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IEEE-USA |
   April 2014

    

Boston (12 June 2013): Boston Marathon 2013 memorial at Copley Square. Two months after the tragedy, people come in with flowers, notes, signs, shirts, shoes to pay the tribute to the victims. (Credit: Lorna Wu/iStock Editorial)


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The Boston Marathon Bombings: How One Officer Coped — Personally & Professionally — with the Terror

By Chris McManes

Couples tend to go out to dinner, take in a show or do something else enjoyable on their wedding anniversary. Daniel Linskey didn’t get that opportunity on 18 April 2013.

Linskey, then superintendent-in-chief of the Boston Police Department, spent his 20th anniversary leading the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers. The two suspects — one now dead and one facing the death penalty — are believed responsible for two explosions that killed three people and injured more than 260 near the finish line last 15 April.

Linskey discussed his role as incident commander during his keynote speech at the November 2013 IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security in Waltham, Mass. Unlike many technical conferences — where smartphones get paid more attention to than speakers — attendees were riveted on Linskey’s every word.

The 26.2-mile Boston Marathon is the oldest and arguably most iconic marathon in the world. It is run on Patriots’ Day (the third Monday in April), a state holiday in Massachusetts. This year’s race is 21 April and will hopefully end in jubilation, not terror.

“There was a lot of stress on our officers that week, our officers and agents — a lot of stress on our families, too, because they were watching it play out live [on TV and social media],” Linskey said in an interview after his speech. “They were seeing their loved ones in harm’s way under some pretty extreme circumstances.”

Linskey’s professional connections to the bombings are well-chronicled. His personal connections are not.

For example, after the initial news reports, Linskey’s wife, Michelle, who was at work at the time, was concerned that their sons — Eamon, then 18, and Colm, then 15 — were near the finish line. The three of them often attended the Boston Marathon and would likely have been sitting across from the blast zone.

But because of all the chaos and jammed cell phone traffic, Linskey and his wife were unable to contact one another. As it turns out, he had decided to let their sons sleep in that morning. Michelle, a nurse who assists physicians installing pacemakers and internal defibrillators, was unaware of this. 

“She didn’t know until a couple hours after the bombs went off that that didn’t happen,” Linskey said. “She wasn’t able to get messages or phone calls on [her] cell phone. She thought the boys were at the finish line. My boys would have been right across from the blast; we recovered pellets and debris where they would have been sitting.”

It wasn’t until 2 a.m. Tuesday morning that Linskey finally arrived home and let his emotions out: “I went home and had a good cry with Michelle.”

Explosions Rock the Calm

When the Boston Marathon celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1996, Linskey was among the record 35,868 finishers. He completed the course in about four hours and 10 minutes. The first bomb exploded with the race clock showing 4:09.43. The second blast came 12 seconds later.

Linskey was about a mile-and-a-half away from the blast zone. He credited Sargeant Dan Keeler, a Marine combat veteran and the on-scene technical supervisor, for taking charge immediately after the bombings.

“We’ve been in gun battles together on the streets of Boston,” Linskey said. “He’s level-headed, calm, cool and collected. … Sargeant Keeler ran that scene for the first 10 minutes until I got there. And by doing what he did, he saved lives.”

Linskey played a lot of the initial police communications for Homeland Security Conference attendees. Much of it was difficult to understand because of the feedback and the fact that so many officers were trying to use that specific channel at the same time. Keeler took control to keep the channel clear.

“Units, stay off the air; units, stay off the air,” Keeler is heard saying. “Just make your way over there. All units stay off the air and just make your way over there.”

Linskey explained that when police officers respond to a tragedy such as this, they tend to park their cars on the street closest to the crime scene and take their keys with them, thus blocking the road. Keeler knew this was going to happen and couldn’t afford to have Boston Emergency Medical Services unable to get through to the victims.

Time was of the essence and people, if not treated as quickly as possible, could bleed to death.

“He got on the radio [and] controlled our assets, the fire assets and the EMS assets pouring in there,” Linskey said. “He kept the street open, and we were able to get ambulances in and out of there. Within 22 minutes, everyone who was [injured] at the scene was either in the medical tent being treated or in an emergency room — in 22 minutes.

“Danny Keeler did his best to save lives.”

A Family Tragedy

Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester, Mass., was the youngest person to die. He was standing near the finish line — just a few feet from the second blast — holding an ice cream. With him were his parents Bill and Denise, sister Jane and brother Henry. Martin is described as a walking sports encyclopedia and avid Boston Red Sox fan who played Little League baseball.

Jane, then 7, lost her lower left leg and had to spend 39 days in intensive care and endure 12 surgeries. She now has a prosthetic leg. Bill took shrapnel in both legs and sustained significant hearing loss. Denise lost her vision in one eye. Miraculously, Henry, then 11, was not physically injured.

“While we have made progress with our physical injuries, the emotional pain seems every bit as new as it was four months ago,” the Richard family wrote on their blog in August 2013. “An hour doesn’t go by that we don’t feel the agony of Martin’s death and the senseless way it came about.

“The pain is constant and even the sweetest moments can become heartbreaking when we are struck by the realization that ‘Martin would have loved this …’”

One of Linskey’s nephews — a Boston SWAT team member — has a son who played on the same baseball team with Martin.

