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Explosions at Boston Marathon; At least 2 Dead, 28 Hurt in Boston Blasts

Aired April 15, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper. Good afternoon.

We're following the breaking news at this moment. The eyes of the nation are the tragedy in Boston, Massachusetts, after a pair of explosions rocked the Boston Marathon. At least six people are hurt. It was just over an hour ago that a ball of flames erupted from the side of the street in an area known as Copley Square.

A second blast was felt just a short time later. The street was lined with spectators as the runners passed, a terrifying spectacle in the middle of an event that brings out the entire city. Security is being beefed up all over Boston. We have reports of counterterrorism crews visiting local landmarks.

Of course, President Obama has been notified, the White House saying he's in touch with local authorities. One witness said the scene was absolute chaos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just saw the runners stop running. They were blocked. And we just heard a lot of sirens. And just people were kind of frantic. So we knew that it was a bad situation. We had to get out of there.


TAPPER: At this moment, we do not know what caused the explosions. We do not know whether there were explosives and if there were we don't know if there are more out there somewhere.

The Boston Marathon put out a statement referring to two bombs that exploded near the finish line in today's Boston Marathon. But that's not a definitive law enforcement source.

Joining us now on the phone from the scene is CNN executive producer Matt Frucci.

Matt, you were there cheering on your brother who was running the marathon. We know he's safe. Tell us what you saw.

MATT FRUCCI, CNN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: It was on Boylston Avenue, which is the final mile of the Boston Marathon, so it was just crowded with people, crowded with runners, but crowded with spectators, too. And then I heard a big giant explosion about 100 yards down further from me towards the finish line. I looked over there and I saw a giant plume of smoke rising up. It wasn't on the street proper. It looked like it was on the sidewalk or perhaps a parking lot.

And I would say the smoke went up about as high as a three- or four- story building. About 10 seconds later after everyone was wondering what that was, about 20 yards from me across the street another big explosion. It looked like it came out of the sidewalk or something under the sidewalk or in the sidewalk. I'm not entirely sure. Then that's when people just started scrambling. And there was a lot of pushing and shoving.

People were terrified, wondering if there was going to be a third explosion. This one was awfully close. And only after the dust settled did I look and see about six, seven people sort of strewn about that area where that second explosion was, down on the ground.

Everyone sort of scrambling to get out of the way, scrambling into buildings, scrambling off of Boylston and on to side streets. I was able to get another vantage point. I saw what looked like a separate six or seven people strewn about on Boylston Avenue itself being treated by EMTs or police officers.

TAPPER: Matt, we have seen photographs from the scene of streaks of blood on Boylston Street.

What did you see in terms of injuries of those who were injured? We're now told by Massachusetts General Hospital that 19 people were hurt in these blasts. That's the latest information. What were you able to see in terms of how injured people were?

FRUCCI: It was really hard to tell. You know, we saw a big explosion and then everyone was sort of scrambling to get away from that. When I was able to actually get on the scene, what I saw more was...


TAPPER: Matt, I'm going to interrupt you for one second. I'm sorry.

Boston police are telling CNN that two dead as a result of the Massachusetts attack, whatever happened at the end of the Boston Marathon. Two individuals are dead; 22 are wounded. That's from Boston police. That's the latest information we have about this attack.

If you are tuning in right now, there were two explosions in the final mile of the Boston Marathon just over an hour ago. There were multiple injuries. Police report two explosions. We do not know yet the source of the explosions, but we're told by police that two individuals are dead.

We are on the phone now with CNN executive producer Matt Frucci, who actually was there and witness to at least one of the explosions.

Matt, the scene must have been complete pandemonium, people just running for their lives, I would think.

FRUCCI: It was exactly that.

I mean, when it first occurred, I sort of got shoved in along with a bunch of other people into the building directly behind us. But then there were a lot of people inside who started to freak out that maybe this building was a target or maybe this building would be something that would explode.

People started working their way back onto the sidewalks, to get off the street entirely. But people were terrified. It was just one of those mad scrambles that I have always reported on, but never had the unfortunate moment of being stuck in myself.

