Boston bombing: Students in mourning as university city comes to terms with tragedy

Chinese student was one of the three killed

The thousands of students who travel across the country, and the world, to attend the 50 universities and colleges dotted around the Boston metropolitan area every year were mourning the loss of one of their own, a Chinese graduate student who perished in the twin bombings that brought the city’s annual marathon to a bloody end on Monday.

A post on a Chinese micro-blogging website showing a piece of bread and a fruit salad – “My wonderful breakfast” – was one of the slain Boston University student’s last acts. For their family in faraway Shenyang in northeastern China, the first sign of what turned out to be tragedy was an anxious appeal on the same micro-blogging service by the victim’s roommate.

“Everyone please help me find my roommate,” said the post on Weibo, the Chinese version of twitter, according to a Hong Kong television station. “She hasn’t come home and... everyone is very worried.”

At the family’s request, the authorities in the US and in China have declined to identify the student, who was among the dead and injured remembered at a gathering organised by the city’s Emerson College at the ornate, Beaux Arts-style Cutler Majestic theatre, a few blocks west of the blast site near the finish line on Boylston Street, on the other side of town from Boston University.

Seven Emerson students were among more than 170 people injured by the blasts. From the wider Boston area student body of nearly 400,000, three students from Tufts, three from Northeastern, two from Boston College and one from the Berklee College of Music, which is a short walk up the road from the finish line, were among the wounded.

At Harvard Business School, students and staff mourned the loss of Krystle Campbell, the 29 year-old who was among the three fatalities. A former employee of the school, her mother and brother still work at the university, according to the campus newspaper.

Remembering the injured and the dead, including the youngest victim, eight-year-old Martin Richard, whose toothy smile has been broadcast around the world, Emerson’s spiritual counsellor, Rabbi Al Axelrad, told the students, faculty, staff and alumni assembled inside the Cutler Majestic that he responded first with “weep and empathy,” which soon turned into “rage.”

“May our brothers and sisters persevere, wounded limbs and all,” he said, leading a prayer for the victims.

The college president, Lee Pelton, remembered how Monday began as a “perfect day for a long run,” calling the annual marathon, the world’s oldest, a “charmed pilgrimage” to endurance. “And then in an instant everything changed,” he said.

Jemma, a senior at the college, later recounted how Mr Pelton had spent the afternoon helping to locate and ferry students from around the blast site. “You treated us as daughters that day,” she told the audience, her voice breaking up as she spoke. The head of the student body, Tau Zaman, wiped his eyes as he faced the audience and said: “Emerson, I am so sorry.” 

The night before, hundreds gathered on Marsh Plaza in the Boston University campus, around one-and-a-half miles west of the blast site near Copley Square, to pray for the dead graduate student, and another student who was wounded in the explosions. The two were watching the race along with another friend near the finish line when the explosions ripped through the heart of the city.

“The whole land trembled at the sound,” Larry Whitney, a Boston University chaplain, said, turning, according to the campus paper, to scripture to describe what students near the blast site felt as the two pressure-cooker bombs filled with small ball-bearings went off, wounding and killing on a day when so many students had come out to run and cheer.