The Finish Line: What The Bombing Was Like
The woman wearing bib No. 19,255 was a flute instructor from Utah, listening to her son singing through her headphones as if the sound of his voice could somehow will her body the last few yards to the finish line.
Just ahead of her was a pediatric nurse running her first marathon as a tribute to a teenage liver transplant patient. Ten years earlier, Courtney Fratto had attended her first Boston Marathon and told a friend that one day she would run in the race.
This was her day.
The swarm of runners nearing the finish line as the clock ticked toward 3 in the afternoon included a medical supply salesman, a teacher's aide, a financial analyst in her 55th marathon, and a cop who would become the last recorded finisher of the 117th Boston Marathon.
This was their day, too.
On a gorgeous spring afternoon made for running they headed for the finish line that was their goal.
And at 2:50 p.m., hell was unleashed on the most prestigious marathon in the world.
The first explosion knocked a 78-year-old man running alongside them to the ground. The ground shook, smoke filled the air and the screaming began.
Erik Savage tried to make sense out of something that didn’t make any sense. The blast had knocked him back, into a semi crouch. His ears ringing, he stood up and instinctively walked toward the chaos, trying to see if there was anyone he could help.
He saw a man and a woman emerge from the smoke. The man’s pants had been torn off by the force of the blast.
"My first instinct was, `Strange. Why is that man not wearing any pants?’" Savage said. "Then I had a quick moment of clarity, which was there was something very wrong and my wife and my 8-year-old and my 4-year-old were 25 yards up the road.
They were caught in a no man’s land, eager to finish but even more eager to get out of harm’s way. Exhausted, mentally numb and totally spent, they now had to make what could be life and death decisions and deal with shock, too. Their first thoughts were to try somehow to get to safety but they also had husbands, wives and children in the crowd near the bomb site with no way of knowing if they were OK.
Jennifer Herring had already finished her race, helped along by another runner who acted as her eyes on the course. She was in a collection area with other blind runners when the first bomb went off, followed by a second loud explosion.
Suddenly, everyone grew quiet. A guide dog named Smithers, a Golden Retriever, started shaking badly. They took turns petting him, trying to calm him down.
A total of 23,336 runners started the Boston Marathon, with 17,580 finishing. These are some of their stories from the finish line area when the bombs went off:
Army Sgt. Lucas Carr had heard the all-too-familiar sounds before.
He arrived at the finish at 2:48 p.m., and was standing with his girlfriend about 50 yards away when the bombs went off.
"I knew what it was, knew what the repercussions were," he said.
He told his girlfriend to run west, back onto the race course, because he knew everyone else was running the other way. The second bomb, he suspected, was placed where it was because it was along the most obvious escape route for those trying to flee the first.
A few seconds later, he was in the melee - an Army Ranger back in the middle of the blood and casualties he thought he’d left behind for good when he returned from the Middle East. Pictures of the 33-year-old helping the wounded have circulated widely in the wake of the bombing.
Another picture, texted to The Associated Press, showed his bloodstained running shoes. "This is not how a marathon is supposed to end. Running shoes drenched in blood!" was the message he sent along with the text.
"I saw things that brought back experiences overseas that I would never want to have anyone witness here," Carr said in an earlier AP interview. "It was an all-too-familiar smell that I can’t get out of my body. Tourniquets, tourniquets and more tourniquets I put on people that day. People with limbs missing. You don’t want to see that."
Carr was running in his sixth Boston Marathon, and his second to benefit the Boston Bruins Foundation.
A longtime hockey player, the Norwood, Mass., resident runs for MATT BROWN, who was paralyzed in a high school game on Jan. 23, 2010. Brown, now in a wheelchair, is overcoming pneumonia and his doctor advised him to skip this year’s race.
Carr says they’ll both be in it next year. There’s still work to be done.
