By: Nicole Lashomb/TRT Editor-in-Chief—
BOSTON, Mass. — After participating in police detail with the Boston Police Department, BPD, for the past 17 years at the Boston Marathon, openly gay GLBT Liaison/Community Service Officer Javier A. Pagán, thought he would be working at a typical race. This time he wasn’t. On April 15, Patriot’s Day, Officer Pagán was assigned to assist in crowd control at the finish line of the marathon – the very blast site where Boston was hijacked by two alleged terrorists that detonated two bombs which injured hundreds and killed three.
In this one-on-one interview with The Rainbow Times, Pagán, along with his husband Pedro Velázques, shares his on-scene account of what took place during the bombings and how they are dealing with the aftermath.
TRT: You are seen in the middle of the first explosion in a photo circulating on the Internet that depicts you and two other officers running toward an elderly man who had fallen in the race due to the blast. What went through your mind when you heard the explosion? Did you know it was a bomb or did it just not settle in until the next explosion?
Javier Pagán: I was assigned to the finish line for crowd control. Once the winners crossed the finish line I moved about 20 feet from where the initial bomb went off so that viewers could take pictures of their friends crossing the finish line. I heard an explosion behind me and at first I thought it was a generator exploding. When I looked back and saw the dark smoke and windows smashed I got closer and then I heard another explosion further up.
Q. What happened once you heard the 2nd explosion? What were your thoughts? What did you do?
JP. I was trying to wrap my head around what happened and what I saw. I have never seen so many injured people all at once. So much is going through your head. You rely on your training and you think about the possibility of more bombs and you start telling the runners to keep moving and then with the help of volunteers, runners, and police we pulled the barricades out to make room for the medical staff to do their work. While this is all going on an unattended bag was found under the bleachers by the entrance of the Boston Public Library. Not knowing if it was a bomb I ran to the entrance of the library and told the security to lock the doors and not let anyone out and take cover. The BPD Bomb Unit was on scene and started to request people to move back. So, I started to clear the area. [pullquote]No training can prepare you for what happened. Unless you have served in the military, nothing can prepare you for this.[/pullquote]
Q. Was your husband, Pedro Velázquez, or your friends/family watching you on TV?
JP. No, I reached out to them to inform them of what had happened.
Q. How did you feel emotionally during the catastrophe? What about in the aftermath?
JP. At first you don’t have time to feel anything. You just have to act. Afterwards, I was in shock and numbed. You start wondering, “what if I had not moved?” I managed to go into a convenience store and used their phone to call my husband Pedro Velázquez. I don’t think, at first, I made any sense. I was crying and trying to tell him I was okay and what had happened. I told him to call my sisters and to tell them that I was safe.
Q. When you received Javier’s phone call that day, what was going through your mind as his husband and also as a retired NYPD police sergeant who served for 20 years and was a first responder during the September 11 attacks?
Pedro Velazquez: The day of the [Boston] terrorist attack, Javier called the house. I was off and watching a movie on TV. I picked up the phone and he said “I’m ok.” Ok from what?, [I asked.] “Two bombs went off at the Marathon, but I’m ok.” He asked me to call his sister to let her know that he was ok. His voice said it, but it didn’t sound like he was. Facing your mortality is a jarring experience. My immediate reaction was to get down there. I knew that the place would be locked tight within minutes so instead, I did the next best thing, and headed to Javier’s District. I just wanted to be there when he was released so that I could drive him home. I know that I was a mess after 9/11, and I figured that the sooner I hugged him and help him get out the horror of the day, the easier would be for him to heal.
Q. Is there anything that trained you professionally or personally for this type of attack and your reaction/s to it?
JP. No training can prepare you for what happened. Unless you have served in the military, nothing can prepare you for this. We’re trained on how to secure scenes where possible bombs may be and to wait for the bomb squad. I guess you just never know how you will react to something until it happens. Some people will freeze, some will run away and others will run towards.
Q. Are you more vigilant now that you’ve lived through this?
JP. Most definitely. Vigilant, but not giving in to fear.
Q. How did you feel emotionally during the bombing and how are you coping with its aftermath?
JP. Emotionally it felt like a roller-coaster ride. I was grateful to be alive, sad that lives were lost and that so many were injured. I spoke with members of the BPD Stress Unit and my husband who was on duty in New York City as an NYPD officer when September 11, 2001 happened. I have a great family at home and at work and a great group of friends who called and made sure I was okay and offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen.
