Patrick Downes, ‘05, a Boston College graduate who lost his leg in the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013, hosted a screening of HBO’s ‘Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing’ on Thursday in Gasson Hall.
Both the documentary and Downes' following discussion emphasized the issues of public awareness in the face of terrorism, the recovery process for victims, and the importance of support from communities such as Boston College in times of terror.
Guy Guenthner, MCAS ’17, kicked off the event by describing Downes, who ran the marathon as an amputee in 2016, as a symbol of hope. Guenthner said that Patrick was running for much more than himself, and that “it is an inspiration and an honor to be in the same community of Boston College as Patrick.”
Downes rose to take the podium and briefly introduced the documentary. He continually emphasized his pride in being a “double eagle”, having graduated from BC High in 2001 and Boston College in 2005, and how enthusiastic he was to see so many students at the screening.
Downes stressed how imperative the support he received from of his parents, the community at BC High, and the community at Boston College was to his recovery.
Bracing them for the emotional scenes that were to follow, Downes told the audience, “Life happened to us. It’s not easy to think about it, but we need to.”
The documentary detailed the stories of trauma and recovery of Downes and his wife Jessica Kensky, who lost one leg in the bombing, later had to amputate the other, and is still in recovery. The documentary also followed the stories of Sydney Corocoran, Celeste Corocoran, JP Norden, and Paul Norden, all of whom are still learning how to adjust to living with an amputated limb.
The first half of the film depicted the events and emotions on the day of the bombing, but also focused on how determined the Boston community was to help. Sydney Corcoran, a bystander at the finish line, recounted how a piece of scrap metal had impaled her thigh and pierced an artery. She was saved by a random man who put his hand into her wound to stop the bleeding. Sydney recalls that a man who she had never met before continually repeated, “You are going to be okay.”
During the clips of the bombing, Patrick narrated what he could remember in the seconds after the first detonation. Later, at the hospital, he recalled how, while in shock, he woke to the sight of his parents and his missing leg.
“My parents were at the peak of fear with the rest of the city,” he said.
The earlier portion of the documentary also highlighted the response from the city of Boston in the weeks that followed the bombing, portraying the powerful community that stood, unbroken, in support of the victims. Downes recounted one particularly empowering day when he was cheered for at a Red Sox game.
“To see all these people and [know] they were cheering for us made me break down in tears,” he said. “The whole city was wrapped up into this.”
The film transitioned to focus on the recovery process of the victims, highlighting the various sources of support they received during physical therapy and the adjustment to their new lifestyle.
The story of Jessica’s recovery genuinely portrayed the emotional toll of losing both limbs. Downes spoke on his wife’s recovery process. “It was stripping her of so many different things," he said. “Your idea of future changes. Really, it’s an identity crisis.”
One of the main goals of the later portion of the documentary was to bring attention to the public’s flawed understanding of terrorism. David Abel, a staff writer for the Boston Globe, discussed how most people falsely assume that these terrorists are “funneling into the Unites States” from the Middle East.
As for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the “Boston Marathon” bomber sentenced to death, Abel explained, “He is homegrown. This can happen to anybody that has a computer.”
Downes continually stressed throughout the film how unaware most people are about the threat of terrorism. He prompted, “What do we learn from this?” He then conveyed the necessity to be more prepared and conscious for the future.
The documentary concluded with footage of Downes crossing the finish line at the 2016 Boston Marathon, becoming the first amputee from the bombing to finish the marathon on foot. Celeste Corcoran, who lost both of her legs in the bombing, declared, “That finish line had always been a happy place, and they took that from us. We claimed it back this year.”
The night ended with Downes answering questions from the audience and discussing what he wants people to take away from both the documentary and his story. He added that he wanted to make the documentary as honest as possible so that people will be more cognizant during times of terror in the future. He “felt it was important for the public to see what happens in the immediate aftermath of terror.”
Downes concluded by acknowledging how important his time and education at Boston College was to his recovery, reiterating the value of the BC community and the obligation people everywhere, including college students, have to supporting those in recovery.
Former classmates of Downes started the BC Strong Scholarship in a show of support for him and his family. The scholarship is meant to support the education of students with financial need and disabilities, and has raised over $250,000 as of September. Donations can be made here.