TAPPER: All right, we are going to go to an eyewitness who is on the phone now, Will Ritter. He was an eyewitness to the blast.

Will, thanks for joining us. What did you see?

WILL RITTER, EYEWITNESS: Thanks for having me.

I was a block away, about kitty-corner across Copley Square. I was trying to arrange a press conference for a candidate that I work for that just finished running. And we heard two short bursts, about as loud as the big concussion bursts at the end of a fireworks show, about a second apart from one another.

Looked toward Boston Public Library, which is the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and saw billowy white smoke come up. Cops started jumping the bike rack and running toward the scene, and then a lot of emergency vehicles and just general pandemonium.

TAPPER: And what did you see in terms of injuries, if anything, and describe for us the scene, when you say general pandemonium. Were people running away from the blasts, were law enforcement or National Guardsmen running to the blast? We are told that there were 400 National Guardsmen already on the scene because of general security for the Boston Marathon.

Describe in a little bit more detail, if you would, what you saw.


The actual scene of the explosion was blocked because of the media tent was between me and it. But you could see the smoke, and basically what you saw, if you imagine Times Square right before the ball drops, that's what Copley Square looks like at the end of the Boston Marathon.

You have 26,000 people crossing the finish line and the race is only about half done as far as most of the attendees. So everybody was packed in anyway. Explosions went off and you saw people start to run east toward Boston Common and towards the Public Garden.

And you saw a lot of cops, stretchers, ambulances running west down Boylston Street and down St. James Ave toward Copley Square and the Boston Public Library.

TAPPER: If you're just tuning in, there were two explosions in the final mile of the Boston Marathon. Two individuals are dead from these explosions, 22 wounded.

That's according to the Boston Police Department. President Obama has ordered a response to the Boston blast, telling his administration to do whatever is necessary to investigate it.

We have on the phone a witness, two witnesses actually, Matt Frucci and another individual.

But briefly I want to go to chief national correspondent John King who is sitting here with me in studio.

John, what are your sources telling you about this attack? Or I shouldn't call it an attack, about this incident.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question. You always get conflicting information.

I will tell you one source has said they heard the bomb squad has detonated a third device. But I want to say and be very careful about this. That is one source on the ground, not confirmed through law enforcement yet. There's a scramble on in the area.

As you noted, Boston police saying two dead, 22 are injured. Those are preliminary numbers, though. Often in these cases, initial numbers tend to go up and they're not always accurate.

TAPPER: The one thing we know about covering situations like this is the first information is almost always wrong.

KING: Almost always. And there's a scramble under way now because you have this event, it's a huge event every year. I would say this about Copley Square, not only 26,000 people in the race, but there's a state holiday in Massachusetts for Patriots Day.

Copley Square is right in the center of the city, schools are out, city offices are closed, state offices are closed, a lot of businesses closed. You have tourists, and you have people who are off work. That tends to be where they go, either watch the marathon after the game breaks up just a mile or so away at Fenway Park, plus all the shopping in that area. It's very close to Boston Common and the Public Garden.

It's a huge area for commerce. If you are looking and I want to emphasize the if -- if you're looking to make some kind of political statement, that would be the place to do it, Copley Square on marathon day.


TAPPER: We have report that two are dead from those explosions and 23 now we're told, 23 are wounded. Go ahead.


KING: I was talking to a state government source -- please interrupt whenever you have information -- talked to a state government source who said, look, things are very iffy right now, they're just trying to get information. People are responding.

But this government source noted there's always hyped-up security for this event. The National Guard is in. The state police is in. There's federal assistance as well. This source says there were no threats viewed as credible before the event.

As they now try to sort through, is this an explosion, is it a bomb, is it something else, they say in advance they had no inklings that there could be some targeting of this event. Obviously it's always a concern in the post-9/11 world we live in, big events like this are always a concern. I just want to also note that you mentioned Mass General Hospital numbers.

Often, they're the central point because of their emergency room facilities, but there are also six or eight other very fine Boston hospitals within a mile or less from that site. So we could get information from other hospitals as well.

