Survivors of Global Terrorist Attacks Come Together and Share Their Stories

Boston Marathon Survivor Stories

“Before the bombing, I never wanted kids. I wouldn't have changed my mind if I hadn't gone through that because I am just so different than I was before. Laying there on the ground, I didn’t know if I was going to live. I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to die. I saw my left leg was wide open in the back and like someone had taken an ice cream scoop and just scooped out a big chunk of my leg. I just remember thinking, “Oh my god. This is all I got? This is all I did with my life?” It shook me to my core. I guess a little piece of good that comes out of going through something so horrible is that you do reevaluate your life and the way you're living. I wouldn't have Sebastian if I hadn't gone through that. I'd go through it again for him.” – Michelle L’Heureux
Michelle L’Heureux was injured at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. She is a co-founder of the organization, One World Strong.

On April 15, 2013, a joyous moment for those participating in the Boston Marathon turned to tragedy, when two homemade bombs detonated close to the finish line. Three people lost their lives, while hundreds of others were injured, many losing limbs. Five years later, Dear World has brought together people affected by terrorism around the world for a powerful set of portraits that share their stories.

“In this age of infinite information, these specific stories become blurred together and summarized by the name of the location. Orlando. Quebec City. Nice. Parkland,” Dear World writes. “We want the world to hear the stories behind these headlines and view the portraits that Dear World documents of the individuals' experience, loss, and road to recovery.” By putting faces, names, and words to these events, Dear World reminds us of the real-life toll that lasts well beyond the headlines.

In an unfortunate era where mass shootings and bombings have become a common occurrence, the series is a poignant reminder that we must remain vigilant and motivated when it comes to ending these violent acts. From Angel Colon, who was injured during the Pulse nightclub shooting, to Colton Kilgore, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, everyone has a unique story to tell. Each sitter, with a phrase of significance written across their bodies, has a portrait accompanied by their personal tale of loss, grief, and recovery.

It's an essential reminder to never forget and to not remain complacent in ensuring these events come to an end. If you are interested in helping victims of terrorism move forward, consider donating to One World Strong, which has partnered with Dear World on the project. One World Strong was co-founded by Michelle L’Heureux, who was injured during the Boston Marathon bombing.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, Dear World brought together survivors of terrorist events from around the world and asked them to share their stories.

Dear World Boston

“It was a very slow day in the med tent because it was such good weather that year. It was perfect running weather. We were just standing there looking around, and boom, that's when I heard the first blast and the ground shook. I have never heard a bomb before, but there was no doubt in my mind that's what it was.Then twelve seconds later, boom. The announcer came over, and he said, “We need all PAs and docs to go to the finish line.” We ran towards where the first bomb had gone off on the sidewalk in front of Marathon Sports. All that I had was a Kerlix. It's a gauze roll. I remember just getting down there, and you would think it would be really loud and crazy, but it was eerily quiet. I looked down and I see a woman that has bilateral open tib-fib fractures and her lower leg is bleeding. She had black long hair. She was probably in her late 50s, and she had on a black pair of pants that were torn. All I kept thinking was, “I can't believe all I have is this effing Kerlix.” I just remember wrapping her left leg as tight as I could to stop the bleeding and protect the open wound. Somebody else was working the right leg. Somebody got a wheelchair, and the woman just kept saying “I think I'm going to pass out.” I said, “It's okay. It's okay.”

I was lucky enough that the BAA gave me a number to run the following year. My motivation, not that I needed a lot, but my motivation was, “This year I'm going to cross the finish line from the right direction.”” – Dixie Patterson

Dixie Patterson was a volunteer in the med tent at the 2013 Boston Marathon and served as a first responder following the bombing.

Dear World Boston Inspiring Portraiture

“Lola, my daughter, was the youngest. She was 28 years old when she died during the attack at Bataclan on November 13, 2015. I have specific memories of me taking her to a rock concert. The name of the band was St. Paul and The Broken Bones. Usually, it was her who’d discover new bands. This one, I introduced to her. It was a very, very fun evening for both of us. I don’t know why this band is called St. Paul and The Broken Bones, but I remember that when I read the forensic report about her death because she received a bullet, which broke her thigh bone. It was part of her to live a very full life. For me, it’s a comforting idea. Her life was short, but it was a full life. What is important is the quality more than the quantity. I think you have to live your life as fully as possible and not being too afraid of what might happen. But otherwise if you stay at home, it's another way of losing your life.” – Georges Salinas

Georges Salines’ daughter was killed by an attack on the Bataclan in Paris, France, on November 13, 2015.

