Facebook Puts Local Faces on Boston Tragedy

You may have started yesterday morning as I did, with a cup of coffee, checking emails. Maybe you then did as I did, and moved on to Facebook for a quick check.

April 15. Tax day. Patriot’s Day. Another series of Facebook jokes, baby pictures, “23 years ago I married my best friend …” celebrity gossip, a pineapple upside-down cupcake recipe, kitten and puppy photos. The usual Facebook fare.

That’s when I saw some photos of of Joann Hall, 71, of Redding, posted on the FB page of one of her daughters, Amy Lynn Spencer, who said they were in Boston so Joann could run in the Boston Marathon.

The Facebook posts were celebratory, and heavy with happy anticipation. Included was a photo taken the previous night of Joann and some of the other Redding runners who’d traveled east for the Boston Marathon.

The photos of Joann included one of the back of her jersey, with the words, “In memory of Charlie Gill – 1958 – 2012”.  Charlie Gill was Joann’s son-in-law, daughter Michelle Gill’s husband, who died of cancer exactly five months ago to the day of the Boston Marathon.

More than one person suggested that Charlie Gill would be there to help his mother-in-law, to help carry Joann through the roughest parts, all the way to the finish line.

 Amy even provided instructions of how to track her mom’s  progress at the Boston Marathon via text messaging. What a world.

Subsequent posts gave updates about how far into the race Joann was. I didn’t even know Joann but I was so impressed by her. This was a tenacious woman with obvious spunk and determination.

I, a stranger to Joann Hall, was rooting for her.  But that’s how it goes when someone from our north state tribe leaves the clan to achieve a dream. She’s one of us, and she makes us proud. She, and dozens of others from our area, put local faces to the Boston Marathon.  That’s why friends and family and well-wishers left messages of love and pride and encouragement.

“We’re with you! We’re cheering for you! We’re on the edge of our seats for you! We’re so proud of you! We love you!”

Facebook at its best.

A Facebook photo of Amy Lynn Spencer and her mother Joann Hall of Redding taken just before Hall ran in the Boston Marathon. Photo from Amy Lynn Spencer’s Facebook page.

I logged off and and went to work. But by the time I checked Facebook again a few hours later, everything had changed. Something horrible had happened. Two explosions near the Boston Marathon finish line. Chaos. Death. Injuries.

Amy’s posts had turned frantic. “A bomb just went off in the street!!!”

This prompted a flurry of questions by her friends and family. What did she mean … a bomb had gone off in the street?


As the minutes unfolded, Facebook messages appeared that expressed fear, anger, sorrow, horror, disbelief and bewilderment.

Michelle Gill, Amy Spencer’s sister, posted this on Facebook; an update about their family:

“My sister Amy, tells a harrowing story of survival and true grit. She was VERY near the 2nd explosion, close enough to be in the middle of panic and pandemonium. With sheer determination she managed to make it through the chaos, and set out to find our mother. She tried to back-track the course, and literally distracted the police and jumped the barricade that had been set up. Only to come across literally thousands upon thousands of people. She had hit her knees crying, certain that my mom would be alone, cold and frightened. She gave it one more try and miraculously find my mother. Praise God that she was there, and had the wherewithal to push forward, no matter the obstacles. I love my family so much, and I am so grateful that they are alright.”

All over Facebook north state people sought information from one another about their friends and loved ones in Boston. Posts gave updates and information. KRCR posted a list of more than two dozen north state runners who’d registered for the Boston Marathon and were confirmed to be OK.

Text of sympathy and solidarity appeared over American flags, and in front of candles: United we stand with Boston. Pray for Boston. Stay stong, Boston! Share if you agree!

President Obama’s quote was posted and shared on Facebook: “On days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats—we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens.”

With each hour the news grew more grim about the lost of life and limbs … literally. The cruel irony emerged … that people would lose legs at the Boston Marathon. An unconfirmed report said an 8-year-old boy was among the dead.

Even with the shock that humans could do something so dark and evil to fellow humans, stories of courage and compassion emerged into the light, reminders that bad people are in the minority, and that goodness and mercy can prevail under even the worst circumstances.

As always happens with breaking news story, misinformation appeared, from posts claiming Boston was under a major terrorist attack, to Photoshop- enhanced pictures of supposed victims and reports of multiple unexploded bombs.

Yet the facts remained: Last reports were three dead, more than 170 injured, and those numbers continue to climb. More than 17 remain in critical condition.

