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Federal and local authorities in Massachusetts continue to investigate the explosions at the Boston Marathon. In Washington, law enforcement agencies are boosting security around landmarks and Metro. Kojo explores local and national reactions to yesterday’s events in Boston, and connects with a journalist from Washington who reported on the scene after running the race.
- Vernon Loeb Local Editor, The Washington Post; participant, 2013 Boston Marathon
- Ron Pavlik Chief, Metro Transit Police Department
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the shifting mission of the Central Intelligence Agency, we'll talk about the past, present and future of the CIA with author Mark Mazzetti.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, behind yesterday's bombings in Boston, there's much we still don't know about the explosions that wreaked havoc on the course of the Boston Marathon. At least three people are dead and more than 100 injured. Authorities are in the process of investigating who was responsible and how they managed to attack such a large public event in the middle of one of America's most vibrant cities.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis hour, we'll explore what things were like on the ground yesterday as the events happened and what people are doing in cities around the country and in Washington to ensure the safety of their citizens.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Vernon Loeb. He is local editor of The Washington Post. He ran in yesterday's Boston Marathon and reported from the scene after the explosions took place along the course. Vernon Loeb, thank you for joining us.
MR. VERNON LOEBYeah, my pleasure.
NNAMDIYou woke up Monday morning knowing it would be a very long day. You were one of the competitors in the marathon. But shortly after you finished that grueling 26.2-mile course, you were thrown back into action as a reporter. Where were you when the explosions struck? And what was your immediate reaction when you heard them?
LOEBYeah, I was about two or three blocks away. I had finished the race about 40 minutes before the bombs went off and, you know, I'd gotten my stuff so I had my cell phone luckily. When I heard these explosions, I thought to myself immediately, those are bombs.
LOEBThey were really loud, not the kinds of things you hear sometimes in cities when something backfires or, you know, there's some sort of mechanical explosion. And, you know, I covered, in the past, national security for The Post so bombings, spectacular bombings at mass events, you know, were not beyond my imagination.
LOEBSo I immediately said to myself, those are bombs and I think I sent Marty Baron, our editor, an email about two minutes later saying, I think two bombs just went off at the Boston Marathon.
NNAMDIBut at that point, one has to assume you were in a state of relative exhaustion yet you sprung into action as a reporter. Is it the kind of event that just causes you to get energy from well? You don't really know where.
LOEBYeah, absolutely. I mean, if you're a journalist and you hear bombs go off, no matter how tired you are, I think you really need to kind of spring into action. And running a marathon, even at the end, is a very exhilarating experience. Your body may be pretty beaten up by the time it's over, but your emotions are high. You're kind of juiced. You're psyched.
LOEBYou've just done something, you know, difficult. You've gotten through it. So it really wasn't any kind of great, you know, physical or journalistic feat to kind of shift gears at that point, at least not for me.
NNAMDIHow about all the people around you? The other runners, they're trying to navigate the crowd. They're trying to reconnect with family and friends or make it through a sea of people to get out of the crowd and back to somewhere maybe where they can sit down and recuperate.
NNAMDIThe explosions went off right on top of that scene. How did the people around you react?
LOEBWell, you know, it was basically pandemonium. I mean, obviously, we've all seen the video from the carnage on Boylston Street and interestingly, I think I was interviewing the health commissioner of Boston a few minutes ago and she was making the point that more people didn't die because the bombs went off in really close proximity to the medical tent of the Boston Marathon, which is, you know, just full of nurses and doctors and they were able to get to the scene immediately.
LOEBShe said they treated 90 people in half an hour and undoubtedly saved some lives. You can imagine if this happened out in the middle of nowhere where there were no medical personnel. But there were literally armies of doctors and nurses, like, right there near to the course so that was a great coincidence. Something the terrorists had not planned on, apparently.
LOEBThe scene around the race, normally it's an incredibly soulful, exuberant moment for thousands of runners, their families, their friends. You know, the runners are finishing, crossing the finish line at, you know, in large numbers. There are tens of thousands of people waiting for them. There are probably hundreds of thousands of spectators along the course.
LOEBSo if you wanted to hit an iconic event with lots of people this was the one to hit. And after the bombs went off, there were still, like, I think, 4,000 runners out on the course. They were just stopped at about mile 25 and told to stop. Their gear, their bags were, you know, on the other side of the finish line so many of them, you know, could never really get back to their wallets, their cell phones, their clothes until this morning. They're just now delivering the final 1,500 bags to this sort of triage center they've set up.
LOEBSo this was, you know, hugely disruptive and just chaotic. People were lost. People couldn't find each other and very quickly a part of the city, Back Bay, Boston, you know, that probably had 50,000 or 100,000 people, turned into a crime scene with streets being closed off around people and they kept kind of pushing us back farther and farther away.
