Childhood pictures of Krystle Campbell show nothing but smiles — which is exactly how her family continues to remember the 29-year-old, whose life was stolen by the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon almost one year ago.
Her parents, Patty and Bill, shared exclusively with NECN personal stories about Krystle, from her devotion to her ailing family members in Somerville, Mass., to the heartbreaking confusion of the day she died.
Krystle's grandmother Wilma shared her own memories of her granddaughter's care, remembering the time Krystle turned down living with her friends to be closer to her. She was recently widowed at the time and recovering from colon surgery.
"And then she lived with me after I got sick," Wilma Campbell said. "She thought maybe I would need her, so she lived here with me a little over two years."
Patty and Bill saw Krystle every day until April 15, 2013, when she saw a Red Sox game with friends before heading to the marathon finish line.
"My son thought my daughter was at that Red Sox game, and we tried to call her," Patty recalled of the moments after the blasts first rocked the marathon finish line. "My son said to me, 'Mom, I have a funny feeling that Krystle is involved in this.' My son had a sixth sense."
One Error's 15 Painful Hours
When the bombs exploded, Krystle's friend Karen Rand was carrying Krystle's purse — leading first responders mistakenly to identify Karen as Krystle at the hospital.
That meant that for 15 hours, Krystle's parents thought their daughter was alive and in surgery.
"They told us that she was in surgery," Patty said. "A quarter to three that morning, they told us they got the bleeding under control, that we could go in for a brief minute. And then we're just going to leave it at that. We found out there was an error," Patty recalled, her voice faltering.
Karen had endured life-altering injuries but ultimately survived. Krystle had not.
"After thinking for 15 hours that your daughter is going through all of this stuff, but she's not, she's gone..." Bill said. "A parent should never have to bury their child, because it's the hardest thing that any parent has to go through, to lose a child. I don't care if it's a newborn or six years or 30 years or 40 years."
An Unexpected Letter From a Survivor
The Campbells have been sustained by the thoughts and prayers promised by the letters, cards and other tokens of support they've received from people around the world.
But the letter that affected them most deeply came from a woman in California who had stood right by Krystle at the marathon finish line.
Krystle was standing at the barrier with a view of the finish line, and when she overheard that the sister of the California woman behind her was about to cross the finish line, she offered her spot so she could see better, the woman wrote.
"My daughter says, 'Well, you know, our runner is not going to be here for a few more minutes, why don't you step in front of us?'" Bill explained.
"I guess my daughter went out behind her, and less than three or four seconds later, the bomb went off. And the woman from California felt like it was her fault. But it wasn't," Bill said, weeping.
"Why Is Our Daughter Gone?"
It's not easy for Patty and Bill to see Krystle's friends who have recovered from their blast injuries.
Patty recalled how she saw one of her daughter's friends at an event, and the friend asked if she were mad. "I said, 'No, God no, I'm not mad at you at all. I'm not mad at you,'" Patty said.
But Bill said he can't help but wonder: "'Why is our daughter gone and you're still here?'"
That question — a "natural human thought," Patty observes — isn't one the Campbell family will ever be able to answer. But as they try to make peace with Krystle's death, her grandmother Wilma Campbell takes comfort in the belief that Krystle is now reunited with her late grandfather.
"I said that when I first saw her in the casket, I told her, 'Okay, Papa's waiting for you, and you'll be okay,'" Wilma said.