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Amid the chaos and carnage in Boston, heroes emerge

Bill Greene / Bill Greene / Boston Globe via Getty Images

A woman is carried from the scene on Exeter Street after two explosions went off on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.

A retired football player carried a wounded woman from the Boston Marathon finish line. A father who lost both his sons, one in Iraq and one by suicide, rushed to aid the fallen. A veteran turned the shirt off his back into a bandage. A surgeon from Kansas finished the race and then started removing shrapnel from other runners.

Besides the first responders, who are trained to help, there were countless other bystanders, race volunteers and runners who have become the faces of heroism in the aftermath of the two blasts Monday that killed three people and wounded at least 176 more.

When two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the courageous people of Boston jumped in to aid those who were hurt. Others found a way to help by donating blood, offering a place for the marathon runners to stay overnight, or simply providing food during a time of need. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

“Here we know our neighbors. We grieve for them,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said at a Tuesday morning news conference. “We know our heroes also. They’re the men and women who wear the helmets, who wear the badges, the runners who helped us yesterday during this time of need.”

Even one of Boston's big beloved "Pats," New England Patriots' retired offensive guard Joe Andruzzi, was captured on camera carrying a woman to safety after the explosions.

As often happens with people who rush in to help, he doesn’t think of himself as a hero.

“Marathon Monday should be about uplifting stories, personal challenges and fundraising milestones, but today’s bombings irrevocably changed that,” he said in a statement given to NBC News by the Joe Andruzzi Foundation.

Andruzzi, whose brothers are New York firefighters who worked 9/11, is also a survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was attending the marathon because his cancer foundation was participating in the event.

“While I appreciate the interest in hearing our perspective on today's horrific events, the spotlight should remain firmly on the countless individuals -- first responders, medics, EMTs, runners who crossed the finish line and kept on running straight to give blood, and the countless civilians who did whatever they could to save lives. They were the true heroes. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this senseless tragedy,” he said.

Boston Globe / Getty Images Contributor

A man lays on the ground after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.

Others were as reluctant to step into the spotlight. One is simply being referred to as “the man who gave the shirt off his back.”

An active-duty service member, he was at the finish line as the bombs exploded Monday. He was photographed wrapping the red shirt he wore during the Boston Marathon around the bloody leg of a man at the blast site. He does not want to be recognized. He wants only prayers for the victims.

“That’s him: ‘This is not about me. Focus on what’s important.’ That’s just who he is,” said Larry Olson, spokesman for Team Red, White & Blue, a veterans advocacy group who had 17 participants in the marathon, including the man who offered his shirt to stop the man’s bleeding. 

Others were at the marathon to work as support staff for the runners, but had no idea their duties would change so dramatically.

Finish-line coordinator Tom Meagher was the first to reach a fallen runner after the initial blast. "I turned and saw a huge wave of smoke and glass coming at me, and I actually saw bodies flying, moving around, uncontrollable," Meagher told Matt Lauer on TODAY on Tuesday.

Until the blast hit, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, said Meagher, who has been working the Boston Marathon finish line for 17 years.

Spectators and runners alike, if they escaped injury themselves, quickly jumped in to help.

Dr. Allan Panter, a Florida emergency room physician was waiting for his wife to cross the finish line when he found himself standing about 20 to 30 feet from the first blast.

Dr. George Velmahos, of Massachusetts General Hospital, says he is proud of his team's response in the wake of the Boston Marathon blasts, highlighting one physician who ran the marathon and then headed right to the emergency room to treat victims.


He was unhurt but people to his left and behind him dropped. “I was just standing there without a scratch,” Panter told Lauer. “I realized that all the people to what had been to my left had gone down, and just started helping with the other bystanders, pulling people, actually, apart because they were laying in a pile, basically with mangled limbs and started working on each person as you could.”

He helped many, including a man who lost both his legs below the knees.

Panter also praised other bystanders who immediately jumped to action.

"The people on the street, the sidewalk volunteers, instead of running away, they stopped and fell and worked the people,” Panter said. They were soon aided by Boston Athletic Association volunteers and medical crews. “It was all that an ER physician could ask for. There were cots, IVs, nurses and physicians,” he said. “It was well-prepared.”

Panter wasn’t the only doctor who happened to be on hand.

Marathon runner Chris Rupe, a surgeon at the Mowery Clinic in Salina, Kan., crossed the finish line about 30 seconds before the first blast. He told Runner’s World he headed toward the injured, thinking there was some sort of structural damage.

“I was thinking that something awful was happening,” Rupe told Runner’s World. “There were a ton of people, but it was also well controlled. First responders and Boston staff were already there clearing the area, trying to keep the calm.” 

The marathon is also a big draw for organizations there to raise funds for noble causes. Carlos Arredondo, a Costa Rican native who had been at the race to support a group running for fallen veterans, also jumped in to help. He can be seen in numerous pictures, wearing a cowboy hat, helping evacuate the injured.

One of Arredondo’s sons, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo, died in battle in Najaf, Iraq in 2004. In 2011, Arredondo's other son, Brian, 24, took his own life.

In one image from Monday, Arredondo is helping move a man in a wheelchair and appears to be pinching closed a severed artery protruding from the victim’s thigh, stanching the flow of blood from a torn and shattered leg.

"I kept talking to him. I kept saying, 'Stay with me, stay with me,'" Arredondo told the Portland Press Herald of Maine.

Dr. Allan Panter was waiting for his wife Theresa to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon when the explosions occurred. As he tended to the wounded, Theresa and other runners were turned away from the chaotic scene. Husband and wife both discuss their experiences.

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