BOSTON – The image showed James “Bim” Costello staggering away from the Boston Marathon bombing, his jeans shredded and blackened, his body so burned that he was left needing pig skin grafts on most of his right arm and right leg.
Costello had plucked two rusty roofing nails from his stomach and was trying to walk toward any help he could find after the explosions, his ears ringing, his body pebbled with shrapnel and his mind reeling from the thought moments earlier that he might be dying.
Kenshin Okubo, a photographer for the Boston University newspaper The Daily Free Press, captured the photo of Costello in the immediate aftermath of the April 15 terrorist attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. The Associated Press got permission to use the image and distributed it globally.
Since that day, the 30-year-old bombing victim has heard from many people who want to know if he is the unidentified survivor in that photo.
A month later, Costello said he’s ready to share his story because he fears people are starting to forget the plight of victims who suffered life-altering injuries that he calls much worse than his own.
“I guess what I want to say is, ‘Don’t forget about the people that are seriously hurt and the people that died,’” Costello said Friday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m good. … I’ll just be here to support my friends.”
Costello said he had been going to watch the marathon for about a decade. This year, he was with friends near the finish line and watching for another friend who was running when the bombs went off.
Three of Costello’s friends lost a leg, including brothers Paul Norden, 31, and J.P. Norden, 33. Other friends suffered serious burns and shrapnel injuries after the second bomb exploded outside Forum restaurant on Boylston Street.
Costello spent about two weeks at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries and was among patients who met President Obama. He returned home for the first time Saturday after nearly two weeks of in-patient therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
The Malden, Mass., resident still has one BB embedded under the skin on his right knee, a couple more in his right calf, and another by his belly button. What he believes are metal shavings of bomb debris are still working their way out of skin on his right arm. It hurts when Costello stands still for too long, so he steps from side to side, dancing to ward off pain as blood pools in his injured leg.
The Harvard University campus services employee doesn’t think about the two bombing suspects much, or the possibility that he could have crossed paths with surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old who had worked as a Harvard lifeguard.
But Costello is bothered by the idea that he and Tsarnaev were part of the same community.
“The (bombers) were enjoying the same things you were and then they do something like this,” Costello said.
On Monday, Costello came back to the hospital for outpatient treatment and to lend support to J.P and Paul Norden as they held a news conference to talk about their recoveries.
Costello said he and Paul Norden have played basketball together since middle school. Costello hopes they’ll be back on the basketball court together in the future.
“Maybe we’ll eventually be able to play,” he said. “But it’s never going to be the same.”