By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
— Michelle Larson was about half a mile from the finish line when the first bomb went off at Monday’s Boston Marathon. She said at first, she thought someone had set off a cannon.
“I thought, ‘Oh, they’re celebrating.’ And then the second bomb went off, and it was like 9/11 all over again,” said Larson, who was still a block or so over from the final straightaway, and unable to see the awful scene ahead.
The worst thing for her was the aftermath.
Unable to go immediately to the family meeting area a couple of blocks away from the finish, and unable, like everyone else in Boston, to get a cellphone call or a text message through, she couldn’t contact her husband, Keith. The thought that he might have been waiting on the sidewalk at the finish, camera in hand, was agonizing.
Keith, thankfully, was well away from the blast. But the hour the Eastern High School teacher spent being herded by police and waiting for emergency vehicles to pass was traumatic.
“My oldest son died when he was age 4, 14 years ago, and I was so scared that I had lost my husband because I had not heard from him,” she said Tuesday. “Once I found out he was OK and saw him, I was totally bawling out of happiness and relief.”
Kokomo runner Jay Priest and his friend, Tony White, both finished close to 90 minutes before the blast, and had finished picking up their gift bags and were on the street walking back to the Boston Marriott Copley Place Hotel a few blocks away.
“It was one of the loudest things I’ve ever heard. It shook us — we could feel it,” Priest said. “I don’t think the second one was quite as loud, but when we heard it, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that can’t be good.’ ”
He could see smoke, and then “hundreds of people came running towards us, and all of the emergency responders we could see were running toward the smoke,” he said. “I was hoping it was a construction accident, and then the second bomb went off.”
A fleet of fire trucks started pouring toward the scene; Priest said it seemed like only 30 seconds had passed before the first trucks were rolling past.
“I don’t know how they got there that fast,” he said.
While the Larsons were left to find transportation to their hotel a few miles from Boston’s Copley Square at the city center, Priest and some of the Kokomo contingent were holed up inside the Marriott, unable to go anywhere for several hours. A SWAT team cleared the hotel lobby and then cleared the second floor where the restaurant and bar were located. The Kokomo runners foraged through whatever food they had on hand after their 26.2-mile race, and set to work trying to return dozens of concerned text messages. They didn’t get to eat until close to 7 p.m.
“Everybody had to go to their rooms. All through the night we saw emergency vehicles going back and forth all through the city,” Priest said.
While waiting to board a plane at Boston’s Logan Airport, where there was a security scare earlier in the day that delayed flights, Larson said she’d purposely run a slower race than she normally would, just to take in and enjoy all the sights and sounds of the city.
“I said, ‘I’m just going to run for fun.’ I walked through a couple of Gatorade stops, and I was high-fiving people. If I’d run for time, I could have easily been there four minutes earlier,” she said.
She started to say that she felt like God had been watching out for her, then stopped short.
“I feel guilty even saying that because of all the people who aren’t doing well,” she said. “I’m just very thankful we’re alright.”
Priest, who was walking Tuesday near Boston’s famous old city building, Faneuil Hall, has run several Boston races. The people of Boston, he said, are nothing but friendly, welcoming and encouraging.
“After the bombing, a couple stopped us and said, ‘Hey do you have a place to stay?’ They said they lived right down the road.
“We saw the bad, and we saw the good, but we’re lucky there’s a lot more good than bad,” he said. “Boston is such a great place to be, and it’s such a great race. It’s a shame someone took advantage of that.”
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org