BOSTON (AP) – The image showed James “Bim” Costello staggering away from the Boston Marathon bombing, his jeans shredded and blackened, his body so burned that he was left needing pig skin grafts on most of his right arm and right leg.
Costello had plucked two rusty roofing nails from his stomach and was trying to walk toward any help he could find following the explosions, his ears ringing, his body pebbled with shrapnel, and his mind reeling from the thought moments earlier that he might be dying.
Kenshin Okubo, a photographer for Boston University newspaper The Daily Free Press, captured the photo of Costello in the immediate aftermath of the April 15 terrorist attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 others. The Associated Press got permission to use the image and distributed it globally.
Since that day, the 30-year-old bombing victim has heard from many people who want to know if he is the unidentified survivor in that photo.
A month later, Costello said he’s ready to share his story because he fears people are starting to forget the plight of victims who suffered life-altering injuries he calls much worse than his own.
“I guess what I want to say is, `Don’t forget about the people that are seriously hurt and the people that died,'” Costello said Friday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m good … I’ll just be here to support my friends.”
Costello said he had been going to watch the marathon for about a decade. This year, he was gathered with friends near the finish line and watching for another friend who was running when the bombs went off.
Three of Costello’s friends lost a leg, including brothers Paul Norden, 31, and J.P. Norden, 33. Other friends suffered serious burns and shrapnel injuries after the second bomb exploded outside Forum restaurant on Boylston Street.
Costello spent about two weeks at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries and was among patients who met President Barack Obama. He returned home for the first time Saturday after nearly two weeks of in-patient therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
The Malden, Mass., resident still has one BB embedded under the skin on his right knee, a couple more in his right calf, and another by his belly button. What he believes are metal shavings of bomb debris are still working their way out of skin on his right arm. It hurts when Costello stands still for too long, so he steps from side to side, dancing to ward off pain as blood pools in his injured leg.
The Harvard University campus services employee doesn’t think about the two bombing suspects much, or the possibility that he could have crossed paths with surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old who had worked as a Harvard lifeguard.
But Costello is bothered by the idea that he and Tsarnaev were part of the same community.
“They were enjoying the same things you were and then they do something like this,” Costello said.
On Friday, he spent part of his last day of in-patient treatment at Spaulding dribbling and passing a basketball with physical therapist Lisa Pratt to work on improving his balance and strengthening his muscles.
“It’s been continual progress, working every day,” she said of his rehab.
On Monday, Costello came back to the hospital for out-patient treatment and to lend support to the Nordens as they held a news conference to talk about their recoveries. The brothers were in separate hospitals for weeks before J.P. joined Paul at Spaulding on Friday.
The Nordens said Monday they’re hoping their life-long rivalry as siblings will push them to try to outdo each other in rehab and help them heal faster. After their discharges, both plan to live together at their parents’ home in Wakefield, Mass., while striving to get back to their normal lives.
“It’s definitely nice to see them getting better and on the right track,” Costello said Monday.
Costello said he and Paul Norden have played basketball together since middle school when they met at a boys’ club in Stoneham, Mass. The two had planned to play in a pickup game together the week that the attack happened.
And while Costello doesn’t bring up his own fundraising site, he tries to draw attention to another site that is raising money for the Nordens. He also holds out hope that he and Paul will be back on the basketball court together in the future.
“Maybe we’ll eventually be able to play,” Costello said. “But it’s never going to be the same.”
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)