BOSTON — Carlos Arredondo ran across Boylston Street, jumped the security fence and landed on a sidewalk smeared in blood. In front of him, two women lay motionless. Another woman walked around in black-powder smoke, looking down at the fallen bodies.
“Oh, my God,” he said she repeated, dazed. “Oh, my God.”
Arredondo had been a Boston Marathon spectator, carrying a camera and a small American flag. He dropped the flag. He took four pictures — focusing on a young man crumpled on the sidewalk. The man had a blank expression, and a leg that was only bone below the knee.
Then Arredondo put the camera away. He asked the injured man his name.
“Stay still,” he remembered saying, in accented English. “The ambulance is here.”
In the moments after Monday’s bomb attacks, there were bystanders who defied human instinct — and official orders to evacuate — and ran toward the smoke, instead of away.
There was a Kansas doctor who ran back to help after completing 26.2 miles. A District native who ran down from a post-race party to apply tourniquets. A couple who tried to stop a stranger’s bleeding with a wad of coffee-shop napkins.
And, most astoundingly, there was Arredondo — a man once so broken by grief that his breaking made national news.
First, his son died in Iraq. Then, when Marines came to tell him so, Arredondo set himself on fire inside the Marines’ van. Then, years later, as he was healing, his other son committed suicide.
But Monday — for some reason — when the bombs went off, the broken man came running.
“I did my duty,” Arredondo said the next morning.
In the aftermath of Monday’s explosions, much of the early lifesaving was performed by amateurs: Boston cops, marathon volunteers, plain old bystanders. They tied tourniquets and carried away the injured in wheelchairs or in arms.
On Tuesday, local hospitals said this work — along with the efforts of professional medics on the scene — probably saved lives.
“Tourniquets are a difference-maker. Tourniquets can save a life,” said Joseph Blansfield, a nurse practitioner and program manager at the Boston Medical Center trauma unit, which saw a large influx of patients from the scene. “They proved their value yesterday.”
The man in the wheelchair
Arredondo became the face of this bystander heroism after news photos showed him pushing an injured man down the street in a wheelchair. At the time of the first explosion, he was on the opposite side of Boylston Street, close to the finish line. He had come to support a group of military service members who were marching the race with heavy rucksacks on, as a memorial to fallen soldiers.
One was marching for Alex Arredondo, who was killed in 2004 in Najaf, Iraq. Carlos Arredondo and his wife, Melida, were waiting for that runner. They never saw him.
“That was a bomb,” Arredondo said he thought as soon as it happened. Soon, he arrived at the side of the man without a leg. So did another bystander, who seemed to know what he was doing.
The other bystander asked for tourniquets. Arredondo said he tore pieces off a sweater he had found on the ground.
While the other man tied them on, Arredondo talked to the victim and tried to block the man’s view of his own legs. A native of Costa Rica, Arredondo had some training in this situation — he had been a firefighter and helped to rescue gored bullfighters in the ring.
“You’re okay,” he remembered saying to the injured man on Monday. “Relax.”
Somebody else appeared with an empty wheelchair. An angel, Arredondo thought later. Arredondo put the injured man in the seat. The man had ash in his hair. They wheeled him away, bypassing the medical tent. The man was too badly hurt for that.
“Ambulance! Ambulance! Ambulance!” Arredondo said he yelled.
As they went, one tourniquet slipped off. The blood flowed again. Arredondo grabbed the tourniquet and wrenched it tight. Finally, they found an ambulance.
“What’s his name?” the medic asked Arredondo. Arredondo had forgotten, he said. He asked the man again. Somehow, the wounded man was still calm enough to start spelling it out, to be sure they got it right.
The ambulance doors closed. The man was gone. So what was his name?
“I can’t remember,” Arredondo said Tuesday. He didn’t know what became of him.
The man was later identified as Jeff Bauman Jr. in an Associated Press report. Bauman, 27, lost both legs, the report said.
On Tuesday, Melida was taking his phone calls in a rowhouse in the Roslindale section of Boston. The messages filled up a page: Katie Couric. Fox News. A Boston police detective. Police later took away Arredondo’s clothes as evidence and looked at his pictures from the scene.