It was so sickening and unbelievable that such a dreamy, joyful day could end in such a nightmare. Why? Why?! What causes some people to behave so horribly toward one another?

Facebook had all the answers.

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. –  Isaac Asimov

Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace – Dalai Lama

Boston Marathon: Meditate for peace.

Wear a race shirt in honor of Boston.

Wear red in honor of Boston.

Wear purple in honor of Boston.

Photos were posted, not just of the carnage and terror and blood, but some like this one, of a cowboy team-roping gathering, praying for Boston.

Then came this Mr. Rogers quote, exactly the emotional salve we needed to console children (and adults).

At some point, someone on Facebook pointed out that no offense, but there are deaths and bombings all over the world, and by comparison, this wasn’t that large. The loss wasn’t that great.

The answer, of course, is that no matter the size or scale of a tragedy, it hurts most when it hits home.  At these times, even strangers from our village become family we care about, worry about, and pray for. When people from our village are in harm’s way, that makes it personal. That makes it painful.

We mourn the loss of those in Boston who were killed or injured. We applaud the first-responders, and those who rushed in to help.

But today, we turn our thoughts to our north state runners in Boston. We are so glad you are whole and unhurt. God speed to you all, that you’ll return home safely, far away from Boston, and back to the safety and support of your home town.

Your California finish line and community lifeline.

Special thanks to Amy Lynn Spencer, and the entire family of Joann Hall for the use of their Facebook photos and posts.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

12 Responses

  1. Avatar Kathleen says:

    I love the way you write what's in my heart. I so appreciate you, especially today. This must be how the families in Afganistan feel daily, helpless and left to wonder who and WHY? My prayers are with all who were effected by this as well as the rest of the world . We must at least learn to coexist without violence. I also want to say how proud I am of all the first responders and the kindness of strangers. A special prayer for them as well. Thanks Doni!

  2. Avatar James H says:

    This tragedy was pasted all over my facebook wall. All forms of media covered it in one way or another. Being alerted to this issue in Boston is much appreciated. My thoughts and prayers go out to the runners and their families.

  3. Avatar Ginny says:

    Amazing how quickly people forget about all the terrorsim bombings in Isreal for years. Then, Iraq and Afganastan and Pakastan, all the places in-between including 9-11 that there are people who hate in the name of religion. It is the fact one may be Jewish or Christian or even a different sect of Muslin. Hate is hate.

    Maybe now, those who felt we were immune since 9-11 and accepted then forgot about Ft. Hood terrorism, which the President Obama called "work place violence". It needs to be called what it is!

    Thank you for the fine article, Doni.

    God Bless all of us. We need it!

    • Avatar C says:

      On Monday, 55 people were killed by miltiple car bombs in various parts of Iraq. But that does not seem very surprising any more…

  4. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    "Man's inhumanity to man." No matter where in the world it happens or under what circumstance, the questions is ALWAYS the same: WHY? Whether it bullies or bombs, it's still a painful and destructive force. The only salve is the ointment of real, involved caring. Too many of us keep our tubes of salve with the lids on.

    Thank you for a piece of writing that will help many of us uncap our resources.

  5. Valerie Ing-Miller Valerie Ing-Miller says:

    You have such an amazing and honest way with words, Doni.

  6. Avatar Robin Lopez says:

    Thank you for taking the time & energy to write such a heartfelt article, focused on your local athletes.
    This senseless tragedy, JOLTED me into a renewed appreciation for my friends & family and a commitment to myself, to make the most of each & every day on this planet. We all have goals and plans but at the end of the day – we only have so much control over exactly what will happen.
    My world, as I know it, changed a little yesterday but it could have changed drastically . . . Joann Hall is my sister. Thank God, she and the rest of my family are safe! My thoughts and prayers are with those families who weren't so fortunate.

    • Robin, what an ordeal for you and your family, and what a beautiful take-away message you leave for us. Thank you for sharing, and we send our very best wishes to you and your family.

  7. Avatar Susy Payne-Renaud says:

    Thank you Doni… your kind and compassionate words are received and given away in community to one another here in Redding, in Boston, and to the ends of the Earth!

  8. Avatar Kristine says:

    Thank you, Doni, for the kind and compassionate words regarding the Boston Marathon tragedy. Thank God that all of your local runners are okay. God Bless You for your compassion.

  9. Avatar Terry says:

    So powerful. I appreciate it so much. Thank you, too, for the wonderful Mr. Rogers quote.

  10. Avatar Amanda Sinyard says:

    Beautifully written Doni. I am so happy our North State participants are safe. So very sad for those that are suffering.