Berklee Student Helps Marathon Bombing Victims

Songwriting major Callie Benjamin helped victims after a bomb exploded during the Boston Marathon outside the restaurant where she works. 

April 17, 2013


In the wake of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, Berklee student Callie Benjamin is haunted by several images: a tennis shoe blown in half; massive amounts of glass and blood; and the scared look on her coworker’s face. These were among the things she saw moments after the second bomb was detonated outside Forum restaurant at 755 Boylston Street, where Benjamin was working a shift.

Benjamin, a fourth-semester songwriting major from Billings, Montana, would have been outside on the restaurant’s patio waiting tables when the bomb went off had she not dashed upstairs minutes before to bring some dishes to the dish pit in the kitchen. It was there that she heard the two explosions, which occurred just about a hundred yards and moments apart near the marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 170 others.

The restaurant’s windows blew out and the patio guests began screaming, she recalls. Fueled by adrenaline and her natural instincts to help others, Benjamin sprung into action. She ushered patrons in the upstairs dining room through the kitchen and down the back stairway—the main stairway was blocked by people lying on the ground—and outside to a back alley away from the mayhem on Boylston Street.

Downstairs, the scene was grim. “People were lying on the floor in glass and blood. Some people had deep lacerations in their legs and one girl was missing a foot. Some people were taking their shirts off and using them as tourniquets. And I saw a tennis shoe blown in half, perfectly divided,” Benjamin recalls. 

Along with her coworkers, Benjamin went into triage mode, grabbing linens from the basement to help assist the injured patrons until police ordered everyone to exit the premises and declared it a crime scene.

But Benjamin would be called on once more for assistance that day. While heading home toward her apartment by Berklee, she encountered a marathon runner from Canada who was looking for his eight-month-pregnant wife, another runner. Benjamin let him use her phone and helped the man locate his wife at the Back Bay MBTA station. Seeing them reunite was difficult but a bright spot in the afternoon, Benjamin says. “They were sobbing and holding each other,” she says.

Benjamin brushes aside any characterization of her actions as brave. “I wasn’t trying to be brave,” she says. “I had so much adrenaline and I didn’t know what to do with it.”

She notes that while after she was concerned there would be another bombing incident, the need to help people outweighed that. “I find comfort in working with people. I do a lot of volunteer work and I have a deep passion for people. That was really shining through that day,” says Benjamin, who volunteers at Rosie’s Place in Boston and has also volunteered at a homeless shelter in San Francisco, worked as a counselor at a camp for disabled youth in Montana, and worked with refugees in Phoenix.

In the aftermath of what transpired on Monday, Benjamin says the events seem to blur together. “I’m still processing that it’s a reality,” she says.

She is comforted by the outpouring of support from the Berklee community, especially her classmates and professors. “It’s been a godsend,” she says.” Benjamin is encouraging her fellow classmates to share what they experienced that day, noting that telling these stories is “important to heal as a community.”

As part of that healing, it’s also important to focus on community support rather than anger over the bombings. “Anger is not what’s going to fix this,” she says. “It’s just a matter of being there for each other.”

As a songwriter, Benjamin says that ultimately she will likely express what she experienced and witnessed through song, but that it’s too soon. “It’s just a matter of letting it come through, letting the muse come to me.”

For now, Benjamin—who has plans to visit her native Montana to spend some time with family and friends—is going to do her part to raise money for Boston relief, donating 8 percent of the money she raises to fund a summer internship in Nashville.

Around campus, Benjamin’s classmates are responding to Monday’s bombings in various ways.

The Berklee Student Government Association has plans to collect thank-you notes for the public safety personnel deployed around Berklee and Berklee CARES made a “Berklee Loves Boston” banner and hosted a memorial event in the caf on Wednesday afternoon. According to student Shilpa Ananth, who has offered her own home as refuge to those displaced as a result of the bombings, many students recorded covers of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and posted them to their Facebook pages.


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