Boston bombing victim & witness thanks jury for verdict, credits her faith for strength

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(Houston' First Baptist/screen capture)

HOUSTON (Christian Examiner) -- Rebekah Gregory DiMartino, a Boston Marathon bombing victim, expressed thanks for the jury members who found Dzokhar Tsarnaev guilty today and credited her faith for her strength.

Twin bombings on April 15, 2013, killed three people and injured 260 -- including DiMartino and her five-year-old son. Seventeen of the 30 counts carry a possible death penalty.

"I'm very thankful for each of the jury members," DiMartino said in a news conference televised on KHOU News. "For every single person that was involved that day our lives have been changed forever. There have been children taken and parents that will never get to put them to bed at night and innocent lives that were watching people running in the race."

Obviously shaken by the news, DiMartino, who was seriously injured in the blast and has since had her leg left amputated below the knee, said her "heart goes out to every survivor" and the family members of all for the victims that deal with the tragedy on a daily basis.

"Our lives will never be the same, and I hope with this that we move forward," DiMartino said. "We are here for a reason. There is a bigger plan."

DiMartino said she plans to be there for the sentencing, but believes Tsarnaev will be held accountable beyond the fate of the court. "To know someone is facing death over a decision that has impacted my life and ultimately changed it is such an unsettling feeling," she said.

"I'm really glad I did it," she said, of looking at Tsarnaev from the witness stand. It gave her a sense of peace and "a little bit of closure," she said.

He didn't look back, but it took away some of her fear.

VICTIM TELLS HER STORY AT HOUSTON CHURCH

A few months ago, DiMartino told her story at Houston's First Baptist Church when she also announced that she is training to run in this year's Boston Marathon April 20. She said she trusts "God has a bigger plan" than spending each day worrying about being able to walk.

Reliving her story of being in Boston for the first time April 15, 2013, DiMartino said it was the weekend of her 26th birthday and she had taken her five-year-old son Noah with her to watch her boyfriend's mom run, after watching a Red Sox game and touring the city – before heading back to Boston.

"It was just so exciting ... it was so contagious," DiMartino said. "We were all packed up and ready to go after watching the race."

Just three feet away from the first bomb that went off, the Kentucky born woman said, "I remember thinking – and I think that's the hardest part of that day -- I remember being hoisted into the air and being thrown back and I remember trying to look down and couldn't even see my legs. I thought they were gone for sure.

"And what I could see were pools of blood and BBs and nails and all of these things from the bomb and people's body parts laying everywhere," DiMartino said, laying her hand on her chest apologetically while pausing. "I know that's graphic. But that's what it was like."

With 5-year-old Noah at her feet – he's seven now – DiMartino recalls her most immediate reaction as a mom. "Where in the world is Noah?"

Finding later that her body acted as a "human shield" for her son, DiMartino said she was surprised to learn the back of her legs took the force of the impact.

"Angels were around him that day," she said.

"I just got so sad because here is this kid, essentially. He was 19 then, and is 21, I think, now, and he's facing either the death penalty or life in prison. He's completely wasted what could have been a beautiful life. I just can't comprehend how people have that much hatred in their heart, and I just kept looking at him, thinking, Man, what if that was my son?"
- Rebekah Gregory DiMartino to ESPNw.com

Now DiMartino is drawing on God's strength while training for the April 20 Boston marathon, one she never actually attempted to run herself.

"Boston is such a big part of my life," DiMartino told Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston's First Baptist Feb. 22 during a morning worship service where she shared her story as part of a sermon series, "Learning to Walk."

"I just want to show the world it hasn't defeated me; it has made me so much stronger," DiMartino said.

Sharing the platform with her trainer, Artis Thompson, DiMartino who ended up having her left leg amputated below the knee – said his encouragement as one who is also a below-the-knee amputee has been extraordinary.

"I feel like through this God has given me such an incredible platform to help and inspire and encourage other people," DiMartino said.

In admitting that going back to the where "I got blown up at" is difficult, she vowed, "but I'm gonna do it and it's gonna be incredible."

Pastor Matte admitted he has never trained for a marathon, but told both he was thankful for their story and their willingness to share it.

DiMartino said it has not been easy.

"It's tough and ... I think we have to trust that God has a bigger plan for us," she said. Every time that I get up, I have to trust that my fake leg is going to actually hold me up and perform the way it is supposed to, just like we have to trust and put our faith in God. It is a process, it is a doable process and I am just so thankful to be alive and to be here to share."

Matte told DiMartino the church is encouraged by her testimony.

"If you run a mile, you are a champion in our eyes," Matte said. "We don't care about you finishing. If you show up and you take three steps, you are a champion. We love you as a church. Know that we are behind you 100 percent."

In the days ahead, even when facing obstacles, Matte told her, "We want you to know that your faith in the Lord increases our faith in the Lord, [and] as we are learning to walk spiritually, you are learning to walk physically and spiritually as well."

ANOTHER PAINFUL EVENT

Just days after she gave her testimony at Houston's First Baptist, DiMartino announced another "painful choice" in a statement to People Magazine. She said she separated from her husband Pete DiMartino after being married less than a year.

"Over the last several months I've come to realize that going through such a horrific event together put a fast-forward on our relationship that we each handled differently," DiMartino wrote. "While my heart is beyond broken, I have a certain peace knowing from day one, I truly gave it my all, and have been fully invested in keeping this marriage, and my commitment before God."

Last month, DiMartino walked into a Boston courtroom and sat down on a witness stand to looked at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – since convicted of all 30 counts in the Boston bombing. He didn't look back.

"I just got so sad because here is this kid, essentially. He was 19 then, and is 21, I think, now, and he's facing either the death penalty or life in prison," she told ESPNW.com. "He's completely wasted what could have been a beautiful life. I just can't comprehend how people have that much hatred in their heart, and I just kept looking at him, thinking, Man, what if that was my son?"

FACING HER FEARS

In a Facebook entry dated March 4, DiMartino wrote a personal note to Tsarnaev, telling him how his cowardly act changed her life.

"I looked at you right in the face ... and realized I wasn't afraid anymore. And today I realized that sitting across from you was somehow the crazy kind of step forward that I needed all along," DiMartino said.

"And I think that's the ironic thing that happens whom someone intends something for evil," she continued. "Because now you have given me (and the other survivors) a tremendous platform to help others, and essentially do our parts in changing the world for the better."

NEW APPRECIATION FOR LIFE

At the Houston news conference, DiMartino seemed relieved the trial was over, and excited for the Boston marathon in just over a week.

"I was never a runner before this," DiMartino said in talking anew about how life has changed for her since the bombing. "I have a new appreciation for life."

With just 2.5-3 months with a new leg she humorously has referred to as "Felicia," DiMartino said doctors have told her she may be allowed to run a few miles and cross the finish line.

In looking down at her legs, the young woman admitted she could be "upset or feel blessed that I'm still here and have a daily reminder I'm still here, and can run and dance."