After Marathon tragedy, outpour of support from MIT

Community raises over $110,000 for recovery, gathers for memorial to honor first responders

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Students tied well-wished messages to flowers set up by the organizers of the commemoration event held on Kresge lawn Wednesday afternoon.
Meng Heng Touch—The Tech
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Boylston St. remained blocked off Wednesday evening after Monday’s bombings. Blue and yellow flowers, representing the colors of the Boston Marathon, were tucked into the barricade near a makeshift memorial.
Ethan a. Solomon—The Tech
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The Green Building at MIT was lit with the pattern of the American Flag on the night of April 15, 2013.
Ho Yin Au—The Tech
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“Playing the bagpipes helps me get over bad times,” John Graham ‘16 said after he played “Amazing Grace” on the banks of the Charles River, in tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon attacks earlier that same day. Two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring over a hundred people.
Ho Yin Au—The Tech
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Following a “reflection” held on Kresge Lawn Wednesday afternoon, members of the MIT community sign cards for hospitals and first responders to the Boston Marathon tragedy. The reflection, hosted by Students at MIT Allied for Student Health (SMASH), featured speeches by Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 and Institute Chaplain Robert Randolph.
Melissa Renée Schumacher—The Tech

Monday’s marathon bombings took a heavy emotional toll on MIT. While no students or faculty at MIT were physically injured at by the attack, the stories that have since emerged show that the bombings have still deeply hurt many in the MIT community. But through the tragedy, we’ve seen the Institute’s strength through stories of inspiration, hope, and community.

Many from MIT were friends, sons, or neighbors of the victims of the explosion that killed three people and injured over 170. Others rushed to the scene in the face of danger or opened up their homes to strangers in need. Since Monday, the community has pulled together to support victims in significant, meaningful, and varied ways.

“Anything we can do to make your life easier?”

In the past two days, the community has gathered to support two of its own — Richard T. Whalley, whose parents are both in the ICU, and Chris Peterson G, a close friend of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who was killed by the explosion on Monday.

Peterson found immediate support from his classmates, colleagues, and administrators. “I was immediately contacted by someone from the Office of the Dean of Graduate Education and by faculty members and administrators, who were basically like, what do you need, do you need anything, is there anything we can do to make your life easier. And that’s been really wonderful,” Peterson said. “The administrative support thus far has been really terrific. And the community support from my classmates and colleagues has been terrific. And made what would be otherwise a hard time somewhat easier.”

When Peterson’s friends and colleagues at the Center for Civic Media found out about the death and Peterson’s relationship with it, they helped Peterson create a website so that people who wanted to help the Richard family could have a way to donate money to the family.

“The Richards had not asked for help, but a lot of people had asked how they could help the Richards,” Peterson said. “There’s nothing that people can do or give that will bring Martin back, but there are things that people can do or help the rest of the family make sure that they don’t have other things to worry about, that they can help smooth what is going to be a long, hard road for the family.”

Peterson sent an email to a circle of friends shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday, and in less than 90 minutes, they raised nearly $12,000. As of press time today, they have raised over $47,500.

“It’s more important that you give than to whom you give. But if you were struck by [Richard’s] story, if you want to help, you can go and donate. And the most important thing is that you remember what Martin wrote on that poster that everyone’s seen, which is just to stop hurting people. Because that would be the best way to remember him,” Peterson said.

“Really, really incredible to see strangers who don’t necessarily know the Whalley family directly but feel the need to be helping out.”

Richard T. Whalley ’10 was at work in Cambridge when the explosion went off. He tried to reach his parents who had gone to watch the marathon, but he wasn’t able to get a hold of them. Later, his brother showed him a photo on Reddit — he had found their dad. Their father was covered in blood and in a wheelchair.

Whalley started calling area hospitals to find his parents. But because of registration errors, he wasn’t able to find them right away. After posting about his situation on Facebook, ten friends helped call hospitals to track his parents down. Both of Whalley’s parents suffered serious injuries and are now in the ICU.

