Inked in memory: Photos showcase Boston bombing tattoos

BEVERLY, Massachusetts (Reuters) - As he sat in a tattoo artist’s chair a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing having a line-drawing of the city’s skyline inked onto his arm, Christopher Padgett looked at the people around him and got an idea.

Photographer Chris Padgett (R) gestures during an interview at a tattoo studio in Beverly, Massachusetts, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

The crowd at Good Mojo Tattoo in the Boston suburb of Beverly, Massachusetts, also wanting to commemorate the attack that left the city shaken, inspired him to pick up his camera.

“It was young couples and dudes and people who had no tattoos at all and I thought it was interesting to document who these people were,” said Padgett, 39. “You see people with tattoos all the time, but you never go, ‘Oh, what’s that mean?’ You don’t talk to them.”

The fruit of Padgett’s labor - a series of photographs titled “Bled for Boston” - will go on exhibit at the Boston Center for Adult Education on April 3 and run through the end of the month, keeping alive the memory of that fateful day.

On April 15, 2013, two homemade pressure-cooker bombs placed at the crowded finish line of the prestigious race killed three people and injured 264, in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Three days later, the two ethnic Chechen brothers accused of the bombing killed a university police officer in an unsuccessful getaway attempt that led to a day-long manhunt and lockdown of most of the Greater Boston area.

For his exhibit, Padgett photographed about 75 people, including nurses, police officers and spectators standing near the finish line when the bombs went off.

Slideshow ( 7 images )

One of his subjects, Dan Marshall, 33, was waiting for a friend to finish the race when the blasts went off. He said he was one of the first to reach the youngest casualty of the attack, 8-year-old Martin Richard, and stayed with him until medical personnel arrived.

Marshall, of Danvers, Massachusetts, said he had considered getting a tattoo for some time before the blasts, but the event was what provided the impetus.

“I was looking for something with meaning and this hit home for me,” Marshall said.

Two weeks after the blasts, Marshall had an outline of the Boston skyline tattooed on his back, along with the date of the attack and an image of a pair of sneakers. Since then, he has added an American flag in the background and says there is more to come.

“It’s going to keep evolving. Everything in it has a meaning for me,” he said, adding that he finds the process therapeutic. “You leave there feeling relieved. It’s tough to explain.”

The photo exhibit will also include the tattoo of Richard Donohue, a transit police officer wounded in the gunfight between police and the Tsarnaev brothers in Watertown, Massachusetts. The elder brother, Tamerlan, died in the confrontation after Dzhokhar ran him over with a car while escaping.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, was arrested the following evening and is awaiting trial on charges that carry the threat of execution.

Donohue has asked that the description of his tattoo not be revealed until the exhibit’s opening, Padgett said.

Other images range from the sedate, a small yellow-and-blue ribbon with the words “Boston Strong,” to the effusive, a chiropractor’s choice of an elaborate scene in which a dragon and a phoenix adopt a protective stance around a damaged unicorn, in a reference to the logo of the marathon, which will be run for the 118th time on April 21.

Tattoo artist Mulysa “Mayhem” Lesser, who did Padgett’s tattoo as part of a campaign to raise money for race victims, said she was surprised by the number of people who wanted commemorative tattoos. There have been so many that she has lost count, she said.

“It was such a shocking and important thing that I think people wanted to always remember it,” Lesser said. “People were so emotionally moved and traumatized by this. I think it helped with the healing.”

Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson