By Christopher Scott
Shortly before 3 p.m., on Patriots Day, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis was on a conference call with Vice President Joseph Biden. They, and other police chiefs from several major U.S. cities, were discussing strategy on the gun-control bill wending its way through Congress.
Davis had to step off to take an urgent call from one of his top commanders: The finishing stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street was under attack from exploding bombs.
It took Davis about 15 minutes to get from his Hyde Park office to the downtown. The 35-year law-enforcement officer knew it was serious when he saw people hugging and crying on street corners in the Fenway, blocks away from what would soon become a crime scene.
"It was like a war zone. It looked like something out of the Middle East," said Davis, who became the leader of Boston's Police Department on Dec. 1, 2006, following a successful career in the Lowell Police Department.
"The carnage was terrible -- body parts, amputations," said Davis, 57, before pausing to reflect on his words. "Over 35 years, I've seen a lot. But I have never, ever seen anything like this, and I hope I never do again.
"It was just terrible."
The two bombs exploded about 10 seconds and about 100 yards apart Monday, near the finish line of the 26.2-mile race. The blasts tore off people's limbs, knocking others off their feet, and left streets stained with blood and strewn with broken glass.
The three dead included an 8-year-old boy from Dorchester, a 29-year-old woman from Medford, and a Boston University graduate student. Nearly 200 people were injured, many seriously, with life-altering injuries to their lower extremities.
Spectators, runners, public-safety personnel, just about everyone Davis encountered on one of Boston's best-known boulevards Monday afternoon "had that 100-yard stare," he said.
Davis said five Boston police officers were wounded by shrapnel, and many others suffered psychological wounds and were meeting with counselors. Davis spent much of Tuesday meeting with those officers, hoping for a kernel of information that might lead to a break.
Asked if he thought the terror was inflicted by a domestic or foreign enemy, Davis said: "We really do not know."
Davis was also scanning thousands of photographs and video clips from surveillance cameras and cellphones for anything that looked suspicious. He also said investigators are receiving hundreds of tips.
"I am confident we will get something, either from a tip or a picture or video, that will lead to the apprehension of whoever is responsible for this," Davis said.
Davis described the crime scene as the most complex in the history of the Boston Police Department.
Late Monday night, the crime scene spanned about 15 city blocks. By Tuesday morning, it had been reduced to about 12 city blocks. Davis and other law-enforcement officials said it could be several days before the Copley Square area is fully opened to the public.
About an hour before the bombs exploded on the north side of Boylston Street, on both sides of Exeter Street, Davis was watching the marathon with his wife, Jane, and several friends, from the VIP grandstands near the finish line, not far from the Boston Public Library. Davis had to cut out early for the conference call with the vice president. Jane Davis and the family's friends left minutes later.
"Everyone is OK, thank goodness," Davis said. "I just wish I could say that about everyone else."