One photographer's important role in Boston bombing case

Photographer's photo helped secure verdict ag... 03:30

One of the most important eyewitnesses to the Boston Marathon bombing never took the stand and never said a word to the jury. But what Bill Hoenk saw that day in April 2013 was key to the prosecution's case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, CBS News' Don Dahler reports from Boston.

Bill Hoenk prefers to take pictures of beauty, whether it's seals in Nantucket, stars above Yosemite or the skyline of Boston. But what the waiter and amateur photographer is best known for now is anything but that.

"It was a beautiful day in Boston, and I had the day off of work, which usually doesn't happen," Hoenk said. "And I just wanted to go out and be a part of the festivities in the city."

He was 50 feet away from the Forum restaurant when the bombs went off.

"It was in an instant, just a huge blast of white light, a loud noise, and then complete silence," Hoenk said. "In that instance I forgot everything, and I just started taking photographs. I felt that it needed to be done."

Frame after frame he captured the devastating effects of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's terrorist attack. In the midst of screams, chaos and carnage, Hoenk, who never thought of himself as a photojournalist, somehow remained calm.

"I was just shooting. I wasn't scared. I wasn't crying," Hoenk said. "I did a lot of crying afterwards, but it was just a complete calm. I was extremely conflicted taking the photographs at the same time. I just kept telling myself stop thinking, stop thinking, just shoot, just shoot. You need to do this. There's no one else around that's doing this. You need to do this."

Prosecutors used Hoenk's photos to transport the jury onto Boylston Street that day to show them what homemade bombs can do to bodies, and to lives, even lives not physically harmed.

Hoenk will never be able to get those images out of his head.

"I see that little boy every single day, and it's not going to go away," Hoenk said.

The photo of 3-year-old Leo Woolfenden made the cover of Time.

"I was sad for him," Hoenk said. "I was sad for his family. I was sad for everyone that I photographed."

Maybe it's for that reason that Hoenk has returned to the marathon every year since - not to relive the horror that was but to honor the beauty that it still is.