Whalley’s friends, co-worker James E. White ’10 and Media Lab research assistant Praveen Subramani ’10, wanted to help Whalley and his family in a more long-term way. They launched a GiveForward campaign Wednesday morning, and by press time today, they raised over $64,000 from over 1300 donors.

“It’s amazing, and to be honest, I didn’t expect it to pull together quite like it has. I was very lucky to be not only part of the MIT community, but this group called the Startup Leadership Program,” Whalley said. “They acted and organized this on a short time scale and promoted it via Facebook and the Internet and other media.”

Even though it was obvious that Whalley was hurting, one of the first things he said was that he wanted to encourage MIT students to help other victims and their families. White said that he and Subramani are working to find a way to channel extra money to others in need and that anything left over will be given to funds for other victims.

“The pace with which [the campaign] has exploded has been incredible. A huge part of that has been due to the fact that we had dozens and dozens of people asking us how they can help and how they can help share the word through their networks,” Subramani said. “Given the fact that we had the MIT community behind us and Rich’s Startup Leadership Program, they all helped us get the word out.”

People, both at MIT and elsewhere, have offered the Whalley brothers apartments to stay in, cars to borrow, and food. The Harvard School of Public Health gave Whalley and his brother an apartment to stay in while their parents are in the hospital.

“It’s been a huge amount of support that the family is receiving from the community at large which has been really fantastic,” Subramani said. “We’d love to just say thank you to everyone from MIT who has helped and all the larger community members. I’ve been reading all the messages and a huge number have been from MIT, people from the incoming class of 2017 and it’s really, really incredible to see strangers who don’t necessarily know the Whalley family directly but feel the need to be helping out.”

“The kind of man and American I am is that I want to help when there is danger or a crisis like this.”

Bruce Mendelsohn was at a party on the 3rd floor of 667 Boylston Street to celebrate his brother’s marathon run. For a hundredth of a second after the first bomb went off, Mendelsohn thought it was a tribute to someone finishing the marathon. But he quickly realized that it was a bomb or some sort of explosion that wasn’t planned.

After making sure everyone in the room got away from the window, Mendelsohn raced down three flights of stairs and ran out the door. Mendelsohn, Director of Communications for the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program (GEL), was in the military from 1990 to 1993, and his training kicked in almost immediately.

“I thought of the guys I worked with in law enforcement when I was in Washington DC. I thought of the students at MIT and the leadership program that I work in, and I kind of thought, well, what would they expect me to do? What would they do if they were in a similar circumstance? They would rush towards, not away,” Mendelsohn said. “I thought that the kind of man and American I am is that I want to help when there is danger or a crisis like this. And I think that’s really what separates us from these people, whoever they were — I have no idea, and quite frankly, I don’t care, but these people, whoever they are, they want to destroy our way of life. And when we have citizens who rush in and imperil their lives, then that personifies Americans.”

Mendelsohn helped tie a tourniquet on a young woman, reunited a mother and her young son, and helped people into wheelchairs. He helped alongside other first responders until an officer asked him to leave.

“Now that it’s all sinking in, I’m proud of what I did, but I wish I could have done more,” Mendelsohn said.

“I know MIT will be a stronger place because we’ll come together as a community to support each other.”

The sun shined brightest this week on Wednesday. About 400 people gathered on Kresge Oval to reflect on the Boston Marathon and sign posters for first responders and hospitals in the area. Chancellor Eric Grimson and Chaplain Robert Randolph’s speeches were short, but their message was clear — they encouraged students to “move from this tragedy to making this world over.”

Grimson encouraged students to start training for next year’s marathon. “If you want, you can start training now for next year’s Boston Marathon so that MIT has a huge contingent of runners of all shapes and sizes — some of us need it more than others. But we get out there to show that this will not change a wonderful event.”

Prior to and following the speeches, hundreds of students and faculty lined up to sign table after table of posters with thanks and encouragement for first responders and hospitals in the area. “Thank you.” “Peace + Love to you.” “Be safe, be well, be strong.”