"When it happened, in the aftermath, I felt helpless," he said. "You come home, you readjust, you feel happy for what you did. Then things like this happen and it puts a tainted memory on everything you did and puts you in a position of wanting to get answers now. But it makes you more resilient and vigilant than anything. My job was being a soldier. Everyone’s job is being a soldier right now."
Courtney Fratto wishes she could have reacted like Lucas Carr. She wishes she had made a different decision.
The 31-year-old mother of two is a nurse, the coordinator of intestinal transplants in the Pediatric Transplant Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.
When the bomb went off just after she crossed the finish line, though, she ran for safety instead of to the injured.
"I could see there was mass casualties,’" she said. "I have this very horrible guilt that I didn’t run and help them."
Fratto had just run 26 miles and wasn’t thinking clearly. People around her were screaming at others to run and get out in case there was another bomb. Her husband and two young children were in the crowd somewhere near the explosion, and she wouldn’t know they were safe for another hour.
Fratto, who lives in Watertown, had never run more than 7 miles in a race before. This was her first marathon, and she was doing it in tribute to a teenage liver transplant patient who asked her if he would ever be healthy enough to run a marathon himself.
Her moment of triumph was fleeting, lasting only a few seconds. Her conscience will bother her a lot longer.
"I feel terrible that I didn’t go and help," she said. "I’m, like, haunted by it."
Anger. Almost uncontrollable anger and rage.
Andrew Dupee felt it right away. He still feels it now.
The private investment adviser at Howland Capital in Boston was running to raise money for charity and to do something special in the year he turned 40. He had taken three steps over the finish line when he turned to an acquaintance to exchange congratulatory high fives.
The first explosion went off, and immediately he knew. It was a bomb, and someone was trying to kill people.
Dupee doubled over, his fists clenched. He screamed an expletive that probably only he heard.
He would never get his high five, never get to share a celebration with his fellow runners. Members of his team running behind him wouldn’t even be allowed the satisfaction of finishing.
"There’s nothing about my story particularly unique," Dupee said. "There are many, many other people suffering far, far more than I suffered. There are innocent children, innocent families whose lives will never be the same. The hurt, anger, pain and loss they must feel is a multitude of what I experienced."
After gutting through 26.2 miles, it’s the last thing anyone wants to hear.
"It was just a bunch of people saying `Run,’" Sue Gruner said.
Down alleyways. Up side streets. Wherever the police told her to go. Finally, she ended up at Copley Square, where she was reunited with her husband, Doug, who had cheered her on.
It was an hour of sheer fright.
"I kept looking side to side, wondering if another one was going to go off," Gruner said.
The Gruners made the trip from Hampshire, Ill., and the plan was to spend a week in Boston - first for the marathon, then to see the sights and take in the history.
Instead, they returned home Tuesday, the day after the race. Speaking from her home Friday morning, while watching coverage of the manhunt for one of the bombers, Gruner realized what a good decision that was.
A mother of three, she used to go for quick runs after sending the kids to school. Once they got older, she got more serious about training for long-distance.
Boston turned out to be her seventh marathon. "Boston was always on my Bucket List," she said.
She came down the homestretch on the right side of the road, the opposite side of where the explosions occurred. She crossed the finish line at 2:50.
Though she’s reluctant to say it, she concedes she feels "like it was my lucky seventh marathon."
"I feel so terrible for the people who are injured and the families who lost their loved ones. I feel so bad," Gruner said. "But when I think about it, I was like, `Why was I running on the right side?’ I don’t know. I just feel so lucky that I was."
The heat from the first blast hit Cory Maxfield as she ran the last 75 yards to the finish line.
She felt the impact in her chest and it seemed like the ground was moving under her feet.
A few seconds earlier, the only thing going through Maxwell’s mind was getting to the finish. Her IPOD was on shuffle, but the song it picked was perfect. It was from Fictionist, her son’s rock `n’ roll band, and it was just what she needed to make it over the line.
"I was excited about it because it has a lot of power and energy," the Utah musician said. "I’m so glad it came on when I needed a boost."
