Heroes among us: 10 years after the Boston Marathon bombing, Northeastern University community reflects and remembers

A tree is planted Friday near the entrance to Cabot Gymnasium. It is a Newton Sentry Sugar Maple, named for a city along the marathon route.
A tree is planted Friday near the entrance to Cabot Gymnasium. It is a Newton Sentry Sugar Maple, named for a city along the marathon route. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

by Ian Thomsen, Schuyler Velasco, Beth Treffeisen and Dave Nordman

Ten years ago, terrorists detonated two bombs 14 seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three people, injured nearly 300 others, shook a city, state and nation, and forever changed the lives of thousands.

One Boston Day, observed every April 15, now honors the victims—including two police officers—survivors and first responders of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

On Friday afternoon, the Northeastern community gathered in the Cabot Quad on the Boston campus. The hour of reflection and remembrance included speeches, a moment of silence, an award for service and the planting of a tree.

“This anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings brings with it complicated feelings—and for many of us, horrific memories,” said Jim Madigan, Northeastern’s director of athletics and recreation, who emceed the event.

The tree, located near the entrance to Cabot Gymnasium, is a Newton Sentry Sugar Maple, named for a city along the marathon route. In addition to an embossed label, a second maker will denote the tree as a remembrance of the victims.

“As this year’s marathon approaches, we take this moment to look back and to remember what we went through collectively,” Madigan said. “We gather to mark the experiences that our city, survivors, first responders and our community went through.”

Hilary Sullivan, Northeastern’s director of community service and civic engagement, presented the Shores C. Salter Citizenship Award to Maggie SextonDwyer, a civil engineering and architecture student.

The award honors Shores Salter, a Northeastern student whose heroic actions 10 years ago helped save the life of Roseann Sdoia, who was steps away from the second blast on Boylston Street. Both Salter and Sdoia attended Friday’s event.

Madigan also acknowledged members of the Northeastern sports performance and medicine teams, Sgt. John Farrell of the NUPD and Leslie Adams from the School of Nursing who were all first responders in 2013.

There were countless other heroes that day. Some of them shared their stories with Northeastern Global News:

people running to escape the bombing

She was working in the medical tent a half-block past the finish line. ‘I thought I was going to die.’

Jump to Kate Shimota’s story

As leader of physical therapy care operations at the finish line, he and his team of volunteers jumped into action

Jump to David Nolan’s story

aftermath of the street after the Boston Marathon Bombing

Above: Aaron Tang, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Below: Aaron Tang, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

She treated marathon bombing victims in the ER. Graduation ‘was the first time in weeks I had felt any resemblance of normalcy.’

Jump to Kelly Greenwood’s story

Competing in his ninth Boston Marathon, he stopped running and sprang into action. ‘The city rose to the occasion.’

Jump to Joe Finn’s story

A student at the time, Kate Shimota was working in the medical tent a half-block past the finish line. ‘I thought I was going to die’

headshot of Kate Shimota
Kate Shimota is an athletic trainer at Northeastern University. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Kate Shimota was a 20-year-old athletic training student working in the marathon medical tent a half-block past the finish line when the first bomb exploded.

“We’re looking around, like, what just happened?” says Shimota, an athletic trainer at Northeastern since 2018. “Then the second one went off and it was surreal, everyone just sprung into action.”

She found herself running toward the initial explosion near the finish line even as the smoke and the screaming and the people fleeing every which way laid bare the danger. Were more bombs going to explode?

“I thought I was going to die,” Shimota says. “I remember running to the finish line and thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to die in Copley Square.’”

And yet she kept running.

There were zip ties connecting police barricades near the explosion and with the scissors from her pocket she cut them in order to create access for first responders, stretchers and wheelchairs. She helped treat horrific wounds that she would rather not discuss out of respect for the victims.

“A lot of people lost limbs and had shrapnel injuries and other blast injuries,” says Shimota, who found herself unable to speak of her memories for more than a year. “Those are things that you don’t really process until later on.”

