By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Although the immediate horror of that day’s events has begun to subside, Clive Grainger is still struggling to process the experience of being at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
A professional photographer, Grainger was on the scene for two reasons: to support a colleague running in the race and to attend a Marathon party at the Mandarin Hotel on Boylston Street. As he waited for his colleague to approach from the distance and as he looked for his wife who planned to come from work to join him at the hotel, Grainger walked around, surveying the crowds, snapping photos of people and the street action, and calmly keeping an eye out the front plate glass windows of the hotel.
But at 2:50 pm, everything changed.
“It sounded like a massive cannon,” Grainger said, as he began to describe those moments. “We’re used to Minutemen re-enactments so we’re aware of that kind of sound. But, I remember thinking, ‘Why is it happening in the middle of the race?’ I’d been at the finish line when the [first runner] finished early on and I didn’t remember a cannon going off then. So it seemed really odd.
“I remember standing up, right by the glass [window at the front of the Mandarin Hotel], and there was this [second] massive explosion. It’s this big plate glass window—and it’s moving. Within seconds, an enormous smoke cloud came up.
“But, I had already lifted my camera up and I’d taken one photograph—because I had no idea what had happened, so I thought, ‘Well, take a photo.’ Then I took another one as the smoke billowed up. Then I took a third one and it was hazy because there was smoke everywhere. And then, that’s when it all sort of falls apart.”
Grainger said that the hotel management moved everyone out of the building onto the street, at that point, because they thought there was a bomb in the building. Chaos was the scene he encountered. No one knew where to go to be safe; security personnel gave contradictory orders as they tried to move the crowds away without creating further panic. Cell service was compromised so the tether he had to his family and friends was broken.
“After we got kicked out of the Mandarin, no one knew quite where to go,” Grainger continued. “Everyone was sort of pushed to the center [of the Prudential Center mall] because the other way was out to the street—and no one wanted to go out to the street, for obvious reasons.
“I looked to the left and I saw….I saw….the mayhem,” Grainger said, overcome as he recalled the injured people he’d glimpsed in that moment. “I was shocked. Everyone [around me] was trying to process what might have happened. Some people were completely in shock, some kids were even laughing. There’s just no frame of reference for any of this.”
Grainger sat down in the Prudential Mall, trying to get his bearings, but he felt unsafe and began to move again, going from place to place, hotel to hotel, seeking sanctuary. Crowded places felt unsafe, the streets felt unsafe, squads of armed police and military in flak jackets making their way into the area added to the sense of being in a war zone.
“It was so surreal. Every place was a bad place to be,” he said. “Everything gets scrambled in your head but I remember going down one road and the police jumping out and screaming, ‘Go back!’ And then we’d get back down to the other end and the police that originally sent you down there said, ‘Don’t come back, don’t come back’!”
Grainger kept moving toward the Common, into the Transportation Building where he encountered FBI agents, “dozens and dozens” of bomb squad personnel, and police who were going from place to place because “people had dumped their bags and run.”
“They had no idea if any of these bags [held more bombs], he said. “The downtown area had become a military zone.”
Finally, Grainger decided to make his way through Chinatown and eventually across the channel to the Children’s Museum, where his wife, Carole Charnow, is the director. After returning safely home to Bedford, he tried to make sense of his experience although he knew he couldn’t yet bring himself to look at the photos he’d taken. But, as the news unfolded in the days after the bombings, Grainger began to realize he might have evidence that would help in the ongoing investigation.
“There was one photograph that I saw that had been released [by authorities] and it was from a runner who had taken a photograph with his IPhone seconds after the bomb had gone off. In my photo [the runner] had his phone up to his eye and one of my sons said, ‘Dad, you should take a look at this. Is that like yours?’ So, I went back to the photos. I hadn’t wanted to look at them—because I knew [the horror of] what was probably in them.
“And then I realized, the guy with the white hat was near the bomb, the next frame he was in the middle, and the third frame, he’s running down Fairfield Street. He must have been within 50 feet of where the bomb went off in my frame so therefore, where did he start? That was very bizarre, with BB’s and the metal, flying everywhere.”
Grainger contacted the FBI and sent them his photographs; this Monday, at work, he also was interviewed by federal agents. “They got out of the car wearing sunglasses [on a cloudy day] and I said, ‘Hey! You guys look exactly how FBI agents looked!’” Grainger joked. He said this made them laugh, even though they were exhausted from the number of hours they’d put into the investigation at that point, one week after the event.
When asked how he feels about sharing his photos, Grainger said he no longer wants to. “There’s a voyeurism to this whole thing which I don’t want to be a part of. Whenever I look at them, I see other things in them every time. You don’t want to analyze them but as things come out on the news, you go back to the photographs and see [things like] the lid of the pressure cooker high in the air—at least, that’s what it looks like in the photo.
“There was a week when I couldn’t talk about it, I really couldn’t. And then people said, ‘You can’t keep keeping it in.’ There is a woman at work from Lebanon and she said, ‘Look, I feel for you but you just process it and move on.’ But my stomach’s been like ‘this’ for a week,” Grainger said, forming a clenched fist to demonstrate. “And I still feel that.”