Maxfield kept heading toward the finish only to be stopped by a security official trying to get her out of harm’s way. Around her it was chaos, with police drawing weapons, volunteers running the other way.
The second bomb went off behind her, and by then she was starting to figure out what was going on.
Her marathon turned into a sprint when someone yelled there was a shooter on the loose.
"For lack of a better plan I just took off and ran for my life and crossed the finish line," she said. "I guess that’s not my finest moment but my inclination was to get out of there. I was frightened."
The School Aide
Linda Racicot celebrated her 46th birthday Thursday. She cried that day watching President Obama in Boston, something not unusual for her in the days since the bombing.
She is proud to say she finished the Boston Marathon. She feels guilty, too.
"How can I be happy in my accomplishments when people died and people lost limbs?" she asked.
Her official race photos show her beneath a finish line clock that reads 4:09:29. When the first bomb goes off, the clock reads 4:09:43.
"As I turned I could see the runner go over, the 78-year-old man," she said. "I said to myself, that’s a bomb, no question."
Racicot’s husband was running a short way behind her, and she worried about him. She worried even more about her daughter and mother-in-law who were standing across from the blast site, outside the Lennox Hotel. In other years they always waited right where the explosion went off, but they switched last year so they could be spotted easier.
The school aide from Weymouth says she will run again, but it will never be the same.
"We’re Boston strong," she said. "My daughter, though, will probably never go back. She was traumatized by the whole thing. I don’t know if I could ask her to go back."
The Lawyer Mom
"Right on Hereford, left on Boylston, I was almost at the finish."
Running her third Boston Marathon, Vivian Adkins was familiar with the route. She was familiar with the feeling runners get after passing the Mile 21 marker near the top of Heartbreak Hill - will we ever call it that again? - and thinking that the hardest part is behind her.
"As I was getting closer to the end, I was in a celebratory mood," she said in an interview. "Not because I had run such a good race - actually, it was one of my slowest - but because it was a culmination of years of dreams and accomplishments."
She was about 30 yards from the finish line when she heard the first explosion.
"I ran to the right side rails and crouched down on the ground with my hands over my head and rolled up into a ball. Then I heard the second explosion coming from behind me" she wrote on a bulletin board where she and her friends post summaries of their races. "I knew then I was in the midst of something really bad and got up and ran forward towards the finish line fully aware that I could be hit any moment. ... What did not cross my mind as I was crossing the finish line was that I had finished. I had crossed to what was, hopefully, safety and got past the worst of the carnage."
A lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, Adkins said that the 1,500-word posting, which she wrote on Wednesday morning and titled "Still Making Sense of Boston Marathon 2013," "helped me to unwind my thoughts." She wrote about the excitement at the starting line, interrupted by a moment of silence for the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting - "the only reminder that the world is not such a peaceful place."
"But surely that evil would not pierce the marathon where the best of human endeavor is celebrated," she wrote. "It was inconceivable."
Four hours, 9 minutes, 39 seconds and more than 26 miles later, the first bomb went off in front of her. The second one exploded 13 seconds later, behind her. She saw a bundle of yellow balloons float to the sky; she would later recognize them, carried by a woman walking in front the two bombing suspects on the surveillance video playing in a seemingly endless loop on cable news.
She also saw a woman being carried out on a stretcher, "a trail of blood just spraying from her lower body."
"I broke down emotionally at how close I was to death," she wrote. "I recovered my senses enough to go through the motions of the Boston finish chute. My feelings were not those of a finisher; honestly, I didn’t know what to think."
Four hours, 10 minutes, 16 seconds. That’s the time stamped next to Roger McMillin’s name at the Boston Marathon this year.
Maybe it shouldn’t matter this year, but to McMillin, it does.
The retired chief judge of the Mississippi State Court of Appeals needed to break 4:10 to automatically qualify for a return trip to Boston to run in the 2014 marathon.
