It's a Sunday routine in preparation for the week ahead. First, turn on WCRB, the Boston classical station and hope for some Hayden, Mozart or the occasional Scott Joplin. Then, turn on the computer for an avalanche of emails. After weeding through
It’s a Sunday routine in preparation for the week ahead. First, turn on WCRB, the Boston classical station and hope for some Hayden, Mozart or the occasional Scott Joplin. Then, turn on the computer for an avalanche of emails. After weeding through them, it’s a mental review of what’s coming up in the week ahead and what needs to get covered for the next edition of the Beacon.
I had just started Sunday when the first of the sirens interrupted Chopin. Then came another and another. Some were the sirens of fire apparatus, others were distinctly police racing down West Shore Road a couple of blocks away. Whatever was happening was close by.
Earlier this spring the same thing happened, only it was even closer. A house was on fire around the corner on Blake Street. Neighbors had gathered. Fire hoses snaked down the street. I walked over with my camera to find Mayor Frank Picozzi on the scene talking with Alan Ferla, one of the owners, as firefighters chopped a hole in the roof and smoke billowed. It was close to home.
This time I instinctively knew this was worse. I could tell the sirens would lead me to Conimicut Point.
Not surprisingly, as it was a hot Father’s Day, the parking lot was full. This was a beach day. But then there were the fire apparatus and the police cars. This was not good.
A rescue with the rear door open stood ready. The body language of first responders told the story. They had done what they could. They were waiting, waiting, waiting as their comrades walked the shallows, some tethered to others standing on shore. Further out, flippers emerged from the waves as dive team members searched. Beyond them was a flotilla of craft. Some were no larger than 8-foot inflatables, others were 30-foot and larger boats with flashing lights. Yet others were pleasure craft and jet skis that had joined in the search.
Where the rising tide met the sand, uniformed police and firefighters stood. We know one another. I learned quickly that two men had been pulled from the water and transported to Kent Hospital, but two other people – a girl and a man – were still missing. Nearby was the encampment of an extended family. Young children were playing in the sand as adults stood silently looking out at the waters. Four women standing in a circle, holding hands and heads bowed, prayed. One was the mother of the missing girl. Beyond them, further away from the point, life went on as if nothing was happening. People sat in beach chairs, coolers at their side, as others walked the beach and cooled off in the water.
The “thump, thump” of an approaching Coast Guard helicopter caused people to look up, adding an element of tension and anxiety. The craft made a wide circle of the point and after several passes hovered offshore. Boats gravitated to the location. Had they found something? After five minutes the chopper moved on, as did the fleet below.
I knew I would need the names, the ages and addresses of the victims to tell the story. I suspected police had already gathered that information from the family. This was not the time to ask police, nor did I feel it appropriate to ask family members feeling helpless as they waited for the inevitable news. Besides, I was not facing an immediate deadline as surely television crews at the scene were.
Yet this was a time for communication. A time to come together. That’s what we do when we gather to remember the life of a deceased. We’re there out of respect, but most of all to give our support to the living.
This was different and difficult.
On the one hand I wanted to lend support to these strangers struggling through this ordeal, but what could I say and do? I could see the pain in the faces of the command officers and Mayor Frank Picozzi who stood in a group barely 50 feet from the families. They must be feeling the same thing. They were silent, waiting for news, periodically moving as the incoming tide claimed more of the beach.
Father Robert Marciano, fire and police chaplain, arrived. He was briefed by police and immediately headed for the mother, who was now standing alone at the water’s edge. They talked. He put his arm around her. Together they prayed. This was a time for compassion.
He had brought it where we couldn’t.