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Obama Visits Boston Service As Investigation Continues


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. We're listening to a memorial service in Boston for victims of the Boston Marathon.


BOSTON CHILDREN'S CHORUS: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: That's the Boston Children's Chorus. We are listening live. It is an interfaith service in Boston, President Obama and the governor of Massachusetts, among those in attendance. They're about to go on to a biblical reading, a very famous biblical reading from the Book of Matthew: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. And we're going to be continuing to talk about this story throughout the morning with correspondents in Boston and here in Washington.

GREENE: NPR's Tom Gjelten is here in the studio with us to talk about the investigation into those bombings in Boston. And NPR's Tovia Smith is in Boston, covering the memorial service.

And Tovia, bring us up to date there. Who's spoken so far?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, first, we just had that very moving musical performance...

GREENE: It was beautiful.

SMITH: ...with children singing, and tears literally running down their faces as they sang. There is a parade of interfaith clergy. Reverend Liz Walker spoke first, talking about the questions we all ask: How can a good God allow bad things to happen, talking about the evil that slithered in. She said, straight up, others may have the answers, but I don't. But, she says, through the blur of tears, we will rise and find our way through the darkness - a similar message from several others speaking.

Now is the pastor of the Morning Star Baptist Church, who has his own experience with senseless violence, I should just mention, not just on the streets of Boston, but even in his church. Ten years ago, there was a stabbing and a shooting in his very church, during a funeral, in fact, for another shooting victim.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

SMITH: So that was a big moment in the city, and you might expect him to have some unique perspective on kind of picking up and rallying together.

GREENE: Speaking from a very personal place, it sounds like.

SMITH: Right.

INSKEEP: And a very large crowd there. And let's come now to NPR's Tom Gjelten. He's in our studios here in Washington. And Tom, as we watch this memorial service, this very solemn memorial service unfold in Boston, of course, investigators, we presume, are at their desks or out in the field, continuing to try to put together what exactly happened in Boston on Monday. What is the latest that they know?

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The latest, Steve, is that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed today what we first heard yesterday, which is that there is a video - a surveillance video - from a department store...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

GJELTEN: ...that shows two men in the area of the bombings leaving a bag, and then walking away from it. And she said in an appearance on Capitol Hill this morning that the FBI wants to speak with these two men. She did, however, emphasize that they are not, cannot yet be considered suspects.

INSKEEP: Now, why would that be?

GJELTEN: Because they are what the law enforcement professionals call persons of interest. They want to interview them, but they aren't ready to allege anything about them. Now, they're in a little bit of a quandary, here. She said that she wants the public's help in finding these two people. But they have not circulated pictures of them. They're little bit afraid that if, in fact, these are two individuals who were involved in the bombing, they might get alerted if their picture is circulating, and try to get away. So they haven't yet circulated pictures of these people they're looking for.

INSKEEP: And there's even a detail here that I want to try to make sure that I understand, Tom Gjelten. You're saying that there is videotape showing two men - not one, but two - leaving some kind of a bag behind, and then there was the explosion. Do they know for certain that that bag actually contained one of the two explosives?

GJELTEN: No. They don't. I think if they knew that, Steve, then they would probably be a little more prepared to call these individuals suspects. What they're doing here is their matching descriptions of the bag that they know did contain the bomb with the appearance of the bag that they see in the video. And if they're close enough that they raise suspicions and they're near the site of the bombings, so that's the reason they're looking for those guys.

GREENE: Tom Gjelten, as we think about some broader questions - I mean, what was the motive here, was this domestic, could a foreign terrorist group been involved - are you getting the sense that they're getting anywhere near answering some of those bigger questions?

GJELTEN: No, I don't think so, David. And I don't think those are even priorities for them. I think at this point, they really are following the evidence. They're just trying to identify what exactly it was that exploded. They're examining the bomb parts that they have recovered, and they are looking for these photos. You know, they will conclude - once they actually have somebody in their sights - they'll jump to conclusions about, you know, why they did it. But at this point, the question of motive is really far from their agenda.

INSKEEP: Are the improvised explosive devices - as they have been called - are they better understood than they were, Tom Gjelten?

GJELTEN: You know, the interesting thing is, Steve, that these explosive devices that were used in Boston were very crude. And in a way, that's a disadvantage, because the really sophisticated explosive devices, you know, are each made according to the kind of the design and the style of their bomb-makers, and by studying them, they can figure out maybe where they came from. But crude ones can be made by anyone.

INSKEEP: Let's come back now to a little bit of the memorial service, here. And Tovia Smith, who is watching this, is it correct that Cardinal Sean O'Malley has now begun to speak?

SMITH: Has just begun. He's just...

INSKEEP: Let's listen to a little bit of that, and then we'll come back and ask you for more, Tovia.

CARDINAL SEAN O'MALLEY: ...give you his sentiments of love and support. The Holy Father invokes God's peace upon our dead, consolation upon the suffering, and God's strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. The Holy Father prays that we will be united in the resolve, not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good, working together to build an evermore just, free and secure society for generations to come. This year's patriots...

INSKEEP: Cardinal O'Malley, urging people at a memorial service in Boston not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Among those in the packed cathedral listening to this are President Obama and other top officials, including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

And Tovia Smith, as we await the president's words coming up just in a little while, what is his job here? What is the expected to say?

SMITH: Well, it's a job he's done before, of course, most recently in Newtown. And he's been writing the speech himself this morning, we're told by the White House. He is expected to speak about resilience, about the bravery of the heroes who helped the victims, and about resolve - again, to find whoever did this and bring them to justice. But really, truly as eloquent as he always is at these kinds of things, it's hard to imagine any words that could be of comfort. Even one of the counselors at a city center yesterday, a counseling center, told me, basically, there aren't any words, she just said, straight up. But it does help people to heal to know that they're being heard. So the president is here today, not only to speak, but also to hear.


SMITH: And he is offering his support and material, as well. He declared an emergency in Massachusetts yesterday. That means assistance. But this city is still really on edge. And as Tom was saying, as there are - the answers continue to elude us, the city is still - people still believe that whoever did this is out there.

GREENE: And Tovia, this is your city, we should say.

SMITH: Yeah.

GREENE: And I guess I wonder, I mean, the healing is going on inside this very somber service, also I'm sure out in the city. What impressions do you have as you've watched your city recover from this?

SMITH: Just how difficult it is knowing that whoever did this is still out there. You know, until we hear otherwise, it is disturbing, to say the least, and it definitely gets in the way of healing, and also this idea of kind of defiance. And, you know, we don't know who we're defying, right? After 9/11, we knew much more quickly who the attack came from and what we were fighting back against. It's a little bit harder to get your head around when you really don't know where the attack came from, to know what you're defying.

INSKEEP: OK. Tovia, thanks very much. That NPR's Tovia Smith. We also heard here from NPR's Tom Gjelten, as a memorial service continues today in Boston for the three killed and well over 100 injured at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

President Obama speaks shortly. We'll have coverage throughout the day on MORNING EDITION and other programs, right here on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.