Dear World Boston Inspiring Portraiture

“Alyssa was not actually looking forward to Valentine’s Day because all she wanted was a valentine. I bought her diamond earrings and I bought her a chocolate bar, ‘cause she loved chocolate. She looked so beautiful. She was wearing a black and white dress, white Converse sneakers, and her hair was just perfect and her makeup was perfect. I told her I loved her and she got out of the car. That was the last time that I would see or talk to her alive.” – Lori Alhadeff

Lori Alhadeff’s daughter, Alyssa, was killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14, 2018.

Dear World Boston Inspiring Stories

“My wife who was at the marathon with me. We found out while I was in the hospital that she was pregnant. That was only 10 days in. I still had another I don't know, maybe 20 more days of being in the hospital. That might have been after my third surgery or something like that and I was still kind of foggy when she came in. It was our first time we had seen each other since the bombing because she was in one hospital and I was in another. She came into the hospital room and showed me that pregnancy test. It’s a terrible event but when I reflect on it, I think more about the time that I found out that I was going to be a father.” – Christian Williams

Christian Williams was injured at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Pulse nightclub shooting survival story

“People always say, “Oh, it’s going to get better.” But then you’re the one living and it’s like, “Oh my god, it’s never going to get better. People just say that to say that.” It’s rough. It really is. People say there are good days and bad days, and I can totally relate. In my case, sometimes there’s more bad days than good. That also impacted my son as well. He’s kind of getting the aftermath of the PTSD, because you know what? It just trickles down, and it affects the entire family.

I brought my son with me [to One World Strong], so he can also see how everyone's been impacted, and how people deal with it differently. He was in awe of how many people were affected or how many people are in the same boat, per se, even though it happens in different parts of the world. The end result is PTSD, or how do people cope with it and so forth? I'm glad and he was glad he was able to be a part of that. It was very inspirational.” – Omar Delgado

Omar Delgado was a first responder to the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.

Dear World Boston Inspiring Portraiture

“I lost my parents, my little sister, and my leg, and that made me feel that I was incomplete. The moment I realized I was still complete was when I tried an exercise. I was told it was very difficult, that maybe I couldn’t do it. When I tried and I could do it, it was very meaningful to me. I realized that no matter what I have lost, I am still complete. It reminds me, every day, that there are no excuses to not be happy and to not do whatever I want.” – Maria Camila

Maria Camila and her twin brother survived a 2003 bombing at El Club Nogal in Bogotá, Colombia. Her parents and little sister were killed in the attacks.

Boston Marathon Bombings survivor

“My wife and I were in Boston to watch her mom run the marathon, and we were at the finish line, with a big group of her family and friends. The year following that, it was actually our first year of marriage. It was the hardest year of our lives, just dealing with the post-traumatic stress. Even though we hadn't reached a point of healing at that point, it was still hugely beneficial to have each other to at least say, “I know what you're going through now, because I'm going through the same thing.

Last March, the two of us were able to leave our kids at home with the grandparents and go to Iceland. We were up in the northern part of the island, and pulled off on the side of the road, to camp, and ended up seeing the most spectacular show of the Aurora Borealis, and, just standing there in awe, watching this amazing light show that God put on. Being there, with just my wife, being present in that moment, was one of my most cherished memories with her. Just to think about going from young married couple to, five years later, we'll have three kids. Just lived a lot of life since then.” – Colton Kilgore

Colton Kilgore is a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. He lives in Asheville, NC.

Stories of survival Bataclan

“I was at the Bataclan as a first responder with my chief and some other colleagues. The first things we saw were two bodies on the floor. At that moment, it started to become more serious. The only thought I had in my head was just, don't look at victims. I know it sounds terrible to say but, don't look at victims, don't talk to victims, because if you start, you won't be able to do your job. It's going to be emotionally too hard. I need to be calm, because if I'm not, people of my units are not going to be. I have to be an example. That's the whole thought. I'm still thinking of those two men. I still don't know if they survived, if they're still injured, if they took their life back, I have no idea. I don't even know their names. I would have loved to know those guys, actually.” – Chloe Pascal

Chloe Pascal was a police first responder to the attack at the Bataclan in Paris on November 15, 2015.

