Heartfelt applause poured out of the stands at King Philip High School's football field Sunday night. The show of admiration and gratitude wasn't for a sports team, but instead was for emergency responders taking the first lap around the track as part of a three town Boston Strong Tribute. The run/walk event brought together over 250 members of Plainville, Norfolk and Wrentham to remember all those affected by the April 15th bombings and raised more than $3,500 for The One Fund. "Tonight our three towns, stand together," said the event's master of ceremonies, Wrentham selectman Joe Botaish. "We stand for each other and our neighbors in Boston and all our friends across the Commonwealth."
The evening was filled with emotional speeches from Botaish, State Senator Richard Ross, and State Representative Dan Winslow. Those in attendance took tribute laps around the high school's track, with the first one walked by emergency responders including Sgt. Dave O'Connor from the MIT Police Department. The second lap was in memory of Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, the three victims of the bombing and for MIT Officer Sean Collier who was killed in the days following the attack. The third lap was for the runners that never had a chance to finish the marathon. "This was very moving for me," said O'Connor whose daughter attends King Philip -- the emotion of the tragedy still in his voice. "I needed this right now. I'm really glad I'm here. It has been a long two weeks."
O'Connor was in uniform and brought an MIT cruiser to the event. He said the outpouring of support his department has received from the community, especially the Cambridge Police Department has kept them going. Events like Sunday night's Boston Strong Tribute gives him strength. "Just the overall kindness of total strangers. That's really the only true thing that is helping us carry through," he explained.
Event organizer Donna Morin marveled at how the community came together. "This is so inspiring," Morin said as she watched children, families and seniors travel lap after lap around the track.Morin got the idea for the event shortly after the bombings when she heard of a similar run/walk in another town. The plans for the evening took shape after she spoke to Paul Schaefer, Director of Finance and Operations of KP High School, who suggested students get involved. KP High School's Principal Lisa Oliveira along with staff and student from both the high school and middle school also jumped in.
KP Freshman Connor Zimmerman said it was important that the students help out. "We felt if we could make a difference, we should," he said as he sold blue and yellow ribbons the KP Student Council made and #BOSTONSTRONG bracelets.
"Everybody at KP is thinking about those affected by what happened in Boston," said Paige Kucy, president of the student council. She worked a table where people wrote messages for those affected by the tragedy. "This shows our support."
Louise Mason, a Wrentham resident for over 30 years said she had to be part of the community event. "It's nice that people can get together and think good thoughts...positive things," she said.
Many families came to show their support. Wrentham's Bryan Aaron attended with his wife Erin and two children, Caroline and Katie. "I felt like I had to be here," he said as he walked around the track.
Mary Regnier also wanted to attend. She wore her blue and yellow Boston Marathon jacket that she received for completing the race before the bombs went off. She said the speeches and show of community was helpful. "They did a beautiful job," she said in regards to Sunday's event organizers. "It makes it easier and seeing everyone together is just amazing...strength in numbers."
Before people took to the track, both Ross and Winslow spoke of their admiration of the American people. Ross found pride in the kindness and caring that occurred after the tragedy. "Lives have been changed forever. Lives have been lost and the world will never be the same," he said. "I've been inspired by who we are as Americans...who we are as people. It is a great testament to the way Americans pull together in times of difficult."
Winslow spoke of the failure terrorists have in understanding the reactions of Americans. "People who would try to use violence or intimidation or threats against a democracy such as ours, fundamentally fail to understand the American spirit," he said. "Behind every American, are more Americans. When people try to intimidate or scare or frighten or use violence against us in a democracy, that doesn't make us back down that makes us stand up."Music played throughout the tribute thanks to Botaish's son Joseph. Shaw's of Franklin also donated five cases of water bottles and the Wrentham Lions were on hand to help with parking and show support. "We're happy to be part of this," said Steve Langley, Wrentham Lions President and also Wrentham Board of Selectmanr.
The Boston Strong Tribute started at 6 p.m. and people still walked and ran the track past 7:30. The donations collected for The One Fund will be sent to the charity this week. The suggested donation was $10 per family but most gave more. The One Fund was launched by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013. As of today, just under $29 million has been raised.
(All photos by Christina Allan)