Survivors, families of victims, first responders and officials packed a Boston convention center Tuesday afternoon, not far from the marathon finish line where twin explosions ripped through the heart of the city a year ago.
In solemn speeches, some interspersed with occasional moments of levity, speakers praised first responders and expressed gratitude for others who have made a difference in Boston since the attack.
Thomas Menino, the former Boston mayor who was in office when the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, was greeted with a standing ovation at the memorial service. He made a promise to survivors — and poked a little fun at his heavy Boston accent.
"Now, I know some of you can't hear me very well, and it's not just because of the fancy way I talk," he said with a laugh. "It's because you lost some of your hearing that day. I want you to hear this solemn promise: When lights dim and cameras go away, know that our support and love for you will never waiver."
Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime friend of Menino's, assured him later in the service that his message got across.
"Tommy, I can tell you one thing: There's not a single person here whose heart you did not speak to," Biden said.
Survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who lost part of her left leg in the bombings, told the Hynes Convention Center auditorium that she was thankful for the friendships she had made with other survivors.
"No milestone is too small to celebrate," she said. "Even walking into a non-handicapped stall for the first time, doing a happy dance."
Another survivor, Patrick Downes, called the three people who died in the bombings "our guardian angels."
"Let's show them they live on in our bonds in family, friendship, and community," he said. "I am so proud to be a Bostonian because I am so proud to be connected to all of you."
Biden thanked the survivors of the attack for becoming "the face of America's resolve for the whole world to see," and praised their courage the exhibited before "twisted, cowardly terrorists."
"You're living proof that America can never, never, never be defeated. You are the proof of that assertion. So much has been taken from you, but you never, ever gave up," he said.
Biden said 36,000 people are registered to run the 2014 Boston Marathon next Monday, Patriots' Day.
"You will send a resounding message around the world, not just to the rest of the world, but to the terrorists that we will never yield. We will never cower," he said. "We are Boston. We are America. We respond. We endure. We overcome. And we own the finish line."
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh discussed what a close-knit community Boston is in his speech at the memorial.
"It felt like we knew everyone who was hurt, everyone who was suffering," he said. "Our grief draws a painful map and in the darkest hour of that night, we looked to our first responders, who are always our beacon of hope."
The solemn day of remembrance started around 8 a.m., when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Walsh laid wreaths in front of the bombing sites, along with the families of the three people who died in the blasts — Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and Martin Richard.
Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley led a silent prayer in remembrance of the victims Tuesday morning. Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace." Jane and Henry Richard, brother and sister to Martin Richard — at 8 years old, the youngest of those killed — laid a wreath at the race's finish line. Jane lost a leg in the attack; Henry sustained shrapnel wounds.
In addition to the three who were killed, more than 260 were hurt when the two bombs detonated seconds apart near the finish line. A fourth person, Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, was killed in the aftermath of the blasts as a manhunt ensued for the suspects.
After the memorial, the crowd headed to the finish line as rain fell for a moment of silence at 2:49 p.m.: the time the explosions occurred.
Signs of remembrance lined Boylston Street on Tuesday morning, with some restaurants near the finish line tying blue and yellow ribbons to the gates of their patios. Flowers had been placed at the mailbox outside Forum restaurant, the site of the second bomb, and the last business to re-open after the marathon last year.
Wind blew strong enough to stiffen the flags flying at half-staff along the last few blocks of the marathon course.
Denis Sullivan, a member of the Boston Fire Department, stood guard at the memorial wreath.
"You just think about everything that happened last year," he said. "It's on your mind."
President Barack Obama released a statement on the bombings on Tuesday praising those who helped last year.
"The most vivid images from that day were not of smoke and chaos, but of compassion, kindness and strength: A man in a cowboy hat helping a wounded stranger out of harm's way; runners embracing loved ones, and each other; an EMT carrying a spectator to safety," he said. "One year later, we also stand in awe of the men and women who continue to inspire us - learning to stand, walk, dance and run again."
Authorities say two brothers planned the attack, and days later, shot and killed Collier while attempting to steal his gun. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died after a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and is awaiting his trial. He faces the possibility of the death penalty.
First published April 15 2014, 8:15 AM