Q. Pedro, do you feel that your experience with 9/11 allowed you to better understand Javier’s experience? How?
PV. My experience with 9/11 absolutely allowed me to better understand Javier’s experience. I learned that the best thing for him was to talk about it, tell his story. I knew to dissuade him from feeling guilt. For me, the guilt was overpowering. I didn’t have any kids, and my friends that did perished. Going to funeral after funeral reinforced that feeling. I knew that the lack of sleep would come. I knew that he would be angry at times. I knew not to take it personally because he was just dealing with his feelings. I knew that he would need a lot of love and I knew that he needed for me to demonstrate my joy that he lived.
Q. Since the bombings, how have you handled it when Javier goes off to work?
PV. I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time when he was working. My sleep patterns returned when the second perpetrator was caught. Now I know how the loved ones of cops feel. I was under the false illusion that because Boston is a smaller city, he’s safe. The realization that the man that I love could just be taken from my life became real. [pullquote]I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time when he was working. My sleep patterns returned when the second perpetrator was caught.[/pullquote]
Q. How do you put it behind you? What advice can you give others on how to put it behind them?
JP. At this moment I am taking it one day at a time. All I can say to someone is, if you experience something like this talk to someone about it.
PV. I think that time will heal his psyche wounds. I think that I’m the guy that’s going to get him there. I’m just glad that he lived and I get to have him for many years to come.
Q. Were you proud of Bostonians’ reactions to it, how strong they were, how stoic and united the city became?
JP. I think the Webster’s Dictionary is going to have to add “Bostonians” to its definition of proud. I have never been prouder of this city, its neighboring towns and its residents.
Q. What do you say to others (runners from Boston and abroad, police colleagues, bystanders, etc.), about the next Boston Marathon?
JP. It is going to be a great marathon 2014. We will be strong! [pullquote]I just wanted to be there when he was released so that I could drive him home. I know that I was a mess after 9/11, and I figured that the sooner I hugged him and help him get out the horror of the day, the easier would be for him to heal.[/pullquote]
Q. Did you get to read the blue electronic billboard displayed on Interstate 93, just 10 miles from the explosion site, by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union? It read: COWARDS, alternating with PRAY FOR BOSTON. The billboard’s message changed once the 2nd suspect was caught. Then it read: GOTCHA!, alternating with THANK YOU BOSTON POLICE. Other signage often used for road advisories along I-93 read: THANK YOU ALL, WE ARE ONE BOSTON.
JP. I heard about it. It made me proud to be a member of a union and to be supported by so many union members.
Q. Why are you so proud of Boston?
JP. Boston has given me so much. I was raised here. I went to Raphael Hernandez Elementary, John W. McCormack Middle, Boston Technical High and Suffolk University all in this great city. I never wanted to leave and for the past 18 years I have dedicated myself to serving the citizens of Boston and I still live in the city. Bostonians are a tough group of people. These senseless acts will only make us stronger. We do not give in to fear.
Q. The New York Yankees, a longtime rival of the Boston Red Sox, stood in solidarity with Boston during this time of crisis. The day following the bombings, after the third inning, Yankee Stadium erupted into the song of “Sweet Caroline”, a long standing Boston Red Sox tradition. What do you think of that?
JP. It was a classy move on the Yankees part. Thank you New York City and all others who sent their good wishes to Boston.
Q. Although you escaped that dreadful day with no physical injuries, others were not so fortunate.
JP. This incident makes you appreciate your family, friends and everyday even more. May we never forget Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. [Get well wishes and] a speedy recovery to MBTA Police Officer Richard Donahue and all of those who were affected by this senseless incident.
For now, Javier and Pedro take it one day at a time and stand as one in their testament of fortitude and boundless love. Like the people of Boston, the city’s general stance of resilience shown through an outpouring support by the government and its people. Shortly following the attack on Boston, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Menino announced the formation of The One Fund Boston, a fund dedicated to raising money to assist the families most affected by the events of the Boston Marathon. To date, the foundation has raised more than $26 million from people and businesses around the country and world. To make a contribution to The One Fund Boston, please visit their site at: www.onefundboston.org. We are One Boston.