LOEBI happened to be near the Prudential Center, which is kind of right on the course and you know, for the first 15 or 20 minutes, they let us congregate sort of on the sidewalks outside the Prudential Center and then with sort of great alarm, they came out and said, this is not safe. You've got to keep moving back and I think by the time they were finished, they had 15 blocks cordoned off. At least by 6 o'clock last night, they had 15 blocks cordoned off.
LOEBAnd all of Boylston Street is still cordoned off. I can see it from my hotel window now. It's just one massive crime scene. Ed Davis, the Boston police commissioner, said it's the most complex crime scene in the city's history.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Vernon Loeb. He's the local editor of The Washington Post. He ran in yesterday's Boston Marathon. He reported from the scene after the explosions took place along the course. You mentioned earlier, Vernon, that you got in touch with your boss by email. I'm presuming you were using a cell phone at that point?
LOEBYeah, I had an iPhone and I could send emails. There was a, you know, an immediate wireless sort of meltdown. I couldn't get calls and I couldn't make calls, but I could send emails sort of sporadically. You might imagine, you know, with all those people there, the bandwidth necessary to accommodate all those, you know, communications and things were kind of frozen, but I was able to send emails.
NNAMDIAnd before -- you're still in Boston by the way, still reporting on this story. You say around Boylston Street, there's still a lot of investigating going on. What's the latest that you're hearing there?
LOEBYou know, I'm not -- I'm kind of reduced to street reporter, mood reporter so I'm, you know, just sort of watching TV like everybody else. It doesn't seem like some new information is coming out about the type of bombs that were used, which is obviously very meaningful...
LOEB...to investigators. It doesn't seem to me, or at least I haven't heard anything lately, that they have any active suspects right now.
NNAMDIOkay, Vernon Loeb, thank you so much for joining us.
LOEBThank you very much, Kojo, I appreciate it.
NNAMDIVernon Loeb joins us by phone from Boston. He is local editor of The Washington Post. He ran in yesterday's Boston Marathon. Joining us now by phone is Ron Pavlik. He is the chief of the Metro Transit Police. Ron Pavlik, thank you for joining us.
MR. RON PAVLIKGood afternoon, Kojo, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIChief Pavlik, transit systems across the country have beefed up security in light of what happened yesterday in Boston. What's your strategy here in the Washington area?
PAVLIKYeah, we have basically done the same thing. We've increased our uniform visibility. We increased the frequency of our canine patrols and the frequency of our anti-terrorism teams so we, too, have changed our posture a little bit and our customers have seen the difference.
NNAMDIWhat did yesterday's explosions reveal to you about the fundamental challenges of providing security in open public spaces like the streets on that marathon course or a sprawling transit network like the one that you police?
PAVLIKIt is challenging, as you stated. We are an open system so it is challenging whenever you have a soft open target like any mass transit situation is so we rely on our customers to help be our eyes and ears. We have over 10,000 employees that we ask for their assistance and then obviously the use of our police officers. So it is challenging, but it's something that we deal with on a regular basis.
NNAMDIIf you see something, say something. What should bus and rail passengers expect in the short term on your network especially on a day like today when people may be headed downtown for those Emancipation Day festivities?
PAVLIKYes, our customers should continue to see an increased police presence. So they should just continue to see our canine officers sweeping the stations, our anti-terrorism teams deployed so they're going to continue to see that high police presence throughout the day.
NNAMDIWhere are you directing people to go if they see suspicious activity? One of the things we've been hearing quite a bit in the past 24 hours is what I just said, if you see something, say something.
PAVLIKRight, the number is displayed on our digital screen boards outside our metro kiosks. We encourage everybody to put our direct police communication's phone number in their phone, which is 202-962-2121. They can report it through any 911 system and they can also report it directly to any Metro employee.
NNAMDIThe Washington Post mentioned in today's paper that you'd been considering increasing the frequency of bag checks for riders. What are your thoughts about bag checks now?
PAVLIKBag checks are just one of many ways in which we improve our ability to detect someone who might want to do you or me harm in our subway system so it's a tool that we're using. It is part of protecting our infrastructure and it's really not an inspection. I think it gets labeled kind of badly. It's not an intrusive search of someone's bag. We simply swab the outside of it looking for any explosive residue.
NNAMDIWhat guidance are you getting from both local and federal partners today? A lot of people are responsible for providing security in the district. One of the ongoing concerns is whether all of these agencies are coordinating.
PAVLIKIt is. Minutes after the blast, I was in touch with local regional police chiefs here in the national capital region and then shortly thereafter, I had conference calls with our federal partners. So the intelligence has been great. The information sharing has gone throughout the night and has resumed again this morning so it's been great.
NNAMDIRon Pavlik, he is the chief of the Metro Transit Police Department. He joined us by telephone. Ron Pavlik, thank you for joining us.
PAVLIKThank you, sir.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break, when we come back, the shifting mission of the Central Intelligence Agency. We'll talk about the past, present and future of the CIA with author Mark Mazzetti. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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