Six-year-old Alexa Darian, one hand clutching a balloon animal, used the other Thursday to craft a simple message at the intersection of Boylston and Berkeley streets. Slowly, carefully, she used large, dark script to write: “We love you so much!”
The Winthrop child, bent almost to the ground, pushed the message toward a makeshift memorial growing by the minute, an eclectic collection of crosses, candles, teddy bears, medals, running shoes, and hundreds of other personalized items that reflect a common sorrow.
This is the unofficial people’s tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombs, a solemn place where the three dead and more than 170 injured are being offered prayers and support. It is also a place where saddened members of a shaken community have come for renewed strength and a rededication of purpose.
“We just felt that we needed to come into town,” said Sue Ritchie, a Marshfield woman wearing a Boston sweatshirt, who placed a small American flag in a flower holder atop a metal police barrier. “We wanted to show our admiration and support.”
The support is for the victims, and the admiration for the throngs who rushed to the aid of the grievously injured with no thought for their own safety.
At the lunch hour, as President Obama spoke in the South End, the gathering at the memorial numbered about 200 people. Few spoke, almost all took pictures, several cried. Visitors came and went, lingering for a few minutes or many, but the crowd’s size remained constant. For a place that had been rendered chaotic three days earlier, words came sparingly, if at all.
“I’ve just come to pay my respects,” said Timothy Maurer, 18, a Northeastern University freshman from Lebanon, N.H. “It’s powerful to see Boston and the rest of the community come together like this.”
Jere Smith, 30, of South Boston, stopped to take photos of the memorial on her way to work. “It hits close to home, real close to home,” Smith said, lifting her camera above the crowd. “You never think that it’ll happen in Boston. It feels so eerie here.”
City officials said the memorial will be moved to the sidewalk, with no set date for removal, once Boylston Street is reopened to traffic.
“As we do with all memorials, we will be respectful and appropriate and give some time to people to express their support for the victims and their loved ones,” said John Guilfoil, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
For now, the memorial is rising along barriers that mark the eastern edge of the crime scene. Three white crosses bear the names of the dead, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, and Lingzi Lu, beneath their pictures. Flowers are stacked high, row upon colorful row. And all around, hundreds of handwritten testimonials convey powerful emotion in direct, simple, poignant prose.
In one, a finisher’s medal from the 2011 Marathon hangs within a frame that is set on the street. “I leave my medal for all those that never had their moment,” the inscription reads. “My heart and support go out to all. Stay strong.”
Another reads, “Stop the Violence,” and is adorned with paint-dabbed handprints of children. “You’ll never walk alone,” proclaims a scarf strung along the barriers. And one placard, signed by “Ryan Flynn, Proud Bostonian,” reads: “We Can’t, We Won’t, Be Scared.”
The tributes spoke to the Marathon’s global appeal. “Macedonia Loves Boston.” “Kenya is Standing with Boston.” From a Swedish running club: “Thank You, Boston. We Will Be Back.”
Jill Steele, 32, a marathoner from Seattle, said she had visited the memorial each day since the bombing.
“I’ve been watching it growing and growing. At every other marathon I’ve done, you always come back to the finish line and cheer the runners on. I didn’t have a chance here,” said Steele, who had completed the race and heard the explosions from her hotel room.
Now, she plans to return to Boston to run another.
Mixed with the sadness was a strong feeling of resolve at the memorial. For Daniel Evans, 74, of Chelsea, the violence is personal. He has been watching the Marathon for decades and saw much of this year’s race from the corner of Hereford and Boylston streets, not far from the finish and the site of the explosions.
“To me, Patriots Day and the Marathon is Boston’s signature holiday,” he said. “It’s just shocking, but I think this memorial stands as a tribute to Boston. We are strong, and we will persevere.”
After eyeing the testimonials, Evans added something else: “I’m proud to be from Massachusetts, I’ll tell you that.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.