TAPPER: Thank you, John King.

We're told that President Obama has been notified and has ordered his administration to respond and do whatever is necessary to help local authorities.

We will go now to Jessica Yellin, senior White House correspondent for CNN.

Jessica, what are you hearing from your vantage point at the White House?


The president has been notified and officials here have been asked to stay, the president asked them to stay in constant contact with local officials there to provide any assistance that they can. But my understanding from various administration officials is that information is coming in very slowly.

I can tell you here at the White House the area directly in front of the West Wing has been cleared and is on lockdown, in essence, a standard precaution in this area. There are tourists being kept at a distance in front of the White House because security here goes on alert during some kind of incident of this nature.

Washington, D.C., itself is also on a heightened state, heightened level of security. I should say Vice President Biden himself was conducting a conference call when this news broke on CNN, and he was talking about guns and the guns legislation when he said that his aides came in and turned on the television and he saw what was happening. So he broke from his conversation and made a statement about some of the people he was seeing injured in Boston. Want to play for you a moment of what the vice president had to say.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And as I'm speaking here, they just turned on the television in my office, and apparently there has been a bombing.

I don't know any of the details of what caused it, who did it. I don't think it exists yet. But our prayers are with those people in Boston who have suffered injury. I don't know how many there are. I'm looking at it on television now.


YELLIN: Meaningful that he did use the word bombing. Again, we don't have confirmation explicitly from other White House officials, but I would say the vice president a pretty senior official there calling this a bombing, Jake.

I continue to stay in contact with officials and we will bring you any detailed information I get from them either about the president's contact with officials there or further details about Boston -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Yellin at the White House, we will come back to you in a bit.

If you're just tuning in, just to catch you up, shortly over an hour or so ago in the last mile of the Boston Marathon, there were two explosions. Police now say that two individuals were killed in those explosions, and according to police and local hospitals about 28 are injured. We still do not know exactly what happened. We will update you as events transpire.

We're now going to go to CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend.

Fran, what are your law enforcement sources telling you? What are they doing right now?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Jake, it's interesting because the first thing you want to do is identify the substance that was used in the explosive and who was the perpetrator.

So they're pulling -- they're doing the typical investigative steps. I understand that through the JTTF in Boston, the joint terrorism task force, the FBI is working with local Boston law enforcement to pull surveillance camera videos to see if there are any clues there. They're going through open cases, whether those are criminal or counterterrorism. We don't know what the motivation is.

And so they will cast a wide net as they bring in forensic information and crime scene data to match that up with to see if they can identify both a motive and a suspect. TAPPER: All right. Even though the vice president used the word bombing and the Boston Marathon referred to two bombs that exploded, we don't have official confirmation yet that this was an act by an individual, as opposed to anything else that it could have been, horrifically, manmade or not.

Fran, when you see these explosions watching CNN, what do they look like to you? Do these look like bombs? Could they be something else?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, Jake, we should tell our viewers, of course, it could be something else. That's one of the things that the FBI and local law enforcement will look at.

But the sorts of things that will be concerning to law enforcement, multiple simultaneous explosions in close proximity at a high-profile event where there are bound to be cameras and horrific images after an explosion. All those things make law enforcement deeply suspicious that this was not sort of an accidental event, some sort of gas explosion or water pipe explosion, but that it was actually intentionally set.

And so they're going to comb through that pretty deliberately to try and figure that out. But I will tell you, at first blush, to those in the community, it looks like it was, in fact, a bombing.

TAPPER: And, Fran, we're told that other cities are going on heightened alert. You heard from Jessica Yellin, our senior White House correspondent, saying that the White House is in something of a lockdown mode. Is this just protocol?

TOWNSEND: It is protocol, Jake, because we know places like from the East Africa embassy bombings, right, you had one in Kenya and one in Tanzania. It's not infrequent, if this was a planned, premeditated attack, that it would be not only in Boston.

And so the right thing to do from a preparation standpoint is to go to a heightened state of security until you can have a better sense of what the cause and what the motivation was.