In the months ahead she would notice herself overreacting to sharp noises. There was a dumpster behind her apartment building that would be emptied at 6:30 on Monday mornings and the abrupt noise would rouse her shivering and sweating. Her parents—grateful to have received a text from Shimota saying she was OK before communications were shut down—couldn’t understand why and how their daughter had run toward the explosion.

She couldn’t explain it to them. Even now she can’t.

“I just felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do,” says Shimota, who was among the first responders who were personally greeted and thanked by President Barack Obama when he visited Boston after the bombing. “Something just takes over and you don’t really think about it. You just react.”

Shimota earned emergency medical technician certification not long after the marathon bombing, in case she finds herself having to react again. She has continued to volunteer at the Boston Marathon while drawing a measure of strength from her memories.

It will give me perspective in a situation where maybe someone’s not progressing in their rehab as quickly as I’d like, or they have an injury where they’re going to have to miss the next game,” says Shimota, who serves as athletic trainer for the baseball team as well as the men’s and women’s cross country teams at Northeastern. “Or personally, if something’s not going my way, I can take a step back. Because it doesn’t compare, you know?”

by Ian Thomsen

As leader of physical therapy care operations at the finish line, David Nolan and his team of volunteers jumped into action

headshot of David Nolan
David Nolan is the director of the Sports Physical Therapy Residency program at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

As he prepared to go home there were dozens of unread messages and unanswered calls on David Nolan’s phone.

“My wife saw me on TV helping to put somebody in the back of an ambulance,” says Nolan, an associate clinical professor and director of the Sports Physical Therapy Residency program at Northeastern, his alma mater. “So that was when she knew that I was OK. I’d never even thought to look at my phone.”

Nolan, a clinical specialist at Mass General Sports Physical Therapy, oversees physical therapy care operations for the Boston Marathon. More than 100 volunteers were working for him on that tragic day that had seemed to be going so well. The mild weather—neither too hot nor too cold—had helped limit runners in need of medical attention to the minimum.

He wasn’t sure what to make of the first detonation. Had a propane tank exploded near the broadcast area? He ducked into the medical tent for supplies and was on his way back out to offer assistance when the second blast informed him that this was no accident. In no time at all he was running to the site of the first bomb.

People were using T-shirts grabbed from Marathon Sports—its storefront window shattered—to tie tourniquets. Wheelchairs positioned at the finish line for depleted runners were now being filled by critically injured victims. Nolan was clamping off wounds, elevating limbs and carrying people to the medical tent beds that were quickly being vacated by runners whose cramping and dehydration no longer felt so bad after all.

“A distinct memory I have is just how loud the sirens were,” Nolan says. “If an ambulance or fire truck is going by, it triggers memories of being at the finish line. It makes me anxious, a little bit, all the sad feelings of the people that were injured or lost their lives.”

As he drove home, Nolan found himself trying to think about the lives saved by the depth of medical support that had been organized for the runners.

“Everyone was there,” Nolan says. “We start in November and December, making plans with so many different people, and they were all there helping.”

In his backyard, before entering his home, Nolan removed his shirt and pants. They were covered in blood. He laid them in the garbage bin before going inside to hug his wife and their 2-year-old daughter, Sofia.

There was still more to do. He moved to his home office, making phone calls and texting messages to his staff of more than 100 physical therapy volunteers. In the years to come he would recognize a bond developing with many of his Northeastern students who were working with him that day. He would also be honored to treat many of the victims as they underwent physical therapy during their recovery.

“They seemed to feel very comfortable knowing that they didn’t have to go through their details of the day as far as what had happened with their injury because of the shared experience,” Nolan says. “I am very grateful for the friends and colleagues that I’ve had over the years related to the marathon.”

But the horrific shock was still fresh and raw on that first overwhelming night as Nolan focused on making sure his volunteers were OK. Did they need anything? After a few minutes his wife came in to say that Sofia was refusing to sleep.

“This will probably make me emotional,” Nolan says. “I went upstairs and held her. And it was like she knew that something was wrong. She just looked at me as I rocked her in my arms.”

Ten years later and he is crying. Again.

