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Steeple bell ringer sees music helping Boston heal

Published April 18, 2013 3:39 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As 85-year-old Mary O'Kane strained at the bell ropes in the steeple of historic Arlington Street Church, she imagined the sounds spreading a healing across her city — and the land.

Sprinkled amid hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "A Mighty Fortress," patriotic tunes like "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America" wafted down from the 199-foot steeple and over Boston Common across the street. O'Kane, known to parishioners as "Woody the bell ringer," hoped President Barack Obama, who was attending a service at a nearby Catholic cathedral, might hear them and be comforted, as she was.

"I feel joyful. I feel worshipful. I feel glad to be alive," she said, casting a sideways glance two blocks down, where twin bombs shattered the triumph of the Boston Marathon on Monday. "Eastern philosophy believes a lot in vibrations. And it's certainly vibration that the bells send out all over the place."

O'Kane, who has been playing the 16-bell carillon since 1981, was at her home on Beacon Hill reading a book when the pressure-cooker bombs exploded, killing three people and wounding nearly 200 more. But her shock soon turned to pride, as she watched the response from the city, and the nation.

"This is a fantastic town," she said. "I've seen ads everywhere since then: 'I'll sleep with a friend and you can have my bed if you're stranded.' 'I have an extra bedroom, an extra bed.'"

Between songs, she stared out the window, in hopes of catching a glimpse of Air Force One. Sirens wailed in the street below.

Suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, O'Kane had to rest between pulling on the plastic coated ropes — anchored to eyebolts in the plaster-strewn window sill, each marked with a yellow wooden number.

O'Kane doesn't know whether the president heard her concert. But Casey Haflord, who works in a real estate office two doors down, found the music comforting.

"It makes me smile just talking about it right now," she said as she stood beneath the brownstone edifice, completed in 1861, the year the Civil War began. "I'm proud to be from here. I grew up here, I work here. I walk down Boylston Street every day. It's just nice to hear."

O'Kane said she now has a tiny sense of what it might be like to live in the Middle East, where such events are commonplace. And it gives her pause.

"Maybe we might think before we do more of those drone things, you know?" she said. "Knocking out a whole apartment complex to get at a suspected Taliban or something like that."

O'Kane believes the city will come through this, stronger than ever. But she feels a new kinship with New Yorkers, and saddened by yet another bit of innocence lost.

"I mean, it happened — it finally happened," she said sadly. "We were feeling sort of immune. Now we're just a part of everybody — more a part of everybody. The same expectations and fears." Correction: Boston Marathon-Explosions story

In a story April 17 on the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing, The Associated Press erroneously reported, citing a law enforcement official who insisted on anonymity, that a suspect was in custody and was expected at the federal courthouse. The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Boston said shortly after the AP report that no arrests had been made. There have been no subsequent indications that the anonymous official's account was true. Stories of casualties in Boston Marathon bombing

The twin bombs at the Boston Marathon killed Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old Boston University student from China; 8-year-old spectator Martin Richard; and 29-year-old spectator Krystle Campbell. But it also injured more than 170 people: runners, couples, spectators, children. Some are in grave condition; some lost limbs or senses; all their lives will be forever touched by the bombings. Here are some of their stories.


Celeste Corcoran is a hairstylist on upscale Newbury Street, not far from the site of the bombing. Her daughter, Sydney, 17, is a senior at Lowell High School.

Celeste lost both legs below the knee and Sydney has severe injuries as well, cousin Alyssa Carter said in a fundraising page set up at GoFundMe.com. The page had raised more than $277,000 by Thursday morning.

Family members said Celeste was being incredibly positive. Her sister, Carmen Acabbo, told WJAR-TV that Celeste joked she "would be a hairstylist on wheels now."

Sydney has been through tough times before. She was hit by a car while crossing a street less than two years ago and fought to recover from a fractured skull, the Lowell Sun reported.

Nurses at Boston Medical Center were ultimately able to get the mother and daughter into the same hospital room.

"Their beds are pushed together," Carter wrote, "so they can hold hands."


Eleven-year-old Aaron Hern was there with his father, Alan, and little sister, Abby, to cheer on his mother, Katherine, in her first Boston Marathon when the bomb went off. After initially becoming separated, Alan found his son lying injured on the ground with leg wounds.

"He was conscious. He talked to me and said, 'My leg really hurts, Daddy,' but he was being pretty brave," Alan Hern told KGO-TV.

