Trying to make sense of the death, destruction and mayhem that unfolded at last week's Boston Marathon is difficult but what we did experience once again is how a horrific event can bring out the best in Americans.

It was Fred Rogers, the calming voice that so many of us grew up with in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," who shared some important advice that was imparted to him by his own mother when he was a child. She told her young son that when something bad happened to "always look for the helpers."

When a catastrophe strikes, Rogers told us before his death 10 years ago, there will always be helpers on the sidelines, such as rescue teams, medical personnel or ordinary citizens. "When you see the helpers in those tragic cases, Rogers said, "you know that there's hope." He said it's "one of the best things about our wonderful world."

The helpers in last week's attacks came in all shapes and sizes. Seconds after the bomb explosions, one dramatic photo showed Joe Andruzzi, a retired pro football player, carrying an injured woman to safety. The former lineman for the New England Patriots then released a statement encouraging the press to keep the horrible events in perspective.

"The spotlight should remain firmly on the countless individuals – first responders, medics, EMTs, runners who crossed the finish line and kept on running straight to give blood, and the countless civilians who did whatever they could to save lives. They were the true heroes," Andruzzi stated.

Along with the emergency responders and medical personnel, there were many other unsung heroes. The runners that Andruzzi mentioned were marathoners who had been diverted from the finish line by the explosions but then took a direct course to Massachusetts General Hospital where they donated life-giving blood for others. Others tore off their shirts to be used as tourniquets to stop the bleeding of blast victims.

The response of Dr. Vivek Shaw, an orthopedic surgeon who was participating in the race, was immediate. Shaw was headed for the finish line when the bombs detonated and like other emergency physicians, was on scene immediately to tend to the injured.

"People with traumatic amuputations, one leg, both legs - it just looked like everyone was in shock," he later told a television interviewer. "If you look into the victims' eyes, they didn't really know where they were. I've never seen that quantity of injury in one place. I just tried to see if anyone needed any emergent care."

Jeff Bauman was at the finish line waiting for his girlfriend when he saw one of the terrorists planted the bag containing the bomb near him. Bauman lost both his legs in the blast and the first thing he did after waking up in the hospital was to help identify the younger brother as one of the terrorist suspects. Though unable to speak, he wrote "Bag, saw the guy, looked right at me," which helped the FBI's rapid identification and apprehension of the bomber.

There's another part to the Bauman story. After hearing that the person who helped identify the suspect had lost both legs, citizens raised hundreds of thousands of dollars within hours to help pay Bauman's medical bills since he didn't have health insurance.

There's even a third link to the story. Carlos Arrendondo who was cheering for one of the runners who was competing in honor of his son, a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq. Immediately after the bomb detonated, he jumped over the barriers to help a seriously wounded man whose legs were blown off. That man happened to be Jeff Bauman. When asked about it the next morning, Carlos simply told his interviewer, "I did my duty."

These are the kinds of people the late Fred Rogers had in mind when he talked about "looking for helpers" during a catastrophic event like Boston.

BY Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com