Charles Krupa Associated Press First lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama listen Thursday during an interfaith service of healing in Boston.

President praises Boston's resilience after attack

Published: Friday, Apr. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 - 6:41 am

BOSTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday celebrated this city's resilience in the face of a bomb attack that upended the legendary Boston Marathon and rattled much of the country, pledging that runners will return to the streets of an unbowed city next year.

"We may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we'll pick ourselves up," Obama said at the close of an interfaith service aimed at bringing some healing to a city still reeling from the explosions Monday that tore apart runners and spectators at the finish line less than a mile from where he spoke. Three people were killed and nearly 200 wounded.

"We'll keep going," he said. "We will finish the race."

His remarks at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross came in a week of jarring news that included the assault in Boston, the threat of poisonous mail sent to Congress and the White House, and a devastating explosion of a fertilizer plant in Texas.

Obama focused on Boston, calling it the country's "beloved city." He noted that he'd gone to school "across the river" – at Harvard Law School – and that he and first lady Michelle Obama, who also attended Harvard, had walked its streets.

"Boston may be your hometown, but we claim it, too," Obama said. "It's one of America's iconic cities."

He called for a return to life, likening the city to marathon runners such as Bill Iffrig, the 78-year-old man who was knocked off his feet by the blast but kept running, and Dick Hoyt, who pushed his son Rick, who has disabilities, in a custom-made wheelchair as the two participated in their 31st Boston Marathon.

"This time next year, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon," Obama said to a standing ovation.

He promised the perpetrators of the attack, whom he called "small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build," that they'd be held accountable.

"Yes, we will find you, and yes, you will face justice," the president said. "But more than that, our fidelity to our way of life – to our free and open society – will only grow stronger."

Obama offered personal tributes to the three people who died in the explosions, and he and Michelle Obama met before the service with the family of one of them, Krystle Campbell, 29, a Medford, Mass., native.

He and the first lady later visited two of the Boston hospitals that are treating the injured, meeting with the wounded, their families and some of the nurses and physicians who worked around the clock to care for them.

The president also shook hands and offered hugs to first responders and marathon volunteers who crowded into Cathedral High School near the prayer service. Many had run toward the explosion to help the wounded, and Obama said at the service that they'd shown "that in face of evil, Americans will lift up what's good."

Sally Koen, 72, who volunteered at her 27th marathon Monday, was at the finish line when the explosions went off, and she said she had been unable to shake the anguish.

"I couldn't make it go away," the Beverly resident said. "We needed this closure. We needed the hope."

Some of the loudest applause at the cathedral was for Boston's longtime mayor, Thomas Menino, who stood at the pulpit after lifting himself from the wheelchair he's used since he broke his leg in a fall last week.

"I have never loved (Boston), its people, more than I do today," said Menino, who recently announced plans to retire.

He saluted those who "felt the blast and still raced to the smoke," runners and spectators who took the shirts off their backs to fashion tourniquets for the wounded, residents who "opened their doors and hearts to the weary and the scared" and first responders who "calmed a city in crisis."

He eulogized the three who died, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, a "little boy with a big heart." And he thanked the world for its "prayers and wishes," singling out Boston's baseball nemesis, the New York Yankees, who played the Red Sox anthem "Sweet Caroline" Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

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