Hollywood to tell the Boston Marathon Bombing story from a first responder’s perspective

Will "Patriots Day" accurately portray the issues first responders experienced during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013?

By Megan Wells, Police1 Contributor

Firsthand accounts of the Boston Marathon bombing bear resemblance to those from a war zone, especially from the first responder's perspective. At first, many thought the sound of the first explosion was an unexpected fireworks or cannon celebration. Then came the second explosion, when confusion and then realization set in – this was not a celebratory sound at all. 

Nearly three years removed from the events of the 117th annual Boston Marathon, Hollywood is trying to recall the events, from the standpoint of a first responder. 

"Patriots Day", a CBS film currently in production, is an account of the 2013 events told from the perspective of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, played by John Goodman. The cast includes other big stars like Boston native Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon and J.K Simmons.

The movie’s focus on the police response means other first responders will likely be keeping a close eye on its tactical accuracy. 

Who is Ed Davis?

Davis was Boston’s lead police official during the initial response, pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers and the investigation that followed. His role in the event positioned him as the public official who testified before Congress about the bombing and lessons learned.

Ed Davis has been on set during the filming of “Patriots Day,” watching as the directors and actors recreate the horrific events. He told the Boston Globe, “I talked to [the film directors] at length and I thought it would be better to have some input – to make sure that the depiction was done properly.”

Shortly after the bombing occurred, Commissioner Davis went on record saying that apart from combat during his overseas deployment, the bombing incident (and carnage) was unlike anything he’d seen. 

Recap of the 2013 events:

By the numbers: facts about the bombing

  • The bombs exploded 12 seconds apart from each other.
  • The bombs exploded 50-100 yards apart from each other.
  • Three people were killed and more than 260 injured by the explosions.
  • One police officer was killed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev after their photos were released to the public.
  • Boston’s task force grew to more than 4,000 responders as the events unfolded.
  • Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot and killed after approximately 200 bullets were exchanged between law enforcement and the suspect. 
  • On the Friday of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s death, the town of Watertown, Mass. received 566 calls to 911 regarding Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s threats of retaliation for his brother’s death. 
  • Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured and brought into custody roughly 100 hours after the initial bombing. 

What problems did first responders encounter as events unfolded?

  • Around 80 percent of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing victims required a tourniquet, and there weren’t enough to go around. 
  • Determining the level of triage was difficult: Nearly all of the patients were red tags with immediate life threats. 
  • Paramedic Danielle Hickey was a responder on the scene, "People really wanted to help, but [were] not trained or prepared,” which made it tough. 
  • Commissioner Davis said that evidence became a logistical nightmare as it cascaded in. The task force needed to find a better strategy for processing the influx of information. 
  • There was great debate over whether the commissioner should release the photos of the Tsarnaev brothers. Many believe this move was what allowed police to find the brothers quickly, but some fear it may also have been what caused the brothers to shoot the MIT officer

With the abundance of available information detailing the tactical successes and failures, plus the firsthand account from Police Commissioner Ed Davis, it will be interesting to see how closely “Patriots Day” follows the events from a police perspective. 

“Patriots Day” is scheduled for release on January 13, 2017. 


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