At Boston Marathon bomb scene, 2 women forge lasting bond out of tragedy

Boston police Officer Shana Cottone talks about working the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and how she reacted when the bombs exploded. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (April 23, 2013)

Moments after the second Boston Marathon bomb went off, Officer Shana Cottone was carrying strollers filled with babies to safety.

That's when she saw a woman lying in the street, the lower half of her right leg barely attached.

Cottone gripped the victim's hand as firefighters placed the limb in a soft cast. A young man cinched his belt around the woman's thigh to stem the bleeding.


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"All the hair on her face was burned away, like she held her face over a fire," recalled Cottone, 27, who grew up in Oakdale and Bohemia. "She kept saying, 'My leg, my leg's not there.' I said: 'Honey, it's there. I swear it's there. I swear on my life.' "

Since then, the women have forged the strongest of bonds. They've been each other's saviors -- struggling to heal from the trauma of the deadly attack.

The injured race spectator, Roseann Sdoia, had to have her leg amputated above the knee, but credits Cottone with saving her life. There, on Boylston Street, amid the terror and devastation, Cottone's words became her mantra.

"She was holding my hand and she was like, 'You're going to make it, you're going to make it, you're going to make it,' " recounted a tearful Sdoia, speaking by telephone Wednesday from a rehabilitation center.

"She saved my life just by being positive," said Sdoia, a real estate executive in her 40s who lives outside of Boston. "She'll be my friend for life."

Sdoia was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital in the back of a police van usually used to transport suspects -- flagged down by Cottone after ambulances passed them by.

On the way to the hospital, the officer, remembering 9/11, phoned her father. "Dad, we've been attacked by terrorists. I love you," she said before hanging up.

Since Saturday, Cottone has been staying at her father's Blue Point home, taking a break from long days protecting the city during the manhunt. The five-year officer, assigned to Dorchester and Roxbury -- two of the toughest neighborhoods, had left the city in a daze -- images of the bombing playing in her mind.

But then she made Sdoia's recovery her "personal mission" -- and found a measure of healing for herself.

"She has every right in the world to . . . just be angry, but she's not," Cottone said. "Her situation is helping me cope with this. I have something to focus on in a positive way, because I'm so angry and so sad."

She's spreading the word about gofundme.com/roseann, an online fundraising effort started by a longtime friend of Sdoia to pay for her care. Cottone thinks the $750,000 goal can "so happen" with help from Long Islanders who lived through 9/11.

Cottone has handed out fliers, pressed friends to donate -- even stopped a Suffolk officer in his cruiser, asking her brethren in blue to contribute.

"I can't help everybody, but I have a connection with her," she said of Sdoia. "I want to give her as much as I can."

Cottone made an appeal to the Cops Who Care charity before returning to Boston on Wednesday. Donations for Sdoia Thursday surpassed $282,600, according to the website. That generosity has bucked up Cottone and Sdoia, texting pals since the officer's hospital visit last week.

"It's been a struggle to get myself together," Sdoia said, "but there will be some sort of get-together once I'm out of here. . . . We'll celebrate our existence, both of us."

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