The Boston Bomb Squad's Defining Day | MassCops

The Boston Bomb Squad's Defining Day

Discussion in 'War Stories' started by Hush, Nov 14, 2013.

  1. Hush

    Hush Moderator Staff Member
    The Exclusive Inside Story of the Boston Bomb Squad’s Defining Day
    • 10.25.13
    On the morning of April 15, 2013, Chris Connolly, a sergeant with the Boston police bomb squad, completed a ritual he had performed annually for the past eight years. It started after dawn at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth in the city’s tony Back Bay neighborhood. There Connolly and his teammates peered inside trash cans, peeked into car and store windows, and inspected flower planters.

    In the post-9/11 world, this was standard operating procedure, a precaution practiced by civilian bomb squads around the country. Later that morning half a million spectators would watch nearly 25,000 athletes run the Boston Marathon, and security experts have considered major sporting events to be potential terrorist targets since the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Even at this early hour, revelers were starting to gather, most ignoring the techs methodically working their way around bars and restaurants and postrace recovery areas.

    Connolly himself looks more like a weight lifter than a jogger, a stocky P90X devotee with military-short salt-and-blond hair. With his blue eyes and thick accent, he is a cliche of the Boston Irish cop. His father was even a longshoreman. He started his career as an average patrolman and worked his way up to sergeant and night-shift supervisor after years of chasing gangs and drugs. After 9/11 he volunteered for the FBI’s challenging Hazardous Devices School—it was all volunteers, nobody gets coerced into working with explosives—and then became a member of the city’s 17-man bomb squad in 2004.

    Once the Back Bay sweep was done and the route declared clear, Connolly returned to his post near Copley Square, the hub for medical staff and exhausted runners just past the finish line. The forecast called for cool weather. “Good,” Connolly thought, “fewer heat victims for the docs.”

    Other bomb techs took up positions elsewhere along the route, but each knew that the finish line—the maximum concentration of bystanders and media—was the most likely place for an incident to occur. For now, they stood by, ready to respond to a suspicious car or an untended bag discovered by a K-9 patrol.

    Members of the Boston PD bomb squad, from left: Hector Cabrera, Paul Boddy, Paul Wright, Christopher Connolly, Richard Diaz, David Cardinal, Todd Brown, James Parker, Stephen Chin, William Knecht.
    A sweep and a long wait: This was the life of an urban bomb squad. The hardest part, as Connolly knew, was staying alert. It’s difficult to maintain vigilance in the face of overwhelming statistical evidence that nothing is going to happen. Soon runners started coming in—the swift ones first, but gradually the slower ones, in greater numbers and more celebratory.

    It happened at 2:50 pm. Connolly didn’t see the first explosion; he felt it. By the time his brain registered what it was, he felt another. The Boston Public Library and a mass of exhausted runners blocked his view. But slowly a cloud of smoke began to rise above the rooflines.

    Connolly pushed his way through the dazed crowd, running toward the finish line. He saw nothing but confusion and pain. It smelled like burning hair. An acrid haze hung like smog. People were sprawled everywhere on the pavement, some with limbs at impossible angles. His mind raced. A bomb? Two? Smaller than a car bomb, for sure. But still stout, maybe 10 pounds, and easy to hide. Panicked runners were fleeing past him. Several people were trying furiously to make calls on their cell phones. To initiate another device? How many more bombs were there? Was this going to be another Madrid? Mumbai?

    Connolly surveyed the scene for lone packages and backpacks—anything that could hide another similar device.

    He saw bags everywhere.

    With no other options, he pulled out his knife, grabbed a bag, and cut into it.

    Ripping open potential explosive devices with a knife is not standard procedure. Bomb squads are loaded with sophisticated equipment, and techs normally inspect suspicious packages with a robot, an x-ray machine, or a remotely detonated explosive tool. A so-called hand entry—that Hollywood-style search for the red wire—is almost never done, unless there is no other way to quickly save a life. But that is exactly the situation Connolly and his fellow bomb squad colleagues faced in Boston.

    I was an explosive-ordnance-disposal officer in the US Air Force, and I have been disarming bombs or training military and civilian squads for more than a decade. I deployed twice to Iraq, where I dismantled car bombs and investigated suicide attacks. I’ve witnessed the worst that humans can do to each other. But I have never experienced anything like what the Boston bomb squad went through in April.
    Bomb work is usually highly methodical. In an average operation, a team of bomb techs will spend an hour or two disassembling a single device—and that’s if it proves to be a hoax. If it is live, it takes longer. Safety is foremost. As a military officer, fighting a war overseas, I was trained that no bomb was worth my life or the lives of the men and women under me. None of us ever made a blind hand entry. We worked bombs the right way, or we didn’t work them at all.

    In Boston the rules changed. This attack wasn’t on the battlefield but on American soil, in the middle of a massive public event, and that forced the bomb techs to work in ways they never had before. They knew they could die but had a job to do: protect people from being killed by another device. Suspected explosives needed to be eliminated in seconds. The primary tool became a knife. Every single suspicious package needed to be checked.

    One of the legacies of the Boston bombing will be that it officially ushered the United States into the modern epoch of Betty Crocker explosives: Follow a recipe in Inspire, al Qaeda’s online magazine, to whip up a pressure cooker packed with nails. It’s a reality that other nations know well; four suicide bombs detonated on trains and a bus in London, 10 backpack bombs discharged on trains in Madrid, three devices exploded in Bali, coordinated time-bomb attacks aimed at civilians in Mumbai hotels and taxis. And while American bomb squads were aware of these events, of course, and had even trained for them, none had seen the chaos, confusion, and enormous risks up close. No one was quite prepared for this.
    (cont in link)
  2. Dan Stark

    Dan Stark Tears of a Clown

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