The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Man who lost son, and tended to his other wounded kids, testifies in Boston bombing trial

In this courtroom sketch, William Richard, right, is depicted while testifying during the federal death penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, second from left, on March 5  in Boston. Tsarnaev is depicted sitting between defense attorneys Judy Clarke, left, and Miriam Conrad, second from right, as U.S. District Judge George O’Toole Jr. presides. (Jane Flavell Collins/AP)

“That’s Henry,” said witness William Richard, identifying his son in a photo from the Boston Marathon. “That’s Jane with two legs,” he said of his 6-year-old daughter. “That’s Denise,” his wife. “And that’s Martin.” Everyone in the courtroom knew that Martin Richard was the 8-year-old boy who died in the bombing. Everyone expected his father’s story, which came at the end of the day Thursday, to be the most painful in two days of relentlessly painful testimony.

Richard, a slim man in his 40s, wearing a blue suit, a plaid blue shirt, a blue tie and two blue rubber bracelets, one lighter and one darker (these bracelets can mean a number of different things, including support for police and law enforcement in the case of the dark blue bracelet, and child abuse or mental health awareness for the lighter blue), was composed throughout his nearly hour-long testimony on the stand. He may have been the only survivor whose voice did not crack as he told his story.

The Richard family went to the marathon every year. In 2013, all three of their children had participated in the youth relay on the eve of the event. On marathon day, they spent some time watching the runners in one spot, then got some ice cream on nearby Newbury Street, then found another spot near the finish line. “It was very random,” said Richard. “We had no reason to stop where we did, except there was an opening.”

There was a photo of the family in the new spot, in front of the Forum restaurant. The children were standing on the metal barrier. “That’s me,” said Richard. “That’s Jane with two legs,” he repeated. “And that’s Martin.”

One could also see a tall figure a couple of people behind the Richards – rather, one could see his head, in a white baseball cap turned backward. At that moment, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev must have been just arriving at the site of the second blast.

“Did you ever see this man, with the white hat?” asked prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini.

“Until today, in person, no.”

The first bomb went off a short distance down the street. “The first thing that popped into my head was a sewer explosion, because they’d been on the news recently. Time slowed down. … I heard somebody yell, ‘Get in the street!’ … I thought, Okay, let’s get over this railing and start walking up Boylston street.” That’s when the second bomb went off.

“Unlike the first bomb, which was just a loud thunderous boom, this one was an ear-piercing, much higher-pitched sound. I was blown into the street. I remember getting up, orientating myself, and immediately walking back to where I’d been standing …

“Henry walked toward me, and we embraced and he said, ‘Is this really happening?’ and I said, ‘Yes, you need to help me find your sister.’ And even though Jane was standing, or kneeling, right behind me, I did not see her. Henry pointed her out to me. At that point I didn’t know the extent of her injuries. I knew she was scared.

“She tried to get up, but she fell. That’s when I noticed her leg. I picked her up in one arm, and I took Henry in the other, and, trying to shield their eyes, I walked with them up Boylston Street.”

“What specific observation did you make about her leg?” asked the prosecutor.

“She didn’t have it.”

Richard found someone to help Jane, then walked Henry over to the curb on the other side of the street, and went back to check on his wife and younger son. “When I saw Martin’s condition, I knew he wasn’t going to make it. … I told Denise that I needed to go be with Jane and Henry. She agreed. She was crying. At that time, I saw my son alive, barely, for the last time.”

The prosecutor prodded Richard for more detail on Martin’s injuries, but he was clearly unwilling to give a graphic description. “I saw a little boy who had his body severely damaged by an explosion. I just knew from what I saw that there was no chance. The color of his skin and so on. I knew I needed to act quickly, or we might lose not only Martin but also Jane.”

William Richard spent the next few hours shuttling back and forth between Children’s Hospital, where Jane had surgery, and Beth Israel Deaconness Hospital, where Denise was being operated on. The two hospitals are only a couple of blocks apart in Boston’s dense medical area. Martin was dead. Jane had her left leg amputated below the knee and had over 20 pieces of shrapnel removed from her body. Denise lost her vision in one eye. Henry had only minor injuries. William Richard himself had a piece of shrapnel in his leg and has suffered permanent damage to his hearing.

“But I can still hear you,” he said, addressing the prosecutor. “I can still hear music. I can still hear the beautiful voices of my family.”

On that note, the trial went into recess until Monday.