(CNN) — A moment of silence at the finish line, the tolling of church bells and a solemn flag-raising ceremony capped the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing Tuesday.
Under a steady rain on Boylston Street, where two homemade bombs last April 15 marked the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, scores gathered in the personification of a slogan that captured the country: “Boston Strong.”
After a stirring rendition of “God Bless America,” ordinary people, bombing survivors, first responders and dignitaries — including Vice President Joe Biden — bowed their heads in a moment of silence, saw the American flag raised, and sang the national anthem shortly before 3 p.m. on the spot where explosions, carnage, screams and smoke interrupted one of the city’s most joyous and popular events one year ago.
Earlier, thousands gathered to mark the anniversary of a horror that shook the nation.
“We would never wish the devastation and pain we have experienced on any of you,” said Patrick Downes, who was among the many injured in the twin bombings at last year’s Boston Marathon. “However, we do wish that all of you, at some point in your lives, feel as loved as we have felt this last year. It has been the most humbling experience of our lives. We hope you feel all the emotion we feel when we say ‘thank you.’”
Downes was a newlywed at the time of the attack. He and his wife, Jessica Kensky, each lost a leg.
Before the crowd gathered Tuesday at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, he spoke of the three people killed in the blasts and a university police officer killed days later amid efforts to catch the suspects. He called them “guardian angels.”
“Let’s show them they live on in our bonds of family, friendship and community and in the infectious spirit we will feel on the third Monday in April for years to come.” That’s the date of the marathon.
After a string of speakers, Biden began his remarks by saying, “I’ve never witnessed a tribute like I heard today.” To the survivors, he said, “My God, you have survived and you have soared. You are truly inspiring. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful as what all of you just said.”
“So much has been taken from you, but you never, never have given up,” he said.
“You have become the face of America’s resolve for the whole world to see,” Biden said, adding that people all around the world know the pride, courage, and resolve of Bostonians. “That’s why the twisted, cowardly terrorists who acted here and in other places do what they do. They try to instill fear so that we will jettison what we value the most and what the world most values about us: an open society, our system of justice, our freedom of religion; our access to opportunity, the free flow of information and ideas.”
The terrorists, Biden said, “wanted to make America afraid so that maybe, maybe, we’d begin to change our ways. That’s the objective — the very soul of who we are. They figured if they instill enough fear, we will change. And it infuriates them that we refuse to bend, refuse to change, refuse to yield to fear.
“You are Boston strong. But America is strong … That’s what makes us so proud of this city and this state. What makes me so proud to be an American is that we have never, ever yielded to fear. Never.”
At the marathon, “the whole world witnessed ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things” to help each other, the vice president said.
“America will never, ever, ever stand down,” he said. “We are Boston. We are America. We respond, we endure, we overcome and we own the finish line.”
“Next week, we will run again,” said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. “But on this day, in this place, in remembrance and resolve, we gather as citizens of Boston, Boston strong.”
One year ago, “the very fabric of this community was tested to its core,” he said, but the city “inspired.”
“You are strong at this broken place,” former Mayor Tom Menino told the crowd, adding, “the heartbeat of Boston is a mighty force.”
To those who lost loved ones and to the many who were wounded, Menino said, “whatever you have to do to recover and carry on, know that the people of Boston and I will be right there by your side.” Menino was mayor at the time of the attack.
On April 15, 2013, the Patriots’ Day bombings killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded at least 264 others. The city then underwent days of fear as the two identified suspects, the Tsarnaev brothers, were on the run. Police say they killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer in the process, and then Tamerlan Tsarnaev was run over by his younger brother, Dzhokhar, as they battled police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 counts and is scheduled to go on trial in November.