Carlos Arredondo, a well-known anti-war activist known for his strong ties to Jamaica Plain, rushed to the aid of Boston Marathon bombing victims and became globally famous by appearing in some of the most dramatic news photos of the event.
In an exclusive Gazette interview last week, Arredondo talked about the devastating irony of a peace activist responding to random violence, and how he was there with families of 9/11 terror victims and in support of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“If you have the script on life, I’d like to read it,” Arredondo said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Arredondo already was a nationally known activist for his mobile anti-war display, which he frequently exhibits in JP’s Monument Square as well as around the country. His son Alexander, who grew up in JP, was a Marine killed in action in Iraq in 2004. When Arredondo heard of his son’s death, he lit himself on fire in grief. After recovering, he joined his wife Mélida, Alexander’s stepmother, in peace and veterans’ rights activism. The JP post office recently was dedicated to Alexander.
The Arredondos also created a well-known memorial in Monument Square last year to the victims of the Newtown school shooting and Boston’s homicide victims. That memorial also paid tribute to Carlos’s other son, Brian, who committed suicide in 2011, a tragedy attributed to his unresolved grief over his brother’s death.
Similar activism brought the Arredondos to the marathon. They were there to support the Military Friends Foundation’s “Tough Ruck,” a march of the marathon route by National Guard soldiers with 40-pound packs, a fund-raiser for families of vets killed in action or lost to suicide and PTSD-related accidents. One of the soldiers was marching in honor of Alexander Arredondo.
The Arredondos were special guests sitting in the finish-line grandstands, almost directly across from where one bomb went off. They were joined there by 9/11 victims’ family members, veterans and other “Gold Star” families of service members killed in action.
Just before the first bomb went off, Arredondo said, he left the stands to hand out small American flags to spectators, encouraging them to wave them when the National Guard marchers passed.
“Suddenly, there was a loud noise like the sound of a cannon, and the wave of air, [I could] feel it and the ball of fire, [I could] see it,” Arredondo said.
“I started running toward the first explosion. I just jumped the fence, holding the American flag in one hand and the camera in the other,” he said.
After snapping a couple of photos that he later gave to the FBI, Arredondo began helping breaking down the crowd barricade to let rescuers in. A Boston Globe photo showed him, still clutching the flag, kicking at the fencing.
After calming a wounded woman, he said, “I turned and I saw so much blood.” That was a severely injured man named Jeff Bauman, who lower legs were blown off. Other rescuers said they had to stop his bleeding, so Arredondo picked up a sweater that was lying on the ground and tore it into tourniquets.
“I picked him up from the ground, put him in a wheelchair. I started dragging him in the street,” Arredondo said.
A dramatic Associated Press photo showed Arredondo, in a cowboy hat and his Tough Ruck shirt, running alongside the ashen man’s wheelchair, apparently either holding the tourniquet or pinching shut an exposed blood vessel. The amount of blood makes it hard to say.
Bauman survived and reportedly gave authorities eyewitness information about the bombers.
Afterward, trying to reunite with Mélida, Arredondo managed to get through the security lockdown, possibly because “I was covered with blood,” he said. They found each other and cried together, he said.
He then returned to the finish line to check on other people he had been with—all of whom were OK—and to have himself checked for injuries.
“Thank God, I had two angels watching over,” he said of his lack of personal injury.
Speaking to the Gazette shortly before he helped create a memorial to bomb victims in JP’s Monument Square, he said he intended to return to public life eventually.
“Right now we’re grieving and trying to heal,” he said. He noted that the bombing will create even more PTSD problems, including for himself. He said he is seeing a therapist to address his difficulty in sleeping and the constant questions, “Why did it happen? Why do these things happen?”
“There I am with American flags, giving them [away] gratefully, at the same, boom, I end up saving somebody’s life,” Arredondo said in disbelief.