Since twin explosions tore apart her world on April 15, 2013, Michele Mahoney has not only survived, she has flourished.
The 27-year-old lost part of her left leg – though she narrowly avoided the loss of her foot – after the Boston Marathon bombing, a terror attack that claimed the lives of three and the limbs of 16 others at the Boylston Street finish line.
Since then, Mahoney has dodged the media, and declined requests by federal prosecutors to testify at the looming trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 21-year-old college student who along with his older brother, allegedly carried out the attack.
“I didn’t see anything that I thought could help convict [Tsarnaev],” said Mahoney in the campus center of a Boston-area college where she works. “I was completely oblivious to what was going on that day because I was so focused on seeing my friend cross the finish line. And my whole life revolved around this for close to a year while I was doing physical therapy. I just want to get past it. I don’t want it to be something that will consume my life.”
Mahoney was at the finish line with her roommate Remy Lawler and her friend Jeff Bauman. The trio was cheering on Bauman's now-wife, Erin Hurley. They eagerly awaited that moment when Hurley would cross that iconic line and earn her medal.
A homemade pressure cooker bomb detonated just feet away from her, knocking her to the ground and temporarily deafening her. The muscle on her lower legs was shredded, and her bone was exposed. Her fibula snapped. Her Achilles’ tendon was blown out of place. Nearby, a single foot lay atop a bloody sidewalk.
“I was stunned. It happened so fast. I looked around and my eyes locked with a man who was missing his legs, and I realized it was [Bauman],” said Mahoney of her friend, who became the face of bombing survivors when photos surfaced of him being rushed to safety by rescue responders and a cowboy-hat wearing bystander.
Tsarnaev is facing execution in the terror trial, which has stalled in its selection of an impartial jury. Opening statements were originally set to begin Monday, but have been pushed back to an undetermined date.
Mahoney said she will follow the trial, though for the most part she has made a conscious effort not to glue herself to media coverage.
“For me, I’m not looking for any closure through the trial. I think the only person who can provide closure is myself,” she said, adding that she harbors no hatred for her alleged attacker, Tsarnaev.
Her compassion extends to Tsarnaev, who may be put to death if found guilty.. Mahoney said she has no urge to see the person responsible for the attack put to death.
“I only think about how four people already served a death sentence, and that isn’t fair,” she said. “As for the execution, that isn’t for me to decide. It’s for the jury to decide. My heart is with them through that process because I can’t imagine it being an easy decision to make.”
But she is bothered by the very idea that the accused terrorist has a following – a fanbase of women who have become known as “Free Jahar” girls.
“People are entitled to question and see more evidence, but I think it is absolutely ridiculous that people are saying it is a conspiracy, and that the victims and survivors are actors. They are saying what we went through is fake. If that’s true, we’d be putting on a pretty good two-year façade. It’s insulting.”
Despite these peripheral bothers, for Mahoney, the future is bright.
“I’ve always been inclined to be more positive and optimistic, but still, this has changed my outlook,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney is due to wed in May, a little more than a year after her fiancée, Jim Blackburn, proposed to her. She had only been on a handful of dates with Blackburn when the bombing was carried out. He rushed to her bedside, and stayed with her through her grueling recovery.
“I always look for the silver linings,” she said. “This definitely proved to me that we could get through almost anything together. We got so close so fast. It’s been one of the best things about going through this experience – it strengthened our relationship.”