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'He Wasn't Really Afraid Of Anything': Boston Bombing Victim Remembered

Apr 13, 2018
Originally published on April 13, 2018 4:44 am

Roxanne and Dennis Simmonds knew their son as fearless and strong from the day he was born.

"D.J. came out with shoulders of a linebacker," Roxanne says. "He was the first baby I saw that had muscles."

"He wasn't really afraid of anything," Dennis says.

At night, young D.J. would take the dog with him and circle the entire house, to "make sure there's nobody on the grounds," Dennis says, laughing. "I used to say, 'D.J. where you going? It's late.' He would say 'I'm doing a perimeter search, Dad.' "

So when D.J. told his parents he was entering the police force, they were hardly surprised.

But after his work brought him to the front lines of the horrific events that surrounded the Boston Marathon bombing, the son who returned home wasn't quite the same.

Four days into a manhunt for the suspects, in the early morning hours of April 19, 2013, police confronted the bombers on a suburban street in nearby Watertown. Among them was Boston Police officer D.J. Simmonds.

"You know, with the kids," Roxanne says, "I have this thing that I have to talk to them every day. But after the bombing, he called me and he said, 'Ma. I'm not going to be able to talk to you all the time right now.' "

The confrontation eventually led to a shootout between the bombers and police. "D.J. and his partners were able to corner the brothers," Roxanne says. "And they were some of the first ones on scene."

Roxanne and Dennis recall seeing a clip of the showdown on TV — that's when they recognized their son's voice. "It instantly sent chills up to my back," Dennis says.

A homemade bomb thrown by one of the Tsarnaev brothers detonated near D.J., knocking him off his feet.

"We knew he had a concussion, but he said he was fine," Roxanne says. "But, we knew something was a little different."

"Yeah, he was quiet," Dennis says.

"He'd said when he closed his eyes he would see the bombs," Roxanne says. "I will never forget the day he came downstairs. I was in my bedroom and he stood at the door and said, 'I'm afraid of the dark.' I didn't know what to say. His eyes looked like — he was like a kid again. That was the only vulnerability that D.J. ever showed."

"He died a year later," she says.

Their son had suffered a brain aneurysm. D.J.'s death, in April 2014, was linked to head injuries he sustained when an explosive thrown by one of the Tsarnaev brothers detonated near him.

"He used to [lie] on my lap and I used to rub his head," Roxanne says. "I miss that. I miss dialing his phone number. I miss dialing that every day. I've loved him since the moment I saw him as a little baby linebacker and I love him more and more every day."


Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar and Jasmyn Belcher Morris.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This weekend marks five years since the Boston Marathon bombing. On today's StoryCorps, we'll hear about one of the victims. In the days following the attack, there was a massive manhunt. In the early morning hours of April 19, police confronted the bombers on a suburban street in nearby Watertown. Boston police officer D.J. Simmonds was there, and he was injured by a homemade bomb that the Tsarnaev brothers threw at police. Simmonds' injuries led to his death almost a year later. His parents, Roxanne and Dennis Simmonds, sat down for StoryCorps to remember their son.

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: The day he was born, D.J. came out with shoulders of a linebacker. He was the first baby I saw that had muscles.

DENNIS SIMMONDS: He wasn't really afraid of anything.

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: You know, like, 10:30, he would literally take the dog outside and walk around the whole house...

DENNIS SIMMONDS: Make sure there's nobody on the grounds. Used to say, D.J., where you going? It's late. He would say, I'm doing a perimeter search, Dad. So when he told us he was going into the police department, I wasn't really surprised.

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: You know, with the kids, I have this thing that I have to talk to them every day. But after the bombing, he called me and he said, Ma, I'm not going to be able to talk to you all the time right now.

DENNIS SIMMONDS: Right. They were on a major-league manhunt throughout Boston.

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: And D.J. and his partners were able to corner the brothers, and they were some of the first ones on scene.

DENNIS SIMMONDS: They showed a clip on the television and somebody was yelling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

D.J. SIMMONDS: You guys got rifles?

DENNIS SIMMONDS: I turned to you and I said, that voice sounds familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

DENNIS SIMMONDS: It instantly sent chills up to my back because as I heard his voice...

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: And the bombs landed close to D.J. and knocked him off his feet. We knew he had a concussion, but he said he was fine. But we knew something was a little different.

DENNIS SIMMONDS: Yeah, he was quiet.

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: He'd said when he closed his eyes, he would see the bombs. I will never forget the day he came downstairs - I was in my bedroom. And he stood at the door and said, I'm afraid of the dark. I didn't know what to say. His eyes looked like - almost like a kid again. That was the only vulnerability that D.J. ever showed. He died a year later.

DENNIS SIMMONDS: He had a brain aneurysm at that point.

ROXANNE SIMMONDS: He used to lay on my lap, and I used to rub his head. I miss that. I miss dialing his phone number. I miss dialing that every day. I've loved him since the moment I saw him as a little baby linebacker, and I love him more and more every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "UNDERCOVER VAMPIRE POLICEMAN")

MARTIN: Roxanne and Dennis Simmonds remembering their son, police officer D.J. Simmonds, who died because of injuries sustained confronting the Boston Marathon bombers. He was 28 years old. Their story will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and featured on the StoryCorps podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "UNDERCOVER VAMPIRE POLICEMAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.