Thousands pay tribute in Boston

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BOSTON -- An emotional year of recovery from the Boston Marathon bombings continued Tuesday with a stirring tribute to the victims, survivors and all those who helped the city overcome the tragic events of April 15, 2013.

With the families of the three fatalities of the bombings and the slain Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer sitting in the front row of the event hall at Hynes Convention Center, there were speeches from survivors, dignitaries and elected officials, as well as musical interludes led by the Boston Pops Esplanade and the Boston Children's Chorus.

Later, a ceremony in Copley Square included a moment of silence, a flag raising at the marathon's finish line and the toll of church bells at 2:50 p.m., the moment the first bomb went off one year ago.

The theme was set by the first speaker, the Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, who began by uttering the words, "There is a rising."

The reference, of course, was to the community's remarkable rise from the ashes as well as each survivor's personal journey from pain and sadness to triumph and resolve.

"There is no way to walk to Boylston Street without being reminded of the evil spilling of precious blood, the hateful strike on a world treasure," Walker said. "But we are also reminded of the amazing capacity of the human spirit to rise in heroism, compassion and sacrifice.

"An ascension of the human spirit, left to its own devices, its divine design, it will rise, despite anything, despite everything."

Walker was the first to reference the four fatalities by name. She touched on the remarkable qualities of Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell, Sean Collier and 8-year-old Martin Richard, qualities their loved ones retain in their memories.

Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk took the stage to acknowledge first responders, medical professionals, marathon volunteers and elected officials. Grilk had each group stand so that the individuals could be seen and showered with applause in the spirit of the day.

The next rousing ovation came for former mayor Thomas Menino, who memorably left the hospital where he was recuperating from surgery on a broken leg to be a part of the immediate recovery a year ago. Menino said that April 15, 2013, will forever be a difficult day but that the community he adores will always be strong.

"Although the memories still bring tears to our eyes, our heart aches for those who were lost, it still is a comfort to be here with family and friends who got us through that tragic day," Menino said.

Menino called the area around the finish line a "broken place" but one that brought out the greatest qualities in Bostonians.

"That strength thrives ... because of the compassion that resides in this city, the generosity that resides in our people," he said. "It's the heartbeat of Boston. It's a mighty force."

Menino later took a moment to poke fun at his manner of speaking, which has caused some to strain to hear him over the years. He wondered if that, along with the hearing loss sustained by some of those near the blasts, would make his words hard to comprehend.

The former mayor urged the throng to lean in a bit closer, as if leading story time at the local library, and asked it to listen in.

"I want you to hear this solemn promise," he began. "When the lights are dim, know that our support and love for you will never waver. Whatever you have to do to recover and carry on, know that the people of Boston and I are right there by your side."

Long before the ceremonies began, acts of remembrance took place. Wreathes were laid where the bombs went off on Boylston Street, with family members of those lost in the blasts taking part. Throughout the day, representatives of law enforcement units from around the state took turns flanking the wreathes.

Twenty-six miles away and several hours earlier, the Norden brothers, Paul and J.P., who both lost their right legs in the second explosion, began a relay march to the city with friends and family. They made stops along the way to say hello to onlookers and reconnect with those who have helped them recover.

Others who were injured graced the stage at the convention center, providing some of the more poignant words of the two-hour event. First up was Patrick Downes, who lost his left leg in the attacks -- as did his wife.

Downes discussed the "humbling" degree of love that he and fellow survivors have received over the past year. He said he would not wish the trials of recovery on anyone, but he sees merit in the triumphs.

"We do wish that all of you, at some point in your lives, feel as loved as we have felt over this last year," Downes said.

He also took comfort in knowing, even if only in spirit, the four "guardian angels" that were lost a year ago.

"We will carry them in our hearts," he said. "To their families, know that you will never be alone. We remember those who died as pieces of us. The intellectual charm of Lingzi. Sean's commitment to justice. Krystle's infectious smile. And the childhood charm of Martin. We will choose to think of them not in association with hate, but forever connected to our commitment to peace.

"Peace. That will be their lasting message to us."

Downes provided a fitting summation of what many have learned about Boston in the past 365 days.

"We no longer have to think philosophically about the compassion of the human spirit," he said. "It is right here in the city of Boston."

Survivor David Yepez and his father, Luis, thanked the first responders. Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who has made headlines for returning to her craft with a prosthetic leg, reminded the masses to enjoy every second with their loved ones.

"Something in your life, in anyone's life, can go horrifically, terribly wrong in a matter of seconds," she said. "Yet it is up to us to make every single second count after, because believe me, they do."

Mayor Marty Walsh said he recently was going through old pictures when he came upon some from a neighborhood gathering he hosted at his Dorchester home a few years ago. In the background of one was the smiling face of Martin Richard. Walsh said it stopped him cold but also provided a reminder of the resilience of the Richard family, as well as those of others who lost relatives and friends.

Gov. Deval Patrick discussed the community formed through the events and aftermath of April 15, 2013.

"There are no strangers here," Patrick said.

Finally, Vice President Joe Biden took the stage, speaking slowly at first.

"I've never, never, never witnessed a tribute like I've heard today," Biden said. "Jill and I are honored to be asked back. Let me say to those survivors, my God you have survived and soared. ... I mean it sincerely, just to hear each of you speak, you are truly inspiring. I've never heard anything so beautiful as what all of you just said."

While noting Boston's strength over the past year, Biden reminded the city that it is not alone and that the rest of America is there in support. At the same time, Biden said, Boston has set an example for the country to live by.

"You are the face of America's resolve," he said.

Biden also discussed the state of terrorism and the goals of the "twisted, cowardly" individuals who choose to engage in such acts.

"It infuriates them that we refuse to bend, refuse to change, refuse to yield to fear," Biden said, the volume of his voice increasing.

Just before the delegation made its way to the finish line and the scene of such horror one year earlier, Biden helped Bostonians reclaim a precious piece of land.

"We own the finish line," he said.

As rain fell and wind blew through the Back Bay, hundreds left the convention center and strolled under umbrellas toward the finish line to help reclaim that territory. With law enforcement officials lining Boylston Street and the stands in front of the Boston Public Library packed, relatives of victims emerged -- followed by Menino, Biden, Walsh, Patrick and Grilk -- and took spots in front of the finish line.

There, they stood at attention in the rain to take in a rendition of "God Bless America" by noted tenor Ronan Tynan. Then came a moment of silence and bells tolled from the Old South Church, just steps from the finish line. An American flag was pulled skyward as the crowd sang the national anthem. MBTA transit police officer Richard Donohue Jr. helped raise the flag high above what Menino labeled as "hallowed ground."

Indeed, a year removed from the unthinkable, there was a rising.

Tony Lee is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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