A lone tree had begun to flower Tuesday morning on Boylston Street, a cherry tree, planted in place of one ripped apart one year ago by the bomb that exploded in front of the Forum restaurant.
Around that new tree were cut flowers, blue and yellow ribbons, an honor guard of police and firefighters, a ceremonial wreath, and a stream of people who had come to pay their respects to the three people killed in the attacks, many themselves touched by the terror.
Debbie and Mike Hughes of South Weymouth were watching the Marathon last year a few steps from where the second blast detonated. They were by the barricades but somehow escaped injury. Everyone around them was hit.
“We just felt we needed to be here,” said Debbie Hughes, 62, clad in a Boston Strong shirt. “We didn’t want to be afraid.”
They had been at home watching some of the survivors take part in a ceremony on television, then decided to drive into the city.
“It didn’t do us any good to cry at home,” said her husband, 64, who was wearing a matching blue-and-yellow shirt. “We’re proud to be Bostonians. We thought this was the right place to be today.”
Stacy McConnell and Jamie Morse drove in from New Hampshire. They were both running last year, taking their last heavy strides toward the finish line when the bombs exploded in front of them and behind them. On Tuesday, they spent the morning looking out from the newly erected barricades on Boylston Street.
“It’s crazy,” said McConnell, 32, of Bedford. “I never realized how close we were.”
Neither finished last year. They ran up Ring Road to avoid the mayhem.
But they’ll be back on the course this year. They ran a few miles Tuesday morning in their Marathon jackets, hoping to make peace with Boylston Street.
“I just wanted to deal with everything today so we could focus on running on Monday,” said Morse, 35, of Nashua. “We don’t want the run to be somber. It should be joyous.”
Near the scene of the first bomb by the finish line, others paused, tearing up, as they paid their respects.
Katie Casey, 42, of Dedham came back to Boylston Street with her family for the first time since the bombings, because she thought it would bring her closure.
Last year, police stopped her when she was about a mile from completing the race. Her husband and three children were waiting for her at the finish line, and they ran for their lives after the bombs exploded.
Returning to that spot Tuesday beneath the bleachers where the children had been standing stirred up old grief and fear.
“You see a look in their eyes that you’ve never seen before . . . like an in-your-soul type of scared,” she said of her children.
She hoped to teach them a lesson. “Evil never wins,” said Casey, who is running again this year. “We have to continue on — stronger.”
Sandra Gittlen, 43, also wearing a 2013 Marathon jacket, was flooded by emotions. “Today it just feels surreal,” said Gittlen, who had been stopped at the top of Heartbreak Hill while running last year.
She is hoping to finish the race this year. “I think closure is going to be right at the finish line,” she said.
Earlier in the morning, in a light mist under gray skies, relatives of those killed attended a quiet ceremony on Boylston Street, laying wreaths where each of the bombs exploded.
They were escorted by Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley read from 1 Thessalonians, 4:13-18. A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” while an honor guard stood at attention.
A rotating honor guard of police officers and firefighters stood sentinel through the day by each wreath.
The bombing on April 15, 2013, killed Krystle Campbell, 29, of Arlington; Lingzi Lu, 23, a Chinese graduate student at Boston University; and Martin Richard, 8, a third-grader from Dorchester. More than 260 other people were injured.
The suspects in the bombing also allegedly killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier in Cambridge days after the attacks.
In a statement, President Obama spoke of the strength of the survivors and recalled how strangers and first responders ran to the help of victims, putting themselves at risk.
“With each new step, our country is moved by the resilience of a community and a city,” Obama said. “And when the sun rises over Boylston Street next Monday, Patriot’s Day, hundreds of thousands will come together to show the world the meaning of Boston Strong as a city chooses to run again.’’
Tuesday morning, Moira and Joe Lawlor of Medford and their son, Brian, were among the many to confront their dark memories near the finish line.
Brian, who flew in from San Francisco in the morning, was also stopped while running the Marathon last year just before mile 26. His parents were near the finish line when the bombs exploded.
“We know that we were lucky that day,” said Joe Lawlor, 51. “Every time I walk by Marathon Sports or the Forum I feel like it’s hallowed ground.’’
After many of the first responders, politicians, and survivors gathered by the finish line for a moment of silence and a flag-raising ceremony, Robyn Sharpe carried four yellow and blue roses down Boylston Street. She has made the pilgrimage there at least once a month since the attack.
“These are the people that live in my city,” said Sharpe, 45, a lifelong Bostonian. “You just have to offer your heart when they’re in pain. There’s nothing else.”