“Some lady on the street said there’s been a bomb at the finish line,” Mullaney said. “We looked at each other and thought, that’s a terrible joke to play on someone. We kept running, but then I started to pick up on clues that maybe something really did happen.”
Sirens blared from all directions and, up ahead on Commonwealth Avenue, race officials had shut down the course. The vets went from people running to heal, to people counseling their fellow runners. “It is a lot like the tables have turned,” Mullaney said. “There’s a number of civilians who’ve been put in a war zone, and there’s a number of veterans who’ve experienced that and can say, ‘We’re here.’ ”
In the chaotic aftermath of the bombing, Team Red, White & Blue team members from across the country began posting on Facebook a photo and a short video of the shirtless colonel aiding a victim on the sidewalk, her face showing agony.
Wrote one: “A picture of Team RWB in action today in Boston, taking his shirt off to provide first aid to the injured. We are posting these pictures and videos as they come in because we feel it is important to remind one another of the positive things happening amid the chaos and the evil.”
“Taking the eagle shirt off his back,” Erwin commented. “Team RWB providing first aid to the injured. Sheep dogs.”
“Sheep dogs,” added another poster. “We are our brothers’ keeper.”
Mullaney said he found the bombs on Boylston Street far more shocking and traumatic than those he and other veterans experienced in Iraq. “When it happens in your back yard, your home, your community, it’s exponentially more painful,” he said. “When it happens here, it’s innocent people — that’s the nature of terrorism.”
The crowds dissipated and police cordoned off a dozen blocks around the finish line, turning the Back Bay into the largest crime scene in Boston history. Team Red, White & Blue members from the Boston area, led by Mullaney, gathered Tuesday at dusk along the Charles River at Massachusetts Avenue, several blocks from the marathon course, for what they called a “response run.” Forty other team chapters across the country did the same.
“This is our organization’s response to the attacks,” Erwin said. “We’re responding to the negative energy, the pain and the evil with hope and strength and optimism.”