“Bill Richard was wounded in his legs; his wife lost vision in her eye; their daughter lost her leg,” Linskey said. “For some reason, there was an angel over Henry — he was not injured — and Martin was killed.

“I don’t know how much more a family can endure.”

The Richard family has established the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation to “honor Martin’s message of “No more hurting people — Peace,” by investing in education, athletics and community.” A group of 100 runners — Team MR8 — will compete in this year’s marathon on behalf of the foundation.

The Manhunt

Linskey’s first assignment as a Boston police officer was at the 1986 Boston Marathon. When he ran in the event 10 years later, he was a Boston Police Academy instructor and running a lot.

“I run my three, sometimes five miles [today], but I just wanted to do it one time,” said Linskey, who returned to the academy in January. “Twenty-six point 2 miles is a long way to run.”

Linskey grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston. Following his graduation from Boston Latin School, he went into the Marine Corps and decided to become a police officer after being mugged by two thugs. He served in many areas of police work and was sworn in as superintendent-in-chief on 9 September, 2009 at his high school alma mater. His vast police and military training was put to the ultimate test for five “emotionally draining” days last April.

Late Thursday 18 April at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, the suspects killed campus police officer Sean A. Collier while he sat in his cruiser. Collier, 26, was approached from behind and shot five times, twice in the head.

After midnight, the suspects and police exchanged heavy gunfire in Watertown, Mass. According to The Boston Globe:

“The next four minutes may go down as the longest in Watertown history, as the two sides fired more than 250 bullets all told and the brothers hurled bombs, filling the night air with the stench of sulfur. When the smoke cleared, one bomber was dead, a police officer had been gravely wounded, houses were pockmarked with bullet holes and shrapnel, and an entire community was traumatized.”

After one of the bombers was run over and killed by his brother, it was Linskey who called the ambulance. The remaining suspect fled but remained in Watertown. Linskey’s nephew led a SWAT team into a house there in a scene played out on TV. The living brother was eventually discovered hiding out in a boat in a driveway on Franklin Street. At 8:45 p.m. 19 April, 102 hours after the first explosion, police radios cracked, “He’s in custody, he’s in custody.”

At that point, Linskey was at home, having been up 40 straight hours after just six hours of sleep “the previous three days.” He was asleep when the capture unfolded.

“‘How could you possibly let me go to sleep, Michelle?’” Linskey recalled asking his wife. “She said, ‘We tried to wake you for an hour. You were done; you had no more to give.”

Linskey was asked how, as a husband and father sympathizing with the families of the victims — and having a personal connection to the Richard family through his nephew — he was able to keep his emotions in check to think clearly enough to direct the manhunt. He said “you don’t stop” being a caring human being as you carry out the job you are sworn to do.

“You pull your car over, you wipe your tears from your eyes and then you piece yourself together and go out and speak to your troops and tell them what they need to hear about, ‘here’s the mission, here’s what you need to do to keep each other safe,’” Linskey said. “But you don’t stop. It’s always there. You have to put it check, and you have to realize it’s there and reach out to your friends and the people who you trust to talk about what’s going through your mind and what you dealt with.

“But we’ve surrounded ourselves with a very talented team at the Boston Police Department. You just make sure that people skate in the lanes, do their job and keep their focus on the mission.”

Preparing for Terror

Linskey credited technology, social media and a training session the police department had conducted not long before the bombings for helping to reduce casualties and locate the suspects. More than 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ultimately joined forces to find the killers and restore the peace.

Earlier this month, The Department of Homeland Security issued a 19-page report: “Boston One Year Later: DHS’s Lessons Learned.” 

“While America is stronger and more resilient as a result of efforts over the past decade to build robust national capabilities,” the report says, “the Boston Marathon bombings serve as a reminder that threats from terrorism persist and continue to evolve.”

The IEEE Homeland Security Conference — which is becoming a symposium — provides a showcase for technologies designed to deter, detect and prevent homeland attacks. The next one will be held in Waltham, Mass., 14-16 April 2015.

Linskey said the Boston Police Department learned a lot from the events that it will put into play should another terrorist act occur.

“We have to keep doing our training; we have to keep doing our real-life scenarios and exercises; we have to keep building a bench of people and providing officers with the training tools they need,” Linskey said. “You know, it’s easy to throw training out the window — with budget cuts — but we’re better prepared for the next event as long as we continue to keep investing in training and sharpening our skills and not resting.”

Linskey credited many people for their role in caring for the wounded and removing the terror that engulfed the greater Boston area for five days in April 2013.

“Just the courage and amazing things that our cops and our medics, firefighters and the citizens of Boston did,” he said. “There were so many things that our officers did that went beyond the call of duty, and that goes across all public safety services. And it goes for people in the stands, the runners, doctors, nurses. They’re just an amazing team, an amazing evolution of people just coming together to deal with the tragedy.”

 

Comments on this story may be emailed directly to Today's Engineer or submitted through our online form.

 

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is IEEE-USA’s public relations manage. He has attended every IEEE Homeland Security Conference since 2008. For a detailed account of the bombings and investigation, see this Boston Globe special report.

Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.

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