The family is from Martinez, Calif., and Alan Hern is the Alhambra High School varsity football coach, KGO reported.

Aaron remained in critical condition at Boston Children's Hospital on Wednesday and underwent three to four hours of surgery on his leg, the hospital said.

His mother said in a note posted online by Kiwanis Club of Martinez that Aaron was trying harder and harder to communicate through a touchpad. She said it was stressful because he was starting to remember everything and getting upset.

The mother of Aaron's best friend, Katherine Chapman, told The San Francisco Chronicle that Aaron was an outgoing and fun-loving kid.

"A tough cookie, an athlete and a scholar. He gets good grades and participates in every sport and is good at everything he does. He's one of those kids that everybody loves," she said.

His 12th birthday is May 1.


Patrick and Jessica Downes married in August. According to an email sent to friends, Patrick had surgery Wednesday and is out of intensive care, while Jessica was in surgery. Both lost their left leg below the knee, and Jessica was in danger of losing her remaining foot.

Friends who set up a page at GiveForward.com to raise money for the couple's expenses said they first started dating in 2006.

Patrick graduated from Boston College and was so well-behaved in high school that he was nicknamed "Jesus." They described him as the "ultimate Boston boy."

"He has that accent that makes it impossible to tell if he's saying 'parking' or 'packing,' he's no more than two degrees of separation from Whitey Bulger (or so he claims), and he cried his eyes out when the Sox finally won the World Series," the site said.

Jessica, described as a sassy California girl, is a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"She has the spirit of a lion," the site said.

A spokesman for GiveForward.com said the page got so many hits Wednesday that it crashed.


Jarrod Clowery and his friends were cheering on spectators when he heard the first explosion.

"I got this feeling that we need to get into the street," Clowery said.

Clowery, 35, a carpenter, hopped over one of the metal barricades that separates spectators on the sidewalk from runners on the course when the second blast went off behind him.

"Because I was elevated on the railing, I think I avoided major, major injury," Clowery said, adding that his friends were injured much more severely.

Clowery said his hearing was diminished by about 85 percent. He has shrapnel embedded in the back of his leg and suffered flash burns.

"The Lord was watching over me, somebody was watching over me," Clowery said. "And I feel very blessed."


John Odom's daughter, Nicole Reis, was running the marathon as a member of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation Marathon team, and he was there to support her. Her husband, Matt Reis, is the goalie for Major League Soccer's New England Revolution.

Odom was around 10 feet away from the first bomb when it went off, Matt Reis told reporters at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Wednesday, where he visited to thank teammates for their support. Odom remained in critical condition and had undergone three surgeries in about 40 hours, he said.

"He hasn't really stabilized yet, and we're still hoping," he said. "He is progressing a little bit, but we're talking about footsteps here and not very big strides."


Heather Abbott, of Newport, R.I., was entering a bar with friends as the bomb went off. Her best friend, Jason Geremia, told WJAR-TV that everyone ran out the back. Once he got there, he realized Abbott wasn't with him. He turned to go back when he saw a bouncer carrying her down the stairs.

"I said, 'Give her to me. Give her to me.' And he was like, 'Do you know her?' I said, 'Yes, yes. That's my best friend.' I said, 'Give her to me.' He said, 'No, no, no. Look at her leg.' It was very tough to see that."

Her leg was severely injured. Another friend took off his belt, and they used it as a tourniquet.

Geremia spent much of Monday and Tuesday at the hospital, along with Abbott's parents, who are from Lincoln, R.I.

"It's very, very hard to see her," Geremia said.


Kevin White says the toughest part of being injured in the Boston Marathon bombing was not being able to find his parents.

White, 35, who lives in Boston and Chicago, suffered shrapnel injuries. His mother, Mary Jo, broke several bones, and his father, Bill, had his right foot amputated. They had just left a restaurant when the bomb exploded about 10 feet away.

White, who was released from Boston Medical Center on Wednesday, says he's looking forward to reuniting with his parents, who were sent to another hospital.

Some close family friends have an online fundraising drive to help the White family pay some of the hefty medical bills they are expected to confront during the months.

The initiative had generated more than $18,400 by late Wednesday, reaching in two days nearly its original goal of raising $20,000 in a month.

White said his family is very grateful but urged well-wishers to also donate to The One Fund Boston, the charity established to help all families affected by the bombings.






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