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Dari Whitehouse with her son, Jerry Peckham, at Dari's birthday party in 2013. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Dari Whitehouse with her son, Jerry Peckham, at Dari's birthday party in 2013. Photo: Zach Hirsch

In Boston marathon bombings, psychological trauma just as real

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It's now a year since the Boston marathon bombings. Three people died that day. More than 260 people suffered injuries. This anniversary week, we've heard lots of heartening stories of how far many have come since that frightening day.

Not all of the wounds are physical. Last year, Zach Hirsch profiled two survivors dealing with the psychological aftermath.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

Zach was studying radio at the Transom Story Workshop on Cape Cod, when he met marathon runner Dari Whitehouse and her son, Jerry Peckham. They were right near the explosions.  He spoke with them about a month after the bombings.

This morning, he joined Martha Foley in the studio to talk a little about his story (hear the full story here), which was part of a program from WCAI that won an award from the Associated Press.

Zach Hirsch: Jerry was standing right near the alleged bombers, and suffered some apparently severe psychological damage.

MF: Is it post-traumatic stress?

ZH: Yes. This piece aired on WCAI, that’s the Cape and Islands NPR station. A couple of professionals were there, talking about it, and it sounds like it was PTSD.

MF: But they were both physically okay.

ZH: Right, they were both physically okay. And thank God they weren’t hurt. But, the point of the story was, they were not okay. Jerry, especially, was in a really bad place for a while. And, Dari had trouble being in public sometimes and being around large crowds.

MF: What were they feeling when you spoke to them, a month later?

ZH: Right. Well, they were sort of having a really hard time talking to me. And again, the point is, you can’t be okay after witnessing what they witnessed. 

And of course there were all these other elements that we don’t have time for. Jerry, in particular, consumed a lot of media, every piece of media he could get his hands on, and sort of re-traumatized himself, it seems. And his employer wasn’t very empathetic about it.

MF: So he was kind of obsessing over it.

ZH: Yeah. And apparently making it worse.

MF: So how are they doing now?

ZH: They’re doing better now. From what I understand, they are no longer staying up all night, having severe night terrors. I did speak with Dari, the mother, recently. It seems like they’re moving on with their lives.

Here she is, talking about this thing that happened a few weeks ago. It was her first time in Boston since last year: "It didn’t really occur to me that being in the city would be an issue. And it was an issue. It was a huge issue. I couldn’t get out of the city quickly enough."

"I think I was much more anxious than I would ordinarily be, going into the city. I was less tolerant of traffic, I was probably less tolerant of people in general. I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you that my world feels a tiny bit less safe."

ZH: If that sounds a little light, it’s because we’re talking about this a year later. Which is good, which means they’re healing. But also, maybe it’s because she was a little further away from the really graphic details.

MF: And of course the marathon is next week. Is she going to go?

ZH: She is still running races. She is not going to Boston. She’s running other races. It seems like she’s still thinking about running big races, she prefers smaller ones. Well, they’re still very long. She ran, I believe, a 50-mile race recently.

MF: But smaller crowds, maybe.

ZH: Smaller crowds, in the woods. Yeah, and she’s not a victim of this, by any means.

Hear about Zach's experience of reporting this story on this episode of HowSound.

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