JERUSALEM – The back of the bus is safest, an Israeli 10th grader remembers thinking to himself, casually calculating the daily risk of living in Jerusalem as he stepped on a city bus and headed to school.
That bit of caution may have saved the life of Maor Kimche, 15, who was wounded Thursday when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at the front of a bus packed with high school students, soldiers and morning commuters.
Kimche jumped to safety from a blown-out window. Eleven passengers died, their torn bodies slumped in seats, sprawled in the aisle.
The blast rattled the windows of nearby houses, and Dorit Yerushalmi, 59, a retired math teacher, looked down from her balcony of potted plants into the black smoke. A few people fled the smoldering bus shouting and crying. Then the scene fell eerily quiet, she said.
Frantic neighbors ran to the bus in fear their loved ones were inside the wreck.
It was the 85th suicide bombing during the last two years of fighting — and a familiar, horrible scene.
Rescue workers, some with white masks over their mouths and noses, lined up black body bags on the sidewalk along Mexico Street, which runs through a hilly working-class and immigrant neighborhood on Jerusalem's southern edge.
A dead man's arms dangled from a broken window, smearing the side of the bus with blood.
Police Chief Mickey Levy, who had a heart attack after responding to a suicide bombing in January, hugged a weeping policewoman beside the green shell of the bus.
The street was covered with bits of glass and scraps of bodies. The roof of the bus had buckled.
Mayor Ehud Olmert toured the scene and told reporters that Israel's soldiers and police were already doing everything possible to thwart bombings.
"The state of Israel cannot and will not put a police officer on every corner or on every bus or near every traffic light," Olmert said.
After the blast, the young Kimche's left leg was sticky with blood. A taxi driver scooped him up, sped off to a nearby hospital and gave the boy a mobile phone to call his mother.
The boy's father, Doron, had driven close behind the bus and saw the blast but didn't know that his son was on board. He helped get the wounded off the bus before a friend told him his son was at the hospital.
Doctors at the hospital hadn't told Kimche that others had died; social workers would speak to him later. The boy lay calmly in a bed in the pediatric surgery wing. His bleached hair was gelled and spiky. A friend from school held his hand.
He remembered seeing a classmate named Shiran knocked to the floor of the bus. "Suddenly, it was black and smoky. There were people on the floor. Everything was bloody," Kimche said.
It was unclear if Shiran had survived.
Kimche added matter-of-factly that he'd still go to school by bus.
"How else will I get to school?" he asked.