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Brothers wounded by Boston Marathon bombing share struggles and strength

April 15, 2014 at 6:47 PM EDT
One year ago, Paul and J.P. Norden were cheering on a buddy near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when they heard the first bomb go off. Then they were struck by the second bomb, and both of them lost a leg. Emily Rooney of WGBH sits down with the two brothers to talk about life before and after the attack, and the experience of co-writing a book about their journey.

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, as we mark the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, a personal tale of recovery and struggle.

At least 16 people lost limbs in the attacks. That includes a pair of brothers, Paul and J.P. Norden, from Stoneham, Massachusetts, who each lost a leg.

Emily Rooney of WGBH sat down with them recently. Here is part of their conversation.

EMILY ROONEY, WGBH: A year ago this time, Paul and J.P. Norden had just been laid off their jobs as sheet metal workers. That meant the two could hang out at the Boston Marathon cheering on a buddy who was running.

They were just outside the Forum Restaurant near the finish line when they heard the first bomb go off.

J.P. NORDEN, Survivor: People were crying. Some people were scared. Other people didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a gas explosion. I thought the manhole cover blew off. And it was just — that was it. But our friend of ours was like, all right, we have got to get in the street. So, when we huddled up, and that was going to be our plan. And we just didn’t make it.

EMILY ROONEY: Exactly 12 seconds passed before the second explosion.

Do you remember rescue people coming to help you?

J.P. NORDEN: Yes, I was laying on the sideline. I thought it took them a while to get to me. But they really didn’t. It was seconds, not — but it felt like minutes when you’re laying there and you’re hurting and whatever.

But, yes, they all huddled around. People were taking their shirts off, whatever they had, scarfs, for tourniquets. I had a bunch on both legs. And they did a pretty good — damn good job with me, I think, anyways. But they’re the ones that really saved us, I think.

EMILY ROONEY: You both you were kind of aware right at that second that something terrible had happened. You were aware.

J.P. NORDEN: I was so hurt, and I just looked over and I saw him. I was yelling to him and he couldn’t hear me and stuff.

And, like, I saw his leg off, but I saw him sitting up. And I could only see him from the side. So, I didn’t see like that he had burns and stuff up there. And everything — and he looked fine, except — besides his leg being off, but he looked like nothing was even really bothering him.

That’s what it looked like to me anyways. But — so I knew he lost his leg and I knew he was hurt, but I didn’t know like how bad.

EMILY ROONEY: Did you know right away that you had lost a leg, also?

J.P. NORDEN: I knew, yes, because when I first — the first went off, I was confused, but I thought I got punched. I didn’t know. And I was rolling around. And when I tried to get up, I almost — I tried to put this foot into the ground, and I couldn’t. It was gone.

EMILY ROONEY: So you were both able to give your names, and you were conscious enough?

PAUL NORDEN, Survivor: Yes, I called my mom.

EMILY ROONEY: You called your mom?


EMILY ROONEY: What did you say?

PAUL NORDEN: I didn’t want to say too much because I didn’t want to worry my mom, because I know she’s nuts. She loves us so much. She would go — she would be devastated. So I didn’t want to tell her too much. But I knew — I saw my leg go off and stuff, so I knew how bad I was hurt.

EMILY ROONEY: Paul and J.P. have recently penned a book, “Twice as Strong,” recounting their lives before and after the 2013 Boston Marathon.

As it turns out, neither brother really knew what happened to the other that day, until they read those portions of the book.

PAUL NORDEN: When I was reading the book and saw what he had to go through, it made me cry. And it was just tough to read to see what he went through.

And then, in general, hearing all the other stuff that went on, because I was in a medically induced coma, so I didn’t — I missed like the first week of April 15 through like the 22nd, so I didn’t know what happened.

EMILY ROONEY: Writing the book, was that cathartic for you at all?

J.P. NORDEN: The book was like — I think it was therapeutic for all of us a little bit.

You know, we all got to hear everyone’s side of everything. Even to this day, like, we haven’t sat down and talked about the whole thing, you know, because that was — really, our focus from the beginning was just moving on with this, putting it behind us. And I think we have done a good job with that. But the book was interesting to hear everybody’s side.

EMILY ROONEY: In terms of adjusting to having a prosthetic leg, do you still think about it every day or has it become a routine for you?

J.P. NORDEN: Unfortunately, we have to think about it every day because when we get up in the morning, we have to put our leg on. I’m still sore all the time. And for him, being above the knee, just to walk, he has to do things differently.

PAUL NORDEN: This winter was pretty tough. It was difficult the first couple of snowstorms. And it’s hard on black ice for either one of us, you know? But we will get used to it and we will adjust.

EMILY ROONEY: Now, you both said at the time that you really weren’t interested in talking about who did this. But having put a year behind you now, are you more interested? Are you interested in the trial?

PAUL NORDEN: No, I just think the justice system will do what it’s going to do, and we have no control, so that’s my answer. I have nothing — I don’t even think of the kid.

J.P. NORDEN: Yes. I mean, I just think we look at it as like, you know, this person did this or whatever, but we couldn’t control it that day. And we don’t even — I don’t even think about the marathon ever, you know?

EMILY ROONEY: Is there anything — sounds kind of strange, but positive that’s come out of this for you guys?

J.P. NORDEN: Yes, a ton.

I myself got a different outlook in life with people, and not that you don’t realize it, but people are good. I mean, from giving you just what they thought about you and how good of friends we had, we have gotten a lot of opportunities. We have got to meet a lot of new people, special people. And for one bad thing that happened to us, of course, it was a real bad thing, but we got a lot of good out of it

JUDY WOODRUFF: What an inspiration.

The brothers are moving forward in other ways too: They’re about to open a roofing business together. Each of them also received $1.4 million from The One Fund. That’s the charity that raised $70 million for victims of the bombing. An artificial leg costs around $150,000, and they will need many replacements in the years to come.