The text messages, too horrible to believe, came as Christina and James Keefe sat with their grown sons at a restaurant in Dorchester. The young men had just run in the Boston Marathon, and were shaken but relieved to have escaped a horrific double-bombing.
Sneaking glances under the table, James Keefe read the desperate, curt missives from friends and neighbors:
Eight-year-old Martin Richard, son of their neighbors and friends, Bill and Denise Richard, had been killed by the bomb that detonated near the marathon’s finish line.
His mother and his younger sister, Jane, were also seriously hurt.
Local news reports said Denise underwent emergency surgery, and Jane — who friends said is 6 or 7 years old — suffered a grievous injury to her leg.
In a statement Tuesday, Bill Richard said: “My dear son Martin has died from injuries sustained in the attack on Boston. My wife and daughter are both recovering from serious injuries. We thank our family and friends, those we know and those we have never met, for their thoughts and prayers. I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin. We also ask for your patience and for privacy as we work to simultaneously grieve and recover.”
Christina Keefe described her family as friendly with the Richard family, who live near them in the Ashmont section of Dorchester.
“He was so polite, composed, older than his years really,” Christina Keefe said of Martin on Tuesday morning. “I can see him now, holding his mom’s arm as she took them on their walks around the neighborhood.”
Martin and Jane Richard both attended the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, where their mother served as the school librarian. Martin “was a bright, energetic young boy who had big dreams and high hopes for his future,” school headmaster Kevin Andrews said in a statement. “We are heartbroken by this loss.”
He said the school is bringing in counselors to help students, staff and families cope with the tragedy.
The Dorchester Reporter, a community paper, said Martin’s parents “are known and respected as civic leaders. . . . The family is deeply involved in all facets of life in Dorchester, from little league baseball and soccer to their church, St. Ann’s parish in Neponset.”
Bill Richard is vice president of an environmental testing company called EST Associates. He also volunteered extensively in the St. Mark’s Area Main Street group, a community effort to restore the main street businesses of Peabody Square.
Both Denise and Bill Richard are runners, but contrary to initial reports, Bill Richard did not run in the marathon on Monday. Instead, the family went to the finish line to watch together, as they had done for the last several years, friends said. In addition to Martin and Jane, the couple has an older son, Henry, friends said.
The Ashmont neighborhood is one of restored Victorians, mostly younger families and leafy backyards. “Every Friday night, one of those backyards would be hosting an impromptu neighborhood party, with all the children running in the back,” Christina Keefe said.
Family friends who live near the Richard family told stories of singing Irish songs with them in their kitchen late into the night, of the entire family pitching in for every volunteer effort: decorating the float for the Dorchester Day Parade, helping at the neighborhood chili cook-off, and collecting trash in the annual Boston Shines cleanup project.
“You have family you are born with. And these are the family you chose,” said one friend who asked not to be named. “What can I say? Everything about them is kindness . . . and life.”
Keefe described Denise as a devoted mom, frequently walking with her children through the neighborhood. She has a happy, full-throated laugh that often alerted neighbors she was nearby. Martin, she said, was regularly seen throwing a ball in his family’s yard on Carruth Street, or a friends’ yard nearby, or playing with his siblings.
“The neighborhood is reeling,” Keefe said, imagining the scene just before the bombing as Martin, Henry and Jane cheered on marathon runners, a rite of passage for generations of Boston children.
“Knowing Denise, she probably had some posters for them to hold up” as runners came by, Keefe said. “It’s all just so awful.”