BOSTON -- Life is slowly returning to normal in Boston, eight days after a terrorist attack killed three people and injured more than 280 -- shocking a city that, as a taxi driver told RFE/RL, “thought terrorism happened elsewhere.”
For the first time since the April 15 bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, city officials began escorting business owners and residents of the Copely Square neighborhood where the blasts occurred back to their homes and offices.
By midmorning, a registration center at Hynes Convention Center was full of people applying to reenter the area that forensic crime specialists have been scouring for eight days in search of evidence. The city’s census department said some 2,200 people and 400 businesses call the area home.
For the first time on April 23, traffic resumed flowing across Boylston Street, but the main route where the blasts happened was still barred to cars and pedestrians. Seen through a wet fog, the wide boulevard looked eerily empty. Pictures of the area showed tables at outdoor restaurants set for customers who never came and bicycles still locked to posts.
'Usually The Street Is Bustling'
Boston resident Ellen McCarthy told RFE/RL, "It’s very surreal. It’s always such a bustling, lively area."
McCarthy was spending her lunch hour on April 23 visiting a memorial to victims that sprung up last week on the corner of Boylston and Berkeley streets.
She revealed that she's been coming to the site every day since people started leaving flowers, notes, pictures, and stuffed animals, along with messages of love and support.
"It’s weird to work down here because usually the street is bustling and we’re walking up and down there during the day during our breaks and everything," she said. "I work for John Hancock and they're one of the biggest supporters of the marathon, so we've had a lot of people at work affected by it. A couple of my co-workers were injured, so we're kind of coming down here every day to just remember what happened and pay our respects and everything."
McCarthy described the streets in the days immediately after the attack as "full of men in head-to-toe white [crime-scene] suits," but added that things are slowly returning to normal.
"You could not drive through here -- you could drive this way yesterday and a couple of days ago, but nothing this way was open, it was completely closed off. So it’s really getting back to normalcy a bit," she said. "But it’s still going to be weird until it's all opened back up again."
'An Uneccesary Loss'
Also visiting the memorial on this rainy, cold day was a Boston resident named Jim, a local office worker who declined to give his last name. He pointed to the three white crosses bearing the names and photos of those who died in the explosions.
"It's sad. There’s a beauty to [the memorial]," he said. "It's such an unnecessary loss when you just look at those three [pictures]. You’re just kind of fixated."
Jim said he was at work the day of the bombings and heard the explosions. At first, he said, everyone thought "a truck had backfired." He said no one suspected an act of terrorism had occurred just around the corner.
Like Ellen, he admitted that he has returned to the memorial several times in recent days. Asked if he thought the city was beginning to return to normal, he said that it was "a little bit."
"But you can just sort of tell everyone feels a sense of something isn’t quite right," he added. "...[M]aybe when they start relaxing the barriers as you go down and let the pedestrians and the commerce get back to the area, you might see a change. And with the nicer weather more people might be coming."
City officials have not announced when the area will be reopened to the public.
Elsewhere in the city, the signs that a tragedy occurred here just a few days ago are subtle but everywhere.
City buses flash the words "Boston Strong," in addition to their regular route information. Signs proclaiming “We Are Boston” and “Boston Doesn’t Sink” are taped on fences and mailboxes. There's a strong police presence in some areas where squad cars sit idling and uniformed officers cluster together.
A moment of silence was held across the city on April 22, one week after the attacks. Stores asked for quiet among their customers and people poured onto the streets to stand together.
“It was beautiful,” McCarthy said.