BOSTON – Neighbors and friends remembered 8-year-old Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard as a vivacious boy who loved to run, climb and play sports such as soccer, basketball and baseball.

Family friend Jack Cunningham spoke Tuesday of how, as a pint-size preschooler, Martin had insisted on getting out of a stroller that his mom was pushing during a 5K race in South Boston.

Once she let him out to run with the rest of the family, Martin had other plans for the rainy racecourse.

“He was just having a ball, splashing in every puddle,” Cunningham said.

The boy’s father, Bill Richard, released a statement thanking family, friends and strangers for their support following his son’s death Monday. Richard’s wife, Denise, and the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Jane, also suffered severe wounds in the blasts.

“My dear son Martin has died from injuries sustained in the attack on Boston,” Richard said. “My wife and daughter are both recovering from serious injuries. We thank our family and friends, those we know and those we have never met, for their thoughts and prayers. I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin.”

Other friends remembered Martin as a happy boy who was often outside playing with his sister, his older brother, Henry, and other neighborhood children.

The Richard family was watching Monday’s race and had gone to get ice cream before returning to the area near the finish line before the blasts.

“They were looking in the crowd as the runners were coming to see if they could identify some of their friends when the bomb hit,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, a friend of the family for 25 years.

He said they are a strong family and are doing better than expected, while rallying around the 6-year-old girl.

Lynch said the family was attempting to get over the race barriers and into the street when the second blast occurred, killing Martin. Bill Richard and Henry Richard were not seriously wounded, but doctors did remove ball bearings from Bill Richard’s leg, Lynch said.

“Ball bearings are meant as anti-personnel munitions,” he said. “They were trying to cause carnage here.”

Tuesday morning, a candle burned on the stoop of the family’s single-family home in the city’s Dorchester section, and “peace” was written in chalk on the front walkway. A child’s bicycle helmet lay overturned near the front lawn.

“What a gift. To know him was to love him,” longtime family friend Judy Tuttle said of Martin. She remembered recently sitting at the dining room table having tea with Denise Richard while the boy did his homework. “He had that million-dollar smile, and you never knew what was going to come out of him,” Tuttle said. “Denise is the most spectacular mother you’ve ever met, and Bill is a pillar of the community. It doesn’t get any better than these people.”

Betty Delorey, an 80-year-old neighbor, said Martin loved to climb the neighborhood trees and hop the fence outside his home.

“I can just remember his mother calling him ‘Martin!’ if he was doing something wrong,” she said. “Just a vivacious little kid.”

Delorey had a photo showing Martin dressed as the character Woody from the “Toy Story” films, wearing a cowboy hat, a sheriff’s badge, jeans and a big smile. Jane was at his right dressed as Woody’s friend Jesse. Henry was to their left, dressed as Harry Potter.

“I’m sick to my stomach,” she said. “It’s hard to say anything, really.”

Bill Richard is a leader in a local community group, and an avid runner and bicyclist. Cunningham said he believed his friend didn’t run Monday’s race because he has an injury, and Richard wasn’t listed as a runner on the marathon’s website.

Denise Richard works as a librarian at the Neighborhood House Charter School, where Martin was a third-grader and Jane attends first grade.

Counselors were being made available Tuesday to staff and students, according to school spokeswoman Bodi Luse, who said the whole community was devastated.

“I just can’t get a handle on it,” Cunningham said of the boy’s death. “In an instant, life changes.”

AP writers Jay Lindsay and Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.