“She knew something wasn’t right with Daddy,” Nolan says.

by Ian Thomsen

Kelly Greenwood treated marathon bombing victims in the ER. Graduation ‘was the first time in weeks I had felt any resemblance of normalcy’

Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Brigham and Women’s Hospital where Kelly Greenwood was working at the time of the bombing.

With Boston still reverberating from the bombing 18 days before, Northeastern held its 2013 commencement ceremony at TD Garden on May 3. And Kelly Greenwood’s nervousness went beyond the usual pre-graduation jitters.

On marathon day, Greenwood, who then went by her maiden name, Kelly Ennis, was working as a nurse in the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, starting her shift in anticipation of the usual, annual influx of exhausted, dehydrated runners.

Instead, the ER turned into a trauma zone. Greenwood remembers the emergency phone going off, and hearing the words “explosions at the finish line.” Quickly, the staff were divided into teams with one nurse, one aide, and one doctor, working at a breakneck pace to stabilize patients—removing shrapnel, applying tourniquets, and administering blood transfusion after blood transfusion.

“It was difficult to identify patients in the chaos,” Greenwood says. Among those she treated was a young boy who had been separated from his family, yelling for his mother.

At first, the prospect of attending such a large event so soon afterward seemed daunting. “I was hesitant,” Greenwood says. Marathon day had left a lingering feeling “that the worst was not over, that we were still not safe.”

At first, the mood in the TD Garden reflected that somber tentativeness. Metal detectors and extra security lined every entrance and exit. Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun’s remarks to the 3,200 graduates and their loved ones in attendance reflected the complicated mix of emotions pervading the event—“joy and pain, triumph and loss.”

“While we have much to celebrate, we are joined in the shadow of tragedy,” he said.

“Eighteen days ago, the character of our city was revealed to the rest of the world,” Aoun continued. He pointed out that many students graduating from the Bouvé College of Health Sciences that day had been stationed at the finish line and in hospitals around Boston, ready to provide routine assistance.

“When disaster struck, there was nothing routine about their response,” Aoun said, asking members of the Northeastern community, including Greenwood, who had helped the injured in the wake of the bombing to rise, to an enthusiastic round of applause. “They immediately put their education to use. And when confronted with the worst, they brought out their best.”

Later on, then-Gov. Deval Patrick conferred an honorary doctorate in public service to Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis on behalf of the police, first responders, and medical personnel who were called to action on April 15. And Greenwood’s nervousness turned to joyous relief.

“Coming together for graduation was very cathartic,” she says. “It was the first time in weeks I had felt any resemblance of normalcy. I was proud of everything I had done to help.”

A decade later, Greenwood is still at work in the hospital’s emergency department. “I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” she says. “I take this experience with me with every patient I care for.”

by Schuyler Velasco

Competing in his ninth Boston Marathon, Joe Finn stopped running and sprang into action. ‘The city rose to the occasion.’

headshot of Joe Finn
Joe Finn is a retired Boston fire chief and commissioner. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The 2013 race was Joe Finn’s ninth time running the Boston Marathon. The retired chief and commissioner of the Boston Fire Department had almost finished the race when he came upon the chaotic scene at Cleveland Circle.

The marathon had been shut down due to the bombings.

From there, the Northeastern graduate decided it was time to go back to work. Another explosion had been reported on the UMass Boston campus. That turned out to be a rumor, but it triggered a lot of anxiety and questions.

“The city appeared to be under attack,” Finn says.

Finn was part of a group of firefighters running that day for a charity. About two to three weeks later, they returned to the marathon route and finished the race from Cleveland Circle.

But the real heroes, Finn says, were the first responders on duty at the time of the bombings.

“They did an amazing job,” Finn says. “I think it was a great response from the first responders’ community—Boston Fire Department, EMS and Boston Police Department, as well as the medical staff at the finish line.”

Looking back on the day, Finn says, “It was such a cowardly act—what the Tsarnaev brothers brought onto the city. But guess what? The city responded. The city was strong. The city rose to the occasion. It was a proud moment to be a Boston firefighter.”

by Beth Treffeisen

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.