Massachusetts is one of the few states that recognizes and celebrates Patriots’ Day annually on the third Monday of April. The day honors the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, the Battles of Lexington and Concord. However, the most significant celebration of the holiday is widely recognized throughout the country: the Boston Marathon. Held on Patriots’ Day since 1897, it is the oldest annual marathon in the world.
The Boston Marathon is on most runners’ bucket lists, and the event is usually filled with excitement by participants and spectators alike. But that wasn’t the case six years ago when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds more.
April 15, 2013, was a perfect Boston spring day. With temperatures in the mid-50s and clear skies, it was ideal marathon weather. Thousands of high-profile athletes were in the city, and security was tight.
Jose Miguel was working a detail for elite and disabled athletes. He’d received a call the night before from his supervisor, asking him to form a four-man team. The team consisted of Miguel, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran; Roy, a U.S. Marine veteran; and Mike, who’s background was neither in law enforcement nor the military. The fourth teammate had dropped out at the last minute.
Miguel and his team were stationed at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel on St. James Avenue. The luxury hotel was a few blocks from the starting line.
“I was assigned to the entrance and making sure elite athletes were able to get in the side door,” Miguel said. “I also helped direct people around and kept things flowing.” While his other team members were busy at their posts, he was getting to know the doorman, telling him about his time in service.
Miguel, Mike, and Roy had a meeting to go over their duties for the day. It was about 10 minutes until 3 PM when Miguel heard what sounded like cannon fire. Having previously served in the Honor Guard, the noise didn’t startle him. The doorman who he’d been talking to moments earlier, though, was in a state of disbelief.
“His jaw hit the floor,” Miguel said. “Civilians aren’t used to hearing those kinds of noises. I was used to hearing cannon shots whenever there was a dignitary.”
Moments later, however, Miguel knew something had gone horribly wrong. People started to funnel into the hotel — some of them were bleeding and limping, while others were shaken up by what had just happened. He didn’t yet know that two pressure-cooker bombs had gone off on Boylston Street at the finish line. He also didn’t know that people had been killed and that hundreds were injured.
“My first instinct was to run toward the problem,” Miguel recalled. “I’m thinking, What do we do?”
He got his marching orders soon after the explosions, and he was advised to keep people out of the hotel while guiding in the athletes. A handful of people who were injured stayed in the lobby. While he was linked-in with the Boston PD, he didn’t get many details about what was happening on the ground. At the time, all they knew was that the police were looking for suspects and they had no idea what kind of bomb had been used.
Then there was the blood. “There was lots of it,” Miguel said. “Tons of people were injured.”
The amount of trauma was so staggering that the on-site medics were not prepared to handle the injuries. Miguel remembers one temporary triage tent with a group of volunteers with medical backgrounds. “It was crazy. They didn’t have enough first-aid kits,” he said. “There weren’t enough supplies to take care of the people who had been hurt.”
Another thing that stood out to Jose was the massive response from law enforcement. According to the History Channel, more than 1,000 state, local, and federal officers were part of the response.
‘My first instinct was to run toward the problem. I’m thinking, What do we do?’
“Every single law enforcement agency you can think of responded within 30 minutes,” Miguel said. “We were taken aback by the IRS and how it has its own force of special agents. They were also there. They were armed and helping secure the streets. It was really a sight to see. Marked and unmarked cops everywhere, so many agencies.”
The day finally wrapped up around 11 PM. Boston was on lockdown as the manhunt for Dhozkar and Tamerlane Tsarnaev, the brothers who were the main suspects of the bombing, was underway. A photo of Tamerlane had gone viral by that evening, and when Miguel saw it, he was shaken.
“I used to go to the gym (Wai Kru MMA Gym) where the older one (Tamerlane) used to fight,” Miguel said. “He was an amateur boxer. When I was in the Coast Guard, it’s where I did my mixed martial arts classes. I’d spar with John ‘Doomsday’ Howard.
“Howard actually broke the older brother’s nose,” he continued. “I’d seen him a couple of times, but I didn’t ever talk to him. I knew who he was because of what Howard did to him, and I recognized the busted-up nose.”
On April 18, 2013, Tamerlane got into a gunfight with law enforcement; he died the following day from the injuries he sustained. Dhokzar was captured as well, heavily injured, hiding in a boat.
As he sits in prison awaiting the death penalty, athletes today ran the Boston Marathon for the sixth time since the attack orchestrated by the Tsarnaev brothers. This year marks the first year it falls on the same date, April 15.
And the runners are as Boston Strong as ever.