A Boston Marathon reunion

A Boston Marathon reunion
(Library of Congress)

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

Amid the chaos of the Boston Marathon bombings, Leslie Malm met Steve McNamara. And when they parted ways after he helped reunite the Alexandria resident safely with her family, they did not expect to meet again.

But that didn’t sit well with Malm, who credits McNamara with keeping her cool and calm in the wake of the horrifying terrorist attack, which left three dead and more than 260 injured. As the days wore on, she needed to thank him for getting her through the terrible bombing aftermath.

A Massachusetts native, she had stood near the location of the second bomb placed by the Tsarnaev brothers, waiting to cheer on her husband and daughters as they crossed the finish line. Then all hell broke loose.

“I can still, in my head, see this girl’s face who fell beside me,” Malm said in a recent interview “The sheer look of terror on her face — that I keep seeing in my head.”

McNamara was headed down Boylston Street toward the finish line of the iconic race after catching a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. A resident of the city’s North End, McNamara was heading to a restaurant to meet up with friends. Then all hell broke loose.

“It was the loudest explosion you’ve ever heard — it was the loudest explosion I ever heard,” he recalled.

The two met shortly thereafter, after seeking shelter in a bar and restaurant not far from the bombing sites. The strangers leaned on each other for support in the hectic hours after the attack, as McNamara escorted Malm back to her family’s traditional post-marathon meeting point: Cheers, the Boston bar made famous by the TV sitcom of the same name.

And then they split up. Malm regrouped with her immediate family — they had been stopped midrace by authorities — and friends, while McNamara departed to find his buddies. They thought he was dead, McNamara said afterward, recalling that as the moment the scope of the tragedy struck home.

It wasn’t until later that Malm, back in Alexandria and still recovering from the shock, learned McNamara had slipped his business card to a friend of the family, also in town for the marathon. She decided to get back in touch.

“When I talked to him on the phone, I thanked him over and over again,” Malm recalled. “He said, ‘Me helping you helped me.’ He said, ‘So, I thank you, too.’”

It was the truth, McNamara said months later. Focusing on keeping Malm calm and reuniting her with her husband and children kept him from dwelling on the horror.

They made plans to meet again, and on Mother’s Day, when Malm returned to Boston to care for her mother, the two grabbed drinks and then walked down to the memorial around the finish line.

“Walking down Boylston, I started shaking and my heart was racing like mad, and as soon as I [looked at] him, I calmed down and I was fine,” Malm said. “It was kind of weird. I guess I felt safe with him. I felt safe with him that day and felt safe when I got near to him.”

Malm still hasn’t fully recovered from that day. Surprises and loud noises, particularly sirens, make her uncomfortable. But returning to the scene back in May — with McNamara — was a step in the right direction.

“It made a huge difference — it made everything feel much better,” she said. “And I think it helped me to walk down the street and go back into Max Brenner’s and have a couple of beers and have it not like it was on that day.”