tufts Medical Center by ambulance and released nine days later. Nadeau and her mother shared an ambulance to Boston Medical Center, where Nadeau was released the same day and where her mother spent four days.

Her friend and roommate Murray, and Murray’s family, jumped in to help while Nadeau’s parents were out of commission. They picked Nadeau up from the hospital and stocked the students’ apartment with groceries.

Northeastern community provided support

The Northeastern community provided a tremendous amount of support, say Victoria’s parents, Jill and Jim McGrath, retired IBM employees who currently live in Harwich, Massachusetts. 

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun gave them an apartment to stay in in Boston and visited their daughter in the hospital. 

Victoria’s adviser Heather Hauck Hunt is a member of the 5K team raising money for the Victoria McGrath Foundation, which Jill and Jim launched in 2018.

Also that year, Northeastern and the city of Boston built and dedicated the Victoria McGrath Tot Lot at the Carter Playground on Northeastern’s campus on Columbus Avenue.

The fact that the playground has accessible equipment for children with disabilities means a lot to the McGraths, since aiding children with special needs was a priority for Victoria.

In high school in Weston, Connecticut, Victoria sat at lunch with a table of special needs students and developed a close friendship with one physically disabled student, according to a story in the Boston Globe.

While recovering from surgeries to repair injuries from the marathon bombing, Victoria visited other survivors and also “developed a real affinity with veterans who had experienced similar traumas,” Jill McGrath says.

A business major, Victoria became involved in a career readiness program for veterans called FourBlock, helping veterans put resumes together and participating in suit drives, Jim McGrath says.

“She was treated as an honorary veteran,” Jill McGrath says.

Victoria McGrath with the Plourde family
Photo of the Plourde family and Victoria McGrath (right). Courtsey of MIchelle Plourde

Tragedy in Dubai

The news that the young woman with the bright shining smile had been killed in a car crash in Dubai along with Torres, her roommate, nearly three years after the bombing was almost more than the Boston Strong community could bear.

James Plourde issued a statement saying that Victoria’s friendship and support had helped him and his family deal with the aftermath of the bombing that killed three spectators and injured more than 260 people.

“It’s been said that I helped to save her life, but the truth is Victoria saved my life after the marathon,” he said in the statement that mourned the passing of Victoria and Torres.

“To this day, I wouldn’t say I’ve recovered from losing Victoria and Priscilla. I don’t think I ever will be,” Nadeau says. 

“Victoria was my platonic soulmate. We called ourselves soul sisters,” she says.

Getting involved with the Victoria McGrath Foundation has been a way to grieve, keep in touch with Jill and Jim McGrath and have fun raising money for beneficiaries close to Victoria’s heart, Nadeau says.

“We love staying involved,” Nadeau says. “You can just see the happiness of people at all of these events.”

She says she and her husband, Josh Nadeau, named their baby daughter Wren Victoria Nadeau in memory of their friend.

Foundation providing comfort

Jill and Jim McGrath, whose son, Patrick, has an undergraduate degree from Northeastern and whose son, Alexander, is graduating from Northeastern’s School of Law in May, say volunteering and running the Victoria McGrath Foundation has helped them cope with their loss.

“Things happen. We don’t understand, but God does. We like to think this is making an impact and helping people,” Jill McGrath says.

“There is no way to make sense of some tragedies,” Jim McGrath says. “It’s what you do about it. Boston has been wonderful to us and our family. It’s more about Boston gratitude now.”

group of people holding Victoria McGrath Foundation banner
Courtesy of the McGrath family

Plourde says withdrawing from the McGrath family to tend to her family’s psychic wounds following Victoria’s death was not an option.

“My family and the McGrath family became even closer after Victoria’s passing, as we wanted to keep Victoria’s legacy alive and continue the work she had already done,” Plourde says.

She says her husband has been her biggest cheerleader as she balances an 18-week marathon training program with the couple’s work schedules and children’s activities.

A T-shirt worn by volunteers embodies the spirit of the Victoria McGrath Foundation with the words, “Finishing the Race, Continuing Her Work.”

It embodies Boston Strong, Plourde says in an email. “From complete strangers to lifelong friends, from tragedy to triumph, we became resilient.”

Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at or contact her on Twitter @HibbertCynthia