Pulse nightclub shooting survival story

“A lot of people, family and friends, they try to help me out, they try to talk to me, and I appreciate it. But there was just a big difference because they don't understand what I went through. I remember the first time I met Celeste. I was in the hospital. The nurses actually told me that there were some Boston marathon survivors that wanted to visit me, and I immediately said yes. Celeste walks in and I look at her. I look at her feet and I just thought, “Wow. It’s crazy. Here is another person that has been through a tragedy and she’s here.” I remember her telling me, “It’s going to be ok. Look at me.”

The humor that we had was just amazing. One time she had called me, and we were having a serious conversation and she trips and she yells. She has this sailor mouth, where she just cusses a lot and all you can do is laugh. She apologizes and I tell her, “It’s ok. I understand. Our
legs are screwed up and it’s ok.”” – Angel Colon

Angel Colon sustained multiple gunshot wounds in the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. He was saved by first responder, Omar Delgado.

Survivors of Terrorism

“I had an older son, Romain, who was ten when he died in the Nice attack. His hair was not like me, the opposite. It wasn't brown it was blonde. He had blue-green eyes. He was a really, really kind boy. We regularly would go to the beach on Nice but usually, Romain and his brother don’t play together. This afternoon, especially, they did. Played ball, swim. Romain was trying to teach Maxim to swim. And we spent a nice afternoon, and we swim together, and at 5:30 his father and him must go to buy some shoes and that's the last time I saw him. On the evening of the attack, I was at home and my phone rang and it was my ex-husband. “Something bad. You have to come. Romain has passed away.” And those three sentences are ringing in my head over and over.” – Emilie Petitjean

Emilie Petitjean lost her son at the attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, on Bastille Day, 2016.

Dear World Survivor Stories

“My husband and I have a second home on Long Beach Island. It's a barrier reef island in New Jersey. Alyssa loves coming there all the time. That was a good memory that I had. She spends a lot, a lot, a lot of time, and we couldn't get her out of the Atlantic ocean. Just couldn't get her out of the surf. She'd go in with a bodyboard and just be in there, seems like for hours. Also picking seashells up that would wash along the shore with me. We always had a collection. She'd dump her bathing suit somewhere on the floor. It was all full of sand.

I think what bothers me the most in this house is that I see the pictures of her with her two brothers and I think that as the years go by, those pictures will be replaced with their new pictures, but hers will never be replaced. She'll always stay 14 years old.” – Terri Robinovitz

Terri Robinovitz’s granddaughter, Alyssa, was killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14, 2018.

Victims of Terrorism Survival Stories

“I was in the mosque. As usual, I met a friend there. He was in front of me, about 10 meters, and when I saw him, he smiled. As soon as I’m preparing to meet him, the shooter [sic] enters the mosque and began to shoot everybody. And my friend, he was shot. He was dead. I have two
friends who died this evening.

When you meet people [sic] who were overall in the same position I’m in, terror, you say [sic] to yourself that you are not alone. You go there. You share stories with them. And being together, we can have hope, and hope to change the world, a world without violence, without hate.” – Hakim Chambaz

Hakim Chambaz survived the mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in Quebec City, Canada, on January 29, 2017.

Dear World Boston Survival Stories

“Even though I saw the magnitude of what had happened to my legs, it still didn't really register that I was now an amputee. I mean, I don't know if I just thought my legs were really broken or what, but I remember the helicopter taking off, and I remember just looking down at basically the scene that I was leaving, seeing all the trucks and seeing all my guys continuing the fight, and that feeling sucked, knowing that I was leaving them there.

I woke up from the surgery, and somehow I managed to tell one of the surgeons that I wanted the satellite phone. Somehow I was able to remember the number, or he remembered the number, but called my wife. It was probably zero dark thirty back in the US. I called her and woke her up and told her that I had just stepped on an IED. I thought I lost both my legs, and I mean, I was pretty heavily drugged up. She starts asking all these questions, and I couldn't keep up, and so I just told her, “I'll call you when I can.” And I told her to call my mom, and that was the end of our conversation.” – Gabe Martinez

Corporal Gabe Martinez is a retired member of the United States Marine. In 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was wounded by an improvised explosive device.

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My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Dear World.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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