As the city of Boston and survivors of the 2013 marathon bombing reflected on the ninth anniversary of the deadly terror attack last week, some spoke out about a federal criminal justice system that has allowed the convicted bomber to collect COVID-19 relief money and other funds as he appeals his death sentence.
Robert Wheeler, a participant in the Boston Marathon who was hailed as a hero for literally giving the shirt off his back to aid victims of the blast, told Fox News that April 15 "still remains as profound and mixed of emotions as the day of my first marathon in 2013."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of coordinating the attack with brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is locked up in a maximum federal prison in Florence, Colorado. The brothers planted two homemade pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people – two women and an 8-year-old boy — and injured over 260 others. Seventeen of those injured lost at least one limb in the attack.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 terrorism charges and sentenced to death on six of them. A federal court later reversed the death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court in March reinstated the punishment in a 6-3 vote.
Tsarnaev was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. He was also ordered to pay $101 million in restitution to the victims.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police amid a days-long manhunt. A Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer was shot and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer was killed during the gunfight.
Despite the surviving Tsarnaev being ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines, victims have seen little in compensation. In addition, he received a $1,400 COVID relief payment while incarcerated in the summer of 2021.
"It is a betrayal of our justice system after I grew up trusting it," Wheeler said. "I realize now that America as I loved it does not exist. And not only is life unfair, but it is truly unjust. Since the bombing, I have known hunger and cold, yet he lives not knowing hunger or cold on our taxpayers tab. It has been far more traumatic than the actual bombing seeing how sold-out and soft this nation has become ... where a terrorist who wrote his praise to Allah in his blood is treated better than those we call victims or heroes."
In January, a federal judge ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to turn over Tsarnaev's stimulus check and funds in his inmate trust to pay victims.
On Friday, the ninth anniversary of the attack, elected officials and residents remembered those who died.
"On #OneBostonDay, we remember and reflect on the resiliency of our Commonwealth, our City and our communities," Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker tweeted. "Grateful to join @MayorWu this afternoon to honor those we lost on this day nine years ago, and recommit ourselves to leading with kindness and compassion."
This year's race will be held Monday.
Marc Fucarile, who was nearly killed by the second bomb and lost a leg, reflected on the evil perpetrated on that day but also on the good that came out of it.
"We witnessed evil, and then we witnessed so much good at the same time," he told Fox News.
He said this week's attacks in a New York City subway that injured 29 people, including 10 of whom were shot, brought back memories of his experience. He also noted that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and other terror suspects, including the shooter in the 2016 Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, were on federal watch lists.
Kim Donahue, wife of Richard "Dic" Donahue, the MBTA officer who was shot in the gunfight with the Tsarnaev brothers, told Fox News this year's marathon is a day to remember the victims of the blast "as well as remember the police officers who gave their lives the days and weeks after and think of their families."
She cited the deaths of Sean Collier, an MIT officer who was shot and killed by the suspects days after the bombing while on patrol, and Boston Police Officer Dennis Simmonds, who died a year later from head injuries sustained from an explosive device used by the suspects, police said.
Donahue said she chooses not to dwell on Tsarnaev's receipt of COVID relief funds and his appeal of his sentence.
"We have always known that a death penalty sentencing is only an ongoing cause for appeal," she said. "I don’t worry over his current financial state or lack thereof, nor carry hate in my heart over it. That is all energy and space I don’t have to give."
She said she and her husband are busy raising three "rowdy little boys."
Fucarile said the $1,400 payment Tsarnaev received is more than his Social Security disability payments each month.
"It's disgusting that criminals and terrorists have more rights," he said. "My wife gets $700 with no arms and legs, and he gets a $1,400 check? It's sick in this country that there are Democratic, liberal politicians that will vote for gentlemen like him to stay alive and to get paid out of taxpayer money."
He said he doubts Tsarnaev will be executed under the Biden administration.
Wheeler noted he has a construction business and was impacted by COVID shutdowns. Maintaining healthy relationships has been challenging since the attack, he said.
He said he will be running Monday's marathon with his "head held high enjoying our race despite the injustices. I will be sure to do it my way and do my best to keep my eyes dry as the roller coaster of emotions that Boston has become hits me."
The tragic events of the 2013 race have actually made him embrace a thirst for life, he said.
"Yes, it held me back with hearing and traumatic brain injury issues, but I am anything but afraid," Wheeler said. "I am parched and thirsting to embrace life and nothing is going to stop me until my last breath. We will continue to fight to see that Tsarnaev pays with his life, as life is a gift he lost his privilege to."