Apr 15, 2014, 3:59 PM EST
Survivors of last year’s Boston Marathon tragedy hailed courage, character and resilience in a solemn tribute Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of twin bombings that rocked the race.
“It’s difficult to believe it has only been one year,” said Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who lost her lower left leg in the bombings. “It feels like only a few weeks, and we have a long road yet to walk.”
Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu died from injuries suffered during the explosions near the finish line on Boylston Street. More than 260 others were injured. This year’s race will go on Monday, the traditional Patriots’ Day event and the 118th edition of the world’s oldest annual marathon.
Haslet-Davis and three more survivors spoke Tuesday along with Vice President Joe Biden, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials in front of more than 2,000 invited guests, those affected by the bombings, at Hynes Convention Center near the site of last year’s tragedy.
The two-hour ceremony, which included music from the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and vocalists, was followed by a walk outside, into light rain, for a moment of silence and flag-raising at the finish line.
“We are Boston. We are America. We respond. We endure. We overcome. We own the finish line,” said Biden, the final speaker of the indoor ceremony.
Biden also spoke at last year’s memorial service for Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, whom authorities say was shot and killed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev three days after the brothers carried out the Boston Marathon bombings.
“I’ve never, never, never witnessed a tribute like I heard today,” Biden said. “You have survived, and you have soared.”
Haslet-Davis drew smiles with optimism.
“No milestone is too small to celebrate,” she said, “even walking into a non-handicapped bathroom stall for the first time doing a happy dance. It’s the little things.”
Patrick Downes also lost his lower left leg in the attack. So did his newlywed wife. He spoke of the sense of community that has enveloped the survivors.
“We should have never met this way,” Downes said, “but we are so grateful for each other.”
David Yepez, then 15, suffered a torn ear drum, second-degree arm burns, and had a 3-inch piece of shrapnel embedded 6 inches into his leg. He was a spectator, at the site of the second of two bombings in 12 seconds, feet away from Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who was killed.
He praised the first responders and medical helpers, many of whom were at the tribute.
“Thank you for your love, compassion and generosity,” Yepez said. “You have touched our hearts in a way that, many times, our gratitude could only be expressed through our tears of joy.”
David’s father, Luis Yepez, also spoke.
“On that toughest mile, just when we think we’ve hit a wall, there will be someone there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall,” Luis said.
Outside, the Irish tenor Ronan Tynan performed “God Bless America” before the moment of silence at 2:49 p.m., the time the first bomb exploded. The Old South Church bells tolled. An American flag was hoisted up and the national anthem was sung. Bagpipes were played below a crowd of umbrellas.
On Monday, the 118th Boston Marathon will include the second-largest field in race history. The group of some 36,000 runners — 9,000 more than 2013 — will accommodate about 5,000 who did not have the opportunity to cross the finish line last year. Only the Centennial Boston Marathon in 1996 drew more runners (38,708 entrants).
The first athletes will start at 8:50 a.m. ET. The elite women go off at 9:32, the elite men at 10 and the final wave at 11:25.
It’s estimated more than one million well-wishers may line the route from Hopkinton to Boston, double the usual amount, with 3,500 police officers, more than double last year’s number.
Officials stress a simple theme among the staggering statistics — to preserve the traditional feel and character of the Boston Marathon.
“I’ve never heard anything so beautiful as what all of you just said,” Biden said in his speech. “You are the proof that America can never, never, never be defeated.”
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