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'No more hurting people.' Will a safer future follow Boston tragedy's wake?

Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bomb attack, once held a sign that said 'peace' and 'no more hurting people.' Research finds a pattern of lessening violence as human history moves forward.

By Staff writer / April 20, 2013

A photo of Martin Richard, 8, hangs at a makeshift memorial near the finish line of Monday's Boston Marathon explosions, which killed three and injured more than 170. Martin was killed in the explosions.

Matt Rourke/AP



Of all the images from the Boston Marathon tragedy that became suddenly iconic this week, none was more poignant than this: a photo showing how Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died in the bomb attack, once held a sign that said “peace” and “no more hurting people.”

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As a city and nation struggle to move forward, that sign implies one of the big questions that remains: What can be done to prevent such acts of senseless destruction in the future?

The search for answers will take time.

In the case of the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, the suspects identified Thursday by the FBI have now been captured. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gun battle with police, while his younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is at a Boston hospital under tight security.

But their motive was still a matter of investigation Saturday.

Whatever  is eventually determined – whether the attacks stemmed from affiliation with some terrorist ideology or by something else – officials in cities around the nation are now thinking harder about how to protect against such potential attacks, notably on “soft targets” like an outdoor road race that are difficult to secure.

One answer, already, is stepped-up security measures by law enforcement.

From public events in America this weekend to the running of  the London Marathon this Sunday, the presence of law enforcement is greater than it would have been had the Boston attack not occurred. But, although Boston in recent days has seen a dramatic “surge” of police and National Guard troops, limited government budgets and the huge number of soft targets mean that such efforts are an imperfect defense.

Another part of the answer is public vigilance – ordinary people being alert about behavior that raises doubts about the intentions or mental stability of acquaintances. Again, this is an imperfect defense.

Some people who knew 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in school said that he did normal activities like sports and parties. “He was never a troublemaker,” one former teacher said.

The Boston case also coincides with growing public debate about three issues with big implications for prevention of violent crime and terrorism: Gun control, immigration reform, and civil liberties in an era of drones and databases of online information.

On firearms, this was a case where the alleged bombers used guns as well as explosives. One of four people killed in the bombing and its aftermath was an MIT campus police officer who was shot while in his car.

The Tsarnaev brothers exchanged gunfire with police during a chase and manhunt that ended Friday night.

This comes during a week when supporters of stronger background checks for gun purchases failed in a US Senate vote. The National Rifle Association and some others argue that Americans’ safety can be enhanced through a greater presence of armed “good guys,” including guards to prevent Newtown-style tragedies in schools. At the same time, many Americans want to see access to assault weapons restricted, and efforts to ensure that people with criminal records or diagnosed mental disorders can’t buy firearms.


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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

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