TAPPER: If you're just joining us, there were two explosions at the end of the Boston marathon, around the 3:00 hour, two individuals according to the Boston police dead, 28 injured.

CNN political reporter Peter Hamby is on the scene. That's Copley Square.

Peter, tell us what you're seeing.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (via telephone): Hey, Jake. Yes, it's kind of haphazard right now. The police are trying to shut down various roads, that people are just sort of going around to get where they need to go.

But in the immediate vicinity where I am, at the corner of Exeter and Commonwealth, which is just a few blocks north of Copley Square. The immediate blocks have been pretty handily cordoned off. You have a bunch of onlookers here. I'm looking at three fire trucks and a small horde of police officers and first responders.

But, yes, there's lots of people milling around. I'm surrounded by more than a few people who are in tears. But it's kind of an odd scene, kind of hard to get a read on people's emotions because as you know after running a marathon there are plenty of people lying on the ground. There's plenty of people who are happy. There's lots of people walking around in complete disbelief.

Everyone here is on their cell phone. I first heard about the explosion when I was over in Cambridge and ran across the Harvard Bridge to come over here. And in kind of a telling moment of how people get their news now, you saw lots of young people with ashen looks on their face staring at their phones, trying to make phone calls.

Then I saw a lot of older people just walking around not knowing what had happened in the immediate aftermath.

But right now, Jake, right here we have a small group of reporters and onlookers and just thousands and thousands of people milling around the Back Bay as ambulances and police cars come by.

TAPPER: And we were just told, Peter, there will be a press conference by local authorities, including the Boston fire department, at 4:30 Eastern. That's just 14 minutes from now, to talk about what happened. We will bring you that live as it comes.

I also -- Peter, how big is the law enforcement presence where you are right now?

As you know, often when there is an explosion in a situation like this, if it is a terrorist attack, the terrorists will take the occasion to do a secondary or tertiary attack once people have gathered to -- once first responders have gathered. Are there a lot of policemen there?

HAMBY: Right, that's exactly right. That's sort of the hallmark of those incidents. I'm currently looking at -- again, this is just down Exeter Street, I see about a dozen firefighters and three dozen police officers, and they're trying to keep as many people back as possible.

Again, I talked to one police officer earlier and was trying to walk down Mass Ave. to get over here. He said, you can't go this way. So I just walked around the block. There's so many people and so many treats and alleys to close off, Jake. And you have a lot of people who are walking away on foot, streets are shut down, but you have a lot of people also walking toward the scene.

And one more thing, I talked to Ben, an eyewitness, he's say student at Tufts University, and his description of the explosion was that the size of the explosion -- you heard earlier it was probably the size of a four-story building. This eyewitness said something similar, that it was bigger than the grandstand at the finish line, the first explosion. He said it, quote, "felt like a huge cannon" and then he said a second explosion came out of what he said looked like a trash can. Now, that's his description. Can't confirm that, but that's what he said. He said that they came very quickly, one after the other. The way he described it was boom, two, three, boom. So, they came in pretty quick succession there, according to one witness, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Peter Hamby on the scene in Boston. If you're just joining us, there were two explosions at the end of the Boston marathon. The Boston police say that 28 individuals are wounded and two individuals have been killed in these explosions, according to police.

We still do not know exactly what type of explosions they were, although Vice President Joe Biden did refer to them as a bombing.

I want to bring in CNN's national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Peter, does this -- obviously, we don't want to speculate. We don't know what this was. But is there reason for people who deal in counterterrorism to think this is an act of terrorism, or suspect it strongly at least?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure, although I'm reminding of Oklahoma City which was a bombing, which was initially treated as a gas explosion. So, first reports are often erroneous.

TAPPER: Right.

BERGEN: But, you know, the fact there were two explosions, two bombings -- one of the things I would be looking at is, once the device, if it is a device, is found, what kind of explosives were used?

So, for instance, if it was hydrogen peroxide, this is sort of a signature of al Qaeda. If it was more conventional explosives, which are much harder to get pulled off now, that might be some other kind of right-wing extremist.

