Kathleen's life and story
Click on the photos below to read a short excerpt from Life Detonated.
"The only time I had my mother to myself was when I made myself wake up early. Taking my spot on the edge of the claw-foot tub, I would watch her put on makeup, trying to cover up the bruises my father left when he showed up in a drunken rage. Like an artist, she put on a layer of pancake makeup over a dark spot on her cheek and let it dry, and then went back and applied another coat until I could hardly detect the black and blue."
"It was Annie, younger than I by twenty-one months, who was the first to walk down the aisle in her pink ruffled dress, dropping rose petals, followed by Gracie holding my father's arm. He lifted her veil and kissed her cheek, then took a seat off by himself."
"I listened to her footsteps on the stairs. . . I had been foolish to think Gracie would stay indefinitely. It wasn’t her way. She was eighteen when she began to teach me how to leave, boys were one way out, careers another, but when she stumbled through a haze of drugs at the threshold of her life, I made sure I found another door. Lying there with my own broken dreams spread out around me, I thought of Gracie’s nearly fatal escape and her bloodstained bridal veil."
And just when I thought I would never hear from him again, she left a message on my pillow. Brian Murray. BU 8 2784. The old rotary dial took forever to circle, sluggishly settling back into place before I could turn the dial again for the next number. He answered on the second ring, his voice deep, husky. “I’m glad you called back,” he said.
"I can’t remember now what made me glance up at the leather-bound photo albums. But because I had ordered the room perfectly, I saw almost immediately they were out of order. Nineteen seventy-four was after 1976. I put my essay on the floor and pulled out 1976. The pages smelled like hot dusty floorboards and I flipped through photos of Keith, blowing out four candles on his birthday cake, a snap of Chris in his PJs attempting escape out the back door, and me, pregnant with Keith . . ."
"Just like Gracie used to do, I gathered the little ones together on the couch and gave them a book to read. At eight, Annie could read pretty well, Timmy sounded out words, and Danny and Patrick took time out from destroying the apartment to listen to stories about the adventures of Lassie or The Little Prince. But when story time was over, there was little I could do to contain the cyclone that tore through the place. I missed my Gracie."
"I’d been the one who kept telling him to stay in the squad, wait it out, that they couldn’t withhold promotions forever. But the reason I really wanted him to stay was that statistics showed he had a better chance of being gunned down walking the streets of New York City in a blue uniform than being blown up by a bomb. The bomb squad had a stellar reputation for safety, with a single fatal explosion almost forty years ago. The name of street cops filled the walls of One Police Plaza."
"I took a copy of The New York Times from the top of a neat pile. Photos of Brian and Terry and Hank were lined across the front page. Across from them was the Croatian: Zvonko Busic, raising his hands in protest. His dark, unruly hair and full beard made his face look wolfish, menacing."
"The day McTigue testified, his presence hung like a pall over the courtroom, his fragmented face a reflection of what Brian might have looked like, had he survived. On the witness stand he droned on in terms so technical, I could barely follow."
"Once the trial was over I never heard from the bomb squad again, but there were no repercussion from the NYPD. The commissioners moved on and were replaced by new regimes, new faces, the trial forgotten, and so I stood at the bar, ordered a glass of chardonnay, and felt at home."
"Upstairs the boys’ room was still dark. The weight of Chris’s sleeping body was almost too heavy to lift, and I sank to the floor with him in my lap. He smelled of baby shampoo and boy sweat. He slept, completely unaware his tiny world would never be the same. Across the room the nightlight illuminated Keith’s deep red hair. I watched his face until he woke up. Sliding off his bed, he sat on the floor beside us. With my free arm I pulled him to my side."
“Hey Murray.” The governor came up beside me. “What do you do when you’re not pushing for legislation?” “English professor,” I said, enjoying the look on his face that said I’d made an impression. His heavy dark eyebrows rose toward his brow. “Shakespeare?” “I’m teaching Macbeth this semester.” I couldn’t hold back my smile as his widened. “I count myself a Shakespeare aficionado.” He squinted his eyes and thought for a moment. “How about a Shakespeare challenge?”
Kathleen with Keith and Chris after receiving the medal of honor.
All the major networks filmed Governor Mario Cuomo signing the COPS Agenda, changing the path of those unfortunate enough to lose their spouses in the line of duty. “The bill includes every New York State police and fire department,” the governor told the press, “including scholarships for survivors of volunteer fireman, and it has all come about as a result of the hard work of Kathleen Murray, Susan McCormack, and Mary Beth O’Neill.”
It was drizzling when the bomb squad van pulled up to Penn Station to pick us up for the trip to the West Village, a joy ride for my grandchildren with lights and sirens to part traffic. We were the guests of honor, there to co-name Charles Street Police Officer Brian Murray Way to honor a member of the bomb squad killed in the line of duty on September 11, 1976. Now it was 2014 . . . bomb trucks lined the curb, their doors open, exposing robots and remote-control devices."
News about the bombing and hijacking appeared in papers all over the United States. Readers in Creston, Iowa and Blythesville, Arkansas and Gallup, New Mexico followed the story in their local papers and on the evening news. Below are a few of the clippings from 1976. Scroll over the text to read excerpts from Life Detonated.