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April 22, 2013

Five days of fear: Examining the Boston bombing

BOSTON — In the tight rows of chairs stretched across the Commonwealth Ballroom, the nervousness — already dialed high by two bombs, three deaths and more than 72 hours without answers — ratcheted even higher.

The minutes ticked by as investigators stepped out to delay the news conference once, then again. Finally, at 5:10 p.m. Thursday, a pair of FBI agents carried two large easels to the front of the Boston hotel conference chamber and saddled them with display boards. They turned the boards backward so as not to divulge the results of their sleuthing until, it had been decided, they could not afford to wait any longer.

Now the time had come to take that critical, but perilous step: introducing Boston to the two men believed responsible for an entire city’s terror.

“Somebody out there knows these individuals as friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members of the suspects,” said Richard DesLauriers, the FBI agent in charge in Boston. As he spoke, investigators flipped the boards around to reveal grainy surveillance-camera images of the men whose only identity was conferred by the black ball cap and sunglasses on one, the white ball cap worn backward on the other.

“Though it may be difficult, the nation is counting on those with information to come forward and provide it to us.”

Photographers and TV cameras pushed forward, intent on capturing the images, even as people in the lobby stared into computers and smart phones, straining to recognize the faces. In living rooms and bars and offices across the city, and across the country, so many people looked up and logged on to examine the faces of the men deemed responsible for the bombing attack of the Boston Marathon, that the FBI servers were instantly overwhelmed.

At the least, Bostonians told each other, the photos proved that the monsters the city had imagined were responsible for maiming more than 170 were nothing more than ordinary men. But even as that relief sank in, the dread that had gripped the city since Monday at 2:50 p.m. was renewed.

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