We've seen a number of failed bombing attempts by al Qaeda using bombs, Najibullah Zazi and, for instance, Manhattan subway in 2009, Faisal Shahzad, in Times Square in 2010, the attempt to bring down the Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on 2009.

But we've also seen other extremist groups attacking, right wing groups attacking, for instance -- trying to attack the Martin Luther King parade in Oregon in 2010. So if it is a device of some kind, you know, we shouldn't lead to conclusions about where it's coming from in terms of a political persuasion and it would -- the kind of device will indicate I think if it has any links to al Qaeda. It is much more likely to be a hydrogen peroxide bomb than other kinds. Basically, the reason is hydrogen peroxide is relatively easy to accumulate. Whereas if you go out and buy something for a fertilizer bomb, you're going to attract a lot of law enforcement attention at this point.

TAPPER: Also, we have in here studio, we have with us former Congresswoman Jane Harman, who was the House Intelligence -- the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

In a situation like this, what are your counterparts doing right now? What is the House Intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee members, what are they doing? What are members of the CIA/FBI, what are they doing right now?

JANE HARMAN, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: Well, Congress needs to be briefed and I'm quite sure that the chief of staff of each committee, House and Senate Intelligence, is on the phone right now with either Janet Napolitano or a top aide, and possibly --

TAPPER: The head of the Department of Homeland Security, yes.

HARMAN: And possibly with the White House as well. Fran Townsend was in the White House chair when I spent my time on the House Intelligence Committee, and she was the source of information. There will be concern, especially by the members of Congress from Boston or New York or Washington. These are obviously places that have to be on heightened alert. And those members need to be briefed.

And it's -- I was listening to Peter who is enormously qualified to talk about this. I think it's true that if it turns out to be a bomb, what substance was in there may determine the signature of the group.

But let's remember there have been attacks at Olympics in the past, big sporting events, at the Olympics in Atlanta and then the Munich bombing in the '70s, way long ago. And the motives for those attacks were very different from an al Qaeda motive. It's too early to know, but I certainly think it looks suspicious and it is an enormous tragedy.

The good news, if there is something that we could call good news, is there's a lot of law enforcement and medical help on the scene, and simultaneously a rocket didn't go off in North Korea, or at least not yet.

TAPPER: We're joined on the phone right now with Josh Cox, he's in Boston.

Josh, tell us what is happening where you are right now.

JOSH COX, RUNNER (via telephone): Well, I was brought back here by Universal Sports with my sponsors PowerBar and Garmin to just be at the expo, and I was here doing the commentating. We were actually getting ready to shoot the recap show and our studio is set up right by the finish line on Boylston. I was just walking over and talking to a friend of mine right there by the finish chute, and we heard one just massive explosion. Huge boom.

And, obviously, we didn't know what it was. I had my phone out and I snapped a photo thinking, oh, a generator blew or transmitter. Then when the second one went off, we said, that's a bomb.

And it was -- we could smell the smoke. We saw people lying on the ground. Runners were crying. And the police were on it. Boston P.D. were all through the area earlier in the day. I saw the bomb-sniffing dogs. They cover the whole area. But you're talking about 26.2 miles and over -- right around 500,000 spectators lining the course.

Boylston Street is where everyone just -- it's shoulder to shoulder standing room only. Everyone is trying to see. The pros finish and the friends and families finish, and everyone just kind of scattered once the second one went off. And very, very frightening. Very, very scary.

TAPPER: According to some other news ort reports, there have been two more -- "The Associated Press" specifically -- explosive devices found in Boston. We were told not long ago that counterterrorism crews were roving around Boston looking at other landmarks, other places where bombs might be located. We're told by "The Associated Press" citing sources in Boston that two of those devices suspected devices have been found.

John, you are from the area. Tell us more about what your sources are telling you.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just a little bit. Number one, we're told the first official law enforcement briefing will be at 4:30 p.m. It's being held at the Weston Hotel Copley Square. So, very near where the explosions took place. That tells you police feel they've secured that area. It's right in that area.

