Don’t glorify Boston bomber

Published 9:33 am Thursday, April 16, 2015

This is the tale of a small town named Madeira and a pioneer settler, a skinny runner, a bushy-haired bomber, and two gals with grit named Kris and Kayla. I have links to all of them. Here’s the story, starting with Madeira.

Two of the pioneer settlers of Madeira — whose population in 1920 was still only 600 — were John Hosbrook and James DeMar. In 1794 Hosbrook hacked a home out of a wilderness where wild game, including bear and deer, provided a primary source of food. When their supply of salt for preserving such meat gave out during the brutal winter of 1798, John Hosbrook hiked to the fort for a peck of salt. But he froze to death when caught up in a swirling, blinding blizzard on the return trip.

A century later, my mother, Hazel Hosbrook, grew up on that same farm. She married a Madeira boy named Ed Burns — whose lifelong buddy and fellow boyhood prankster was Howard DeMar, the long-time Madeira postmaster. Howard had a skinny cousin named Clarence DeMar who moved to Boston and became a printer and a runner—a runner with a heart murmur but a dogged determination to overcome any obstacle put in his path.

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Despite doctors begging him to give up running before it killed him, Clarence — at 5’7” and 139 pounds — ran himself into the history books instead of a coffin. He won the Boston Marathon a record seven times, so dominating the event in the 1920s that he became known as Dr. DeMarathon.

I’ve often pictured the tragic scene of John Hosbrook’s knees buckling beneath him on his desperate attempt to hike home with the salt—but another Madeira lad, Clarence DeMar, carrying on for him, all the way to the finish line.

Clarence also set a pattern for Porkopolis to Beantown–Cincinnati to Boston—moves (Madeira’s now a Cincinnati suburb). My wife and I made that move after our wedding in the 1960s.

And then my niece Lorna and her husband also moved from Cincinnati to Boston after their wedding in the 1980s. In Boston, Lorna lived across the street from Kris Biagiotti, and they quickly became best friends.

When Kris gave birth to Kayla, a severely handicapped baby, Lorna became the little girl’s godmother.

A few years later, Kris’ husband Bob Biagiotti died of a heart attack at age 42. Kris began running marathons with Kayla in a jogging stroller, training with a similar father-son team, Dick and Rick Hoyt. Kris circled the 2013 Boston Marathon with the hope that she and Kayla would become the first mother-daughter duo to complete the race in the wheelchair division.

The race was going well. Kris and Kayla conquered the torturous Heartbreak Hill that Clarence DeMar had mastered so many times. Their goal, the finish line at Copley Square, soon came into view. But the Tsarnaev brothers were also taking deadly aim at the finish line—with two pressure-cooker bombs in their backpacks.

Brian Bridges, Kris’ fiancé, came off the sidewalk to help Kris and Kayla navigate a pool of reporters waiting to interview them. But then…BOOM!!! Brian, bleeding from shards of shrapnel to his head, still managed to guide Kris and Kayla to safety. Kris later credited Brian with shielding Kayla from the full force of the blast. All survived.

Ironically, I had written articles on terrorism for three decades. But Kris and Kayla’s close call jarred me out of retirement and into a writer’s rage. One of my stream of new articles took Rolling Stone magazine to task for making a cover boy out of the bushy-haired bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Intent or not, the cover appeared to glamorize terrorism.

Madeira can justly honor John Hosbrook and Clarence DeMar. Likewise, Kris, Kayla, and Clarence deserve accolades for running the Marathon in Boston Strong fashion. But Mr. Tsarnaev only deserves disdain if not death. The race is the strong, not the cowardly.


James F. Burns is a retired professor at the University of Florida.