Photographs and memories of a traumatic marathon

Freelance photographer Leona Merk

Freelance photographer Leona Merk

By Cristina DC Pastor

With Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in custody, Leona Merk of Dedham, Mass., can breathe a sigh of relief.

“I am hopeful we will now have insight to the brothers’ motivation, which we wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear if it had ended otherwise,” mused Leona, 26, as she pored over hundreds of photographs she had taken of the April 15 Boston Marathon, which ended tragically. Three people died and almost 200 others were injured when two home-made pressure cooker bombs exploded close to the finish line.

Leona was at Boylston Street, snapping momentous shots of Boston’s annual sports tradition for a company. She was with other freelance photographers.

“I had media credentials, I was at the finish line,” she recalled when interviewed by The FilAm. The photos she took can be viewed at her blog, Leona Louise Photography. There were photos of terrified children, a wounded boy being rushed to a medical van, limbs drenched in blood, an empty wheelchair.

While watching the manhunt for bombing suspect Tsarnaev play on national TV, Leona was taking glimpses at her photos.

“I heard a pop behind me,” she recalled on her blog. “Turning around, I see a billow of smoke up into the air. I quickly snap two photos, hoping to capture it before the cloud dissipates. I see yellow balloons slowly bobbing up into the sky. I pause briefly, taking it in, trying to make sense of what was in front of me.”

What materialized in front of her was a scene of pure chaos and confusion, with shaken bodies on the ground, faces wincing in pain, and loud wailing cries and yelling from cops.

“My first reaction was not to run way, but to get the images,” she said. “My instinct was, I was there.”

She remembered being “frozen” and unable to do anything for 15 to 20 seconds, but her photojournalist’s instinct kicked in quickly. She began to take pictures of the gory, the emotional and the heroic scenes around her before she could completely comprehend what was happening.

Before the manhunt for Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old immigrant from Chechnya, she was close to submitting her photographs to investigators for help in rooting out possible suspects. She has made contact with the FBI, she said.

“Photos are real, tangible proof of what happened,” she said. “Anything I can do to help.”

Photographs, she said further, are powerful evidence for crime scenes just as they are compelling images for families that want to remember milestones in their lives.

“I am just thankful for the authorities’ diligence and the public’s engagement that led to this conclusion,” she said after Tsarnaev was finally captured. Looking at her photographs, she still could not believe how the Boston Marathon of 2013 ended with forgotten winners and as one horrific day.

“I still could not believe how I coped with it,” Leona said.


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