Like many people, Richard Whalley had family in the city at the time of the Boston Marathon bombings. But when he learned that they were actually at the finish line at the time of the explosions, everything changed. His brother called in a panic, telling him that their father's photo was circulating on Reddit. He looked critically injured, and neither brother was sure if their mother was alive.
After multiple calls to the hospitals that were treating victims and still no news, Whalley took to Facebook:
Ann and Eric Whalley were both 65 and recently retired, and the younger Whalley couldn't help but think the worst.
"There was a possibility my mom was dead," he said. "I knew she was older and pretty close to the blast."
The Ininternet took action, and quickly. Within 10 minutes of Whalley's initial Facebook post, they had figured out why he was unable to find his injured parents: they were admitted under different names at two different medical centers. His mother was being treated at Brigham and Women's Faulkner campus at Harvard Medical School, which his father was at the Longwood campus in Jamaica Plain.
"It was amazing," said Whalley. "Multiple people called the hospitals. The third time they got a call [at Brigham and Women's] they decided to double check the records."
Over the last three days, the couple have had a dozen surgeries between them to remove ball bearings and nails embedded in the bomb. Eric Whalley may have brain damage, could lose his right, and had a piece of his foot removed. Ann Whalley remains on a respirator and is awaiting surgery to repair tissue damage in her right foot.
"They were just there to see the action," said their son. "They did last year, as well. They were both runners and are pretty active for their age."
On Wednesday, Eric Whalley — the more stable of the two — was moved to the Longwood campus to be with his wife. Both will most likely have permanent damage due to their injuries, in addition to the husband Whalley's amputation.
Richard Whalley wasn't expecting much more from the Iinternet folks who had helped him locate his parents. But within hours, friends of Whalley's had launched a GiveForward page to raise money for his parents' medical expenses. The page has already raised $50,000 from over 1,000 anonymous donors, and any extra funds will be donated to other victims' families.
"The Internet had a really important role in how our story played out and how we could respond to the crisis," said Whalley. "I mean it's been pretty surreal. But we've had a lot of support from the community. One of the messages of this story is these online tools are available to people to go and aid others in the recovery process. Getting help can sometimes be overwhelming."
Whalley and his brother, who both live in Massachusetts, are currently living in an apartment near the hospital so they can be close to their parents. Both are enthusiastic to tell the world about how the Iinternet and crowdfunding can aid in crisis relief for the families of victims.