Boston suspect’s arrest marks end of bruising week in America

Residents are evacuated as FBI agents search homes for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in Watertown, Massachusetts April 19, 2013.
Residents are evacuated as FBI agents search homes for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in Watertown, Massachusetts April 19, 2013.
Reuters/Brian Snyder

It’s a bad week when an Elvis impersonator tries to kill the president with a biological weapon and it doesn’t even make it into the top three headlines.

As cheers erupted in Boston Friday night, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief—not just over the end of an intense manhunt that paralyzed a major metropolitan area—but also for an end to a bruising week in America.

Monday began as a hopeful spring day but was shattered by the afternoon with twin explosions at the Boston Marathon. It was the most significant act of terrorism on U.S. soil in a decade and many wondered whether it marked a return to a post-Sept. 11, 2001 era of fear. On Tuesday, the world learned that one of the victims of the attacks was an eight-year-old boy.

On Wednesday, the parents of other children lost to senseless violence in a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. were stunned when Senate Republicans successfully blocked any gun control legislation. Polls show 90% of the public support expanded background checks, and there was reason to believe such provisions would pass until a growing list of Republicans and red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014 made clear they would vote “no.”

Standing at the White House with former congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, President Obama called it ”a pretty shameful day for Washington.”  If only the week had ended there.

By the afternoon, a Mississippi resident named Paul Kevin Curtis, who found work as an Elvis impersonator, was arrested for sending ricin-laced letters to Obama and to Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican. Authorities intercepted both letters, which initially tested positive for the biotoxin. According to the FBI, the letters were postmarked on the same date from Memphis, Tenn., and signed “I am KC and I approve this message.”

Curtis’s brother Jack later released a statement on behalf of the family, saying they had not been shown any evidence about Kevin’s involvement, but that “we are, however, far too familiar with Kevin’s lengthy history of mental illness.” Kevin had been diagnosed as bipolar, and when he took medication, said the family’s statement, he was “a loving, compassionate person.” But he sometimes refused to take the medication. “Sadly, we have been informed there is no legal way for us to force him to follow his doctors’ instructions,” Jack wrote.

Then came a mass explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas which shot fire and noxious chemicals into the air, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 160. The plant was near a nursing home and a school, raising troubling questions about public safety and the environment.

On Thursday, Obama resumed the role of Healer-in-Chief at an emotional inter-faith service in Boston, reprising themes of resilience and resolve in the face of tragedy, honed through memorials in Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., and most recently, Newtown, Conn. He paid tribute to 8-year-old Martin Richard’s “big smile and bright eyes,” and reflected on a heartbreaking photograph ubiquitous on television and social media this week: Young Martin holding a blue poster board on which he’d scrawled the message “No more hurting people. Peace.”

When the service was over, and Air Force One was gone, the FBI made public photographs and video of two wanted suspects in the bombings and urged the public’s help. Within hours, two brothers were spotted on surveillance video at a convenience store in Cambridge, Mass., near where they lived. Over the next five hours, the suspects allegedly stole a car, killed a campus officer at MIT and then engaged in a stunning gunbattle with police on a residential street in the Boston suburb of Watertown.

By Friday morning, at 1:35am, one of the suspects—Tamerlan Tsarnaev—was pronounced dead, a transit cop was wounded, and the second suspect had fled. More than 5 million people woke to the news that they were under lockdown by state and federal authorities who ordered residents to stay inside, behind locked doors, away from windows, and not to let anyone in while officers combed a densely populated area for a heavily armed and dangerous man.

The fear of terrorism in the northeast that had laid dormant for more than a decade exploded back into the national consciousness when coordinated blasts rocked the finish line of the race and shattered the city’s century-old celebration of Patriot’s Day.

So it was with bitter disappointment that many residents watched a Friday afternoon news conference in which law enforcement officials all but conceded they had few new leads. With so little to go on, they could no longer ask residents to continue to stay indoors and lifted the order. Then, just moments later and blocks away in Watertown, there was more gunfire and a mass police presence gathering around a home where an owner had spotted the suspect hiding in a boat in the backyard.

Word came just before 9 p.m. that authorities had positively identified and apprehended the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. Nineteen-year-old suspect Dhokhar Tsarnaev was taken to hospital in an ambulance and Boston area residents poured into the streets to cheer law enforcement.

Speaking from the White House briefing room late Friday, the president sought to focus on terrorism, but didn’t shy away from the loss of life in West, Texas.

“Even as so much attention has been focused on the tragic events in Boston, understandably, we’ve also seen a tight-knit community in Texas devastated by a terrible explosion” Obama said. “And I want them to know that they are not forgotten. Our thoughts, our prayers are with the people of West, Texas, where so many good people lost their lives; some lost their homes; many are injured; many are still missing.”

The events had clearly worn on the president and, he suspected, on the nation too.  ”All in all, this has been a tough week,”  Obama said. “But we’ve seen the character of our country once more.  And as President, I’m confident that we have the courage and the resilience and the spirit to overcome these challenges.”

Boston suspect's arrest marks end of bruising week in America