BOSTON -- At 2:49 p.m. exactly Tuesday, Boston observed a moment of silence to commemorate the minute the first bomb exploded a year ago at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A solemn bell tolled in drizzling rain, a choir sang the national anthem and many in the crowd saluted or bowed their heads.
Destruction tore through the finish line of the Boston Marathon a year ago, killing three and seriously injuring hundreds of others. But victims and Boston leaders did not focus on the destruction that two bombs heaved on the city during a tribute event on Tuesday in the Hynes Convention Center, directly across the street from the scene of the attacks. Instead, speakers praised the spirit of a city that has bounced back — and the resilience of the victims who lost family members and their way of life.
"There is no way to walk down Boylston Street without thinking of the evil spilling of previous blood," said Liz Walker, a former Boston television journalist who now serves as the pastor of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church. "But we are also reminded of the amazing capacity of the human spirit to rise in heroism, compassion and sacrifice."
Short remembrances of the four victims of the bombing and its aftermath were printed in the program for the tribute, which was open to about 2,000 invited guests. The families of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu, who died at the bombing, and of Sean Collier, who was killed during the manhunt for the perpetrators, each wrote a small piece about their loved one.
"A year has passed since you left us so suddenly. Time flies, as people say, but the past year has been the longest and slowest for me and your mom," read the piece from Lingzi Lu's father, who traveled from China to attend the memorial.
The tribute was a triumphant return to the scene of the bombing for many victims, who walked into the auditorium on prosthetic limbs, and who spoke publicly about their travails in the last year — and in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.
Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dancer, spoke of walking the streets of Boston a year ago with her husband Adam, who had just returned from Afghanistan, uninjured. She lost her left leg below the knee but recently danced on a bionic leg.
"It is difficult to believe it has only been a year — it feels like only a few weeks, and we have a long road yet to walk," she said. "But the city has stood by us, supported us and helped us heal."
It was a bittersweet moment for others. Former Mayor Thomas Menino, stepped down in January after more than 20 years in office, and last month announced he is battling an advanced form of cancer that has spread to his liver and lymph nodes. He was hospitalized during the bombing with a broken leg but checked himself out of the hospital, pulling himself up out of his wheelchair in a memorial service after the bombing to rouse the city of Boston.
He received a standing ovation as he approached the podium Tuesday, walking with the assistance of a cane, and then addressed the auditorium in his trademark Boston accent.
"I want you to hear the solemn promise," he said to the victims. "When the lights have dimmed and the cameras go away, know that my support and love for you will never waver. Whatever you have to do recovery and carry on, know that the people of Boston and I will be right there by your side."
The tribute service also featured performances by the Boston Pops, the Boston Children's Chorus and singer Renese King. It ended with a speech by Vice President Joe Biden, at times rousing and at times quiet. When the marathon begins next week, Biden said, Boston will be sending a message to the rest of the world, and to the terrorists.
"We will never yield," he said. "America will never ever ever stand down. We are Boston. We are America. And we respond. We endure. We own the finish line."
At 2:50, church bells resonated throughout the city.