As the tragic scene continued to unfold near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, officials in Washington, D.C., enhanced visible security and lawmakers sent prayers to those affected by the explosions.
President Barack Obama called Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino and pledged any and all support needed in responding to the explosions. Obama, who had been briefed on the incident by Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco, also called Congressional leaders Monday afternoon.
In a brief appearance at the White House early Monday evening, Obama vowed to bring “the full weight of justice” to whoever perpetrated the bombings in Boston.
“We will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable,” the president said, although he cautioned that the identity of the attacker or attackers was not known and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
He referred to the bombings as a “tragedy” and praised the first responders. But he notably did not use the word terrorism or terrorist attack in his brief remarks, even though top lawmakers on Capitol Hill were saying the explosions had the hallmarks of terrorism.
“We reaffirm that on days like this, there are no Republicans and Democrats, we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens,” Obama said.
At least two people died as a result of the blasts — one of them reported to be 8 years old — and estimates of the number of people injured were still climbing Monday evening. The Boston Globe reported that Boston hospitals are treating more than 100 people following the explosions.
On Capitol Hill both the House and Senate held moments of silence Monday evening as they returned for the first votes of the week. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, ordered flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff.
The prayers for the victims that poured in from members via Twitter Monday afternoon gave way to forceful pledges to get to the bottom of who is responsible as lawmakers returned to the Capitol for votes.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who spent years as the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and now serves on the Intelligence Committee, told reporters that the Intelligence panel had a meeting already scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Collins cited several immediate questions, including whether the attack was perpetrated by a lone wolf or a more organized operation.
A more organized attack would raise important questions about intelligence-gathering, she said. Collins also noted the importance of figuring out if U.S. citizens are involved.
“This has the hallmarks of a terrorist attack,” she said. “Whether it’s homegrown or originated abroad, we don’t know. The use of improvised explosive devises, the presence of more than one devise — the horrible carnage and death and injuries — suggest that this was a carefully planned event.”
An increased security presence could be seen around Washington on Monday as a result of the events in Boston.
A statement from the U.S. Capitol Police said they are monitoring the situation in Boston and are “in constant contact with our local and national law enforcement partners as it pertains to the events.”
Immediately following Obama’s remarks from the White House, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, held a news conference flanked by city law enforcement officials including Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier.
“We have been monitoring the situation in Boston and any possible consequences for the District since shortly after this tragic incident occurred, and our public safety officials and I are in close contact with all our federal and regional partners,” Gray told reporters.
Gray said that apart from the vicinity surrounding the White House, no streets or areas in the District have been closed off to the public at this time. Lanier added that the department had not received any threats and that it was not currently investigating any incidents that would appear to be even remotely tied to the events in Boston earlier in the day. Increasing the security presence around the city, Lanier explained, is typical when any violent event or attack takes place elsewhere in the country or the world, given D.C.’s unique status as the nation’s capital. The department’s alert status, she continued, stays in effect until it becomes clear that the city is not another target.
The decision to ramp up security comes at a time of year when the city is playing host to scores of tourists and outside visitors who every spring take advantage of school vacations to see the sights and the famous cherry blossoms.
Both Massachusetts senators and lawmakers from across the country weighed in Monday afternoon through Twitter and in statements.
“Monitoring the scene back home. My thoughts and prayers are with the injured and everyone at @bostonmarathon, in Boston and in Mass.,” tweeted Sen. William “Mo” Cowan, D-Mass. Cowan was appointed to the Senate earlier this year by Patrick, whom he previously served as chief of staff.
Cowan will serve in the Senate until a new senator is chosen in a special election prompted by the resignation of longtime Sen. John Kerry to become secretary of State. Democratic Reps. Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch both suspended campaign activity in the wake of the incident. Lynch and Markey are scheduled to square off in an April 30 Democratic primary.
The marathon, which takes place on the Patriots’ Day holiday in Massachusetts, is one of the great annual events not just for the city, but for all of New England. Other senators from the region were among the first to weigh in.
Being budget season, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was already scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill this week for House and Senate hearings on the department’s fiscal 2014 budget request, with a hearing Wednesday at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Thursday at the House Homeland Security panel. The circumstances in Boston will no doubt change the focal point of those hearings.