Monday’s bombings in Boston shattered the peace of an overcast spring day. Terrorism cuts cowardice, nerve and evil, as the concussion strikes families 3,000 miles west.
Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Cornell trained for months. A dream realized, the Boston Marathon. Cornell finished in 3 hours, 13 minutes. The bombs blew at 4 hours, 9 minutes. Three dead, dozens injured. Cornell and his wife, entrepreneur Whitney Cornell, were safe in their hotel room when the blasts hit. Whitney had walked past the bombed storefront 20 minutes earlier. Passing ships. By late afternoon, they were still in lockdown.
“Just a bunch of people, running down the street, following their dream,” Cornell said. The targeting of athletes makes political motivations more inscrutable. There were 27,000 runners representing 45 different countries in the Boston Marathon.
Try to throw light on the mystery of foul minds. It’s pointless.
Pictures of carnage ignite a common humanity, a universal empathy. “Oh, God, how awful,” people say as they watch the news in Melbourne and Mongolia.
Bill Iffrig, 78, of Lake Stevens was knocked to the street by the blast. “It was only five feet away from me,” Iffrig told The Herald. Iffrig’s response after being helped up by a race official was stoicism personified. “I ended up second in my division. After you’ve run 26 miles you’re not going to stop there,” he said. He walked across the finish line.
Terrorism can strike anywhere, which magnifies fear, the sense of powerlessness. The Pacific Northwest has a what-if analogue, the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in Spokane. On Jan. 17 of that year, three city workers discovered a pipe bomb on the parade route just a half-hour before the official start. Kevin William Harpham, a white supremacist, later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 32 years in prison. His aim was to kill as many people of color as he could. He failed.
Most terrorists are failures, embracing the spectacle of mass violence to underscore a political agenda. The violence is disproportionate to actual power. Look at me, they scream. Americans glance in revulsion. Then we regroup, reconcile and mete out justice.
Today’s homegrown terrorists are usually lone-wolf outliers or right-wing neo-Nazis like Harpham. In 1970, Seattle had the highest number of bombings per capita in the country. Anti-war protesters had a curious way to express intolerance of bloodshed.
So, back to the fundamentals, to what we can and can’t control.
“It reminds you that life is precious,” Cornell said. “It can be gone in a blink.”