One of the sources I spoke to via e-mail is using the term "explosive devices." So we've been trying to figure out, was this a gas explosion, could this have been something else, or could it be a bombing of some kind of there? Using the term "explosive devices," which tells you, you have a law enforcement investigation now.

You know that there are reports that at least two more have been. I spoke to a source that said at least one device had been detonated by a bomb squad. I have not been able to get the source on that, and I just want to be careful again, but sometimes you get conflicting information in these cases.

TAPPER: And, in fact, right now, let's bring in CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns. He's in our newsroom here in Washington.

Joe, you have news about another device.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. That's sort of comports with what John King was reporting there. We've talked to a government source who has told us that what he describes as a third explosive device has been discovered. They believe by fire department officials on the ground there in Boston. It's important to say that this federal source also says the fire department, other first responders, have been, as you'd expect, combing the area looking for any ignition source or any explosive device that might remain in the area. And apparently have found at least one, possibly more, there on the ground.

So you obviously have to use an abundance of caution right now in these situations because no law enforcement authority has gone on the air and confirmed for us on the record that this was, in fact, a bomb, but many of the signs are certainly pointing there right now. TAPPER: And we know that in four minutes, law enforcement and the fire department in Boston will give a press conference, giving more information about what they know. We're expecting that presses conference in roughly three minutes, and we will bring that, of course, to you live.

Tom Foreman is here to tell us more about the incident and the event itself -- Tom.


This is -- as you know, this is not just any big sporting event. For the world's runners, this is the big sporting event of the year. It's extraordinary.

You can look at the route starts out here in Hopkinton. But if you look at the wider route, it's generally straight, winds down, gets more and more dense as it works its way into Boston. As we move toward the finish line, I'm going to stop it part way in here so you see landmarks, which I know John over here is well acquainted with.

As you move in, you're going past Fenway Park over here, you're passing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over in here, passing Boston College, passing Boston University. So, lot of places passing here.

Right now, what police have been telling runners to do -- this is Mass Ave cutting right through here. They're telling the runners on this side of Mass Ave to keep going toward Boston Common. The rest of them, they want to come back toward Kenmore Square down here.

But let's move into the finish line and talk about what was happening there. We were talking about the crowds that were in there. As best we can map this out, this is actually where the finish line is occurring. You can see it marked here. This is where the first explosion occurred, right in this area.

And when you watch that video we saw a short while ago, you can see the second one is just down the road here. We're not real sure of the distance, but it really happens in very, very short order.

I'm going to bring in a street view so you get a better look at what it's like. If you were standing at the finish line when this happened, this is exactly where you would be. So, you have an idea of what's around it, the general setting you're in. This is a very, very popular and very dense part of Boston on any day. But on marathon day it's a huge, huge event. In fact, I have a friend who's, I think, about two miles short of the finish line when this happened.

So this is just a mammoth event. And when we widen this out once again, I'll exit the street view here, I'll show you where the hospital is. Massachusetts General is one of the most renowned trauma centers you can find in the whole area, and it's not really that terribly far away. But through the traffic here that would be quite a haul to get through to, especially the traffic after the event. I will tell you, Jake, we talk about the people who were there. Last year, Boston had an extraordinarily hot marathon, and they had a lot of marathoners who were in trouble. That was taxing to a degree on all the medical services there because at marathons, the care is focused on people who get into this kind of trouble.

There is security, but I've run a lot of marathons and usually the security is focused on just crowd control and taking care of people who get into trouble. This level of security that you see here for this kind of event, that really occurs mainly at the giant marathons, Boston being one of them, New York, the marine corps marathon. They are prepared for that, but, as so many people have noted, Jake, you can't guard 26.2 miles. It's just too much ground through too dense of an area -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom, I want to go now to National Public Radio's Peter Sagal, who was a witness to the event.

Peter, what did you see?

PETER SAGAL, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO (via telephone): Hey, Jake. Well, it just so happens I ran the marathon this year as a guide to a blind runner named William Greer, and William and I had just crossed the finish line I guess at around 3:45. We were about 100 yards into what we call the finishing chute, the long area that you walk through after finishing, when there was a huge explosion right behind us.