The Lowell Sun, Julia Malakie, Associated Press
BOSTON — In the tight rows of chairs stretched across the Commonwealth Ballroom, the nervousness — already dialed high by two bombs, three deaths and more than 72 hours without answers — ratcheted even higher.
The minutes ticked by as investigators stepped out to delay the news conference once, then again. Finally, at 5:10 p.m. Thursday, a pair of FBI agents carried two large easels to the front of the Boston hotel conference chamber and saddled them with display boards. They turned the boards backward so as not to divulge the results of their sleuthing until, it had been decided, they could not afford to wait any longer.
Now the time had come to take that critical, but perilous step: introducing Boston to the two men believed responsible for an entire city's terror.
"Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members of the suspects," said Richard DesLauriers, the FBI agent in charge in Boston. As he spoke, investigators flipped the boards around to reveal grainy surveillance-camera images of the men whose only identity was conferred by the black ball cap and sunglasses on one, the white ball cap worn backward on the other.
"Though it may be difficult, the nation is counting on those with information to come forward and provide it to us."
Photographers and TV cameras pushed forward, intent on capturing the images, even as people in the lobby stared into computers and smart phones, straining to recognize the faces. In living rooms and bars and offices across the city, and across the country, so many people looked up and logged on to examine the faces of the men deemed responsible for the bombing attack of the Boston Marathon, that the FBI servers were instantly overwhelmed.
At the least, Bostonians told each other, the photos proved that the monsters the city had imagined were responsible for maiming more than 170 were nothing more than ordinary men. But even as that relief sank in, the dread that had gripped the city since Monday at 2:50 p.m. was renewed.
If everyone had seen these photos, then that had to mean the suspects had seen them, too.
What desperation might they resort to, marathoner Meredith Saillant asked herself, once they were confronted with the certainty that their hours of anonymity were running out?
On the morning after the marathon, Saillant had fled the city for the mountains of Vermont with three friends and their children, trying to escape nightmares of the bombs that had detonated on the sidewalk just below the room where they'd been celebrating her 3:38 finish. Now, she put aside her glass of wine, reaching for the smart phone her friend offered and scrutinized the photos of the men who had defeated her city on what was supposed to be its day of camaraderie and strength.
"I expected that I would feel relief, 'OK, now I can put a face to it,' and start some closure," Saillant says. "But I think I felt more doom. I felt, I don't know, chilled. Knowing where we are and the era in which we live, I knew that as soon as those pictures went up that it was over, that something was going to happen ... like it was the beginning of the end."
There was no way she or the people of Boston could know, though, just when that end would come — or how.
Marathon Monday dawned with the kind of April chill that makes spectators shiver and runners smile — the ideal temperature for keeping a body cool during 26.2 miles of pounding over hills and around curves. By the four-hour mark, more than 2/3 of the field's 23,000 runners had crossed the finish line, and the crowds of onlookers were beginning to thin a little. But the growing warmth made it an afternoon to relish.
Passing the 25-mile mark, Diane Jones-Bolton, 51, of Nashville, Tenn., picked up the pace, relishing the effort and the sense of accomplishment of her 195th marathon.
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