BOSTON -- It took only a matter of minutes, friends would say later.
The Richard family, cheering on neighbors from the Dorchester area at the Boston Marathon, watched runners passing by Monday from Hereford Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of the city. The family decided to take a break and get some ice cream, returning to Boylston Street just before 3 p.m. Monday.
When the first bomb blew, the family tried to escape to the street. Bill Richard was lifting one of his children over a barrier when the second blast occurred, right on top of the family. Although a tree protected Henry, the family’s oldest boy, it caught everyone else.
Bill Richard now has ball bearings in his leg. His wife, Denise, has a serious eye injury and was taken into surgery Tuesday afternoon. His daughter, Jane, has a terrible leg injury, and doctors Tuesday night were still deciding whether to amputate. And Martin Richard, the sunny 8-year-old middle child, is dead.
“It’s so random, what happened, they were all right there,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), who has been a friend of the family for 25 years, since his wife worked with Denise Richard.
Bill Richard credits the seconds – rather than minutes – it took for the paramedics to reach Jane with saving her life, Lynch said.
“She’ still not out of the woods in doctor’s words, but she’s got a chance,” Lynch said.
Many residents of the close-knit neighborhood reflected on the randomness of the explosions and their aftermath at a candlelight vigil for Martin on Tuesday night at a Dorchester park, feeling that they themselves narrowly averted disaster.
“It could be anyone,” said Diane Lescinskas, whose daughter attended Catholic classes with Martin, and who was attending the vigil with her brother, Dave Gilmartin.
Gilmartin, who was running the marathon, was four blocks away from the finish line, when he heard the explosions and saw emergency personnel make a beeline toward the smoke.
“Everyone had a stunned look,” he said.
Lescinskas’s 14-year-old daughter immediately asked whether North Korea was attacking the country.
“It was pure chaos,” Gilmartin said.
Gilmartin went to grade school with Denise Richard, and said that then, as in now, she was quiet and kind.
“She’s quiet, smart, a good person; she has not changed a bit,” he said. “She just had a purity about her, and her son had it too.”
Denise and Bill have been customers for years at the Flat Black Coffee shop blocks from their house, said shop owner Jennifer House. The couple would come in, toting their children, and buy coffee for themselves and cookies for the kids. The coffee shop and local businesses are now putting out collection boxes for the family. House’s son also went to preschool with Martin. She remembers a gentle boy with big brown eyes.
“It really hits close to home,” she said. “These are people I saw every day.”
Jimmy Gallagher, 42, another Dorchester resident, said he decided at the last minute not to take his young daughter to the marathon. She was playing on a scooter in the park as the candlelight vigil began.
“I would have been right there,” Gallagher said, adding that many from Dorchester stand on the finish line of the marathon.
At the vigil, hundreds of families huddled in the wind with candles shielded by paper cups as Father John J. Connolly of St. Brendan Parish led them in prayer. Elected officials, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, held candles as well but did not speak.
“Yesterday, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, evil and violence came once again to our country,” Connolly said. “What once seemed to be something we watched in the distance or on television has come all too close to home, as it has affected our city and as it has affected in particular our neighbors the Richard family.”
Denise and Jane Richard remain hospitalized, and the decision on amputation will be made soon, Lynch said. Henry Richard had to watch his siblings go through the trauma.
“You talk about post-traumatic stress syndrome; he went through a lot for a little boy,” Lynch said. “Seeing his brother and his sister go through that, and his parents go through that -- he certainly didn’t escape, he had his own suffering as well.”
For now, Lynch said, the family thanks the community for its prayers. Police have cordoned off streets near the family’s home, which is walking distance from a subway stop and from an old-fashioned trolley that runs farther down the line. Children nearby have gone back to playing in the streets, but many adults find themselves still thinking about the Richard family, and feeling as though it could have been them.
“They’re both great parents, totally committed to the kids,” Lynch said. “He’s a super-dad, one of those super-dads -- hockey, softball, baseball, everything for the kids.”