He was well on his way when he heard the first explosion rock the area near the finish line. Then the second.
"The first thing I remember was over on the side where the bomb went off," McMillin said. "They were trying to get the barricades apart and they couldn’t. There were people falling over, people trying to climb over, people basically climbing over each other to get out. I saw one guy with his leg twisted up in and around the metal. I thought he’d end up with a broken leg, or maybe worse than that."
Away from the chaos, trying to find his belongings took nearly an hour of shuffling down alleyways, looking for a route to safety, to say nothing of the bus where his things were being held.
He found them. Dug his cellphone out of his bag to call his daughter, Sally, who was standing near Mile 21 - at Heartbreak Hill - to watch her dad make the climb for the third time. She was safe.
McMillin compares the high of running Boston to being invited to step onto the field moments before the Super Bowl starts.
"You’ve got all these elite runners, who are incredible," he said. "And for a little while at least, you’re on the track with them for the same race. An incredible event. An incredible experience."
No newcomer to marathons, McMillin ran his first one, the Chicago Marathon, on Oct. 10, 2010.
"Ten-ten-ten," McMillin said. "I’ll always remember that one."
This one, too.
He finished at 2:51 p.m. He would have easily beaten the 4:10 mark had he not slowed when the bombs went off. But his time - 4:10:16 - doesn’t worry him all that much.
"I’ll go run something else and get the time," he said. "Beforehand, I wanted to qualify to come back but I wasn’t sure I would come back if I did. Now that all this has transpired, I have a fierce determination to come back one way or another.
"It’s a tremendous part of the fabric of our country and we need to do what it takes to preserve it."
The New Englander
Running toward the finish line, Erik Savage turned and ducked when he heard the second explosion. It left his ears ringing. When he stood up, he instinctively walked toward the chaos, trying to see if there was anyone he could help.
That’s when he saw the man whose pants had been blown off, and thoughts quickly turned to his own family.
What ensued was what Savage called the "longest 30 minutes of my life. " He got repeated failed-call messages on his IPHONE, which was nearly drained of battery because he had used it to listen to music during his four-hour run.
Finally, Savage moved toward a Starbucks on the corner of Berkeley and Boylston. His phone rang. His wife and kids were safe, scooped up by his brother-in-law and taken down an alley adjacent to the Lord and Taylor department store.
Savage grew up in Worcester, about 45 minutes from Boston, and the meaning of the marathon, the Red Sox game and all the other celebrations associated with Patriots’ Day have special meaning to him.
"If you grew up next door, in Connecticut, you don’t get it," he said. "If you grow up near Boston, you really do."
He said he was struck by the number of first-responders who made their way to the scene within moments of the blasts.
He’s planning to run in the New York Marathon later this year and, if he can qualify for Boston next year, he’ll be there, too.
"If I don’t run I lose the battle," Savage said. "It’s everything we fight for, everything that’s meaningful in this country. I’ll run and run with pride. That’s what it means to me."
The Blind Athletes
Jennifer Herring and William Greer were part of the Team With A Vision, a group that raises money for the visually impaired through running. Both are legally blind, and both ran with other runners to guide them.
Herring, a 38-year-old senior software engineer for Abbott Point of Care Inc., had completed her 10th Boston Marathon 25 minutes earlier and was in a holding area waiting for other runners when the bombs went off.
"It was so loud that the dog was shaking and we didn’t know what it was," she said in an email shared with the AP. "We were all petting the dog to calm him down not knowing what was going on."
Greer had just one thing on his mind after he completed the marathon and walked from the finish line, five minutes before the bombs went off. He was in the most prestigious marathon in the nation and he wanted his medal.
Greer got it - just as the bombs went off.
"You’ve heard people say their stomach dropped? It was a physical feeling, my stomach became really hollow. I just realized how incredibly close I’d come to being right there when it went off."
Greer, who works with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities in Austin, said he will be back to run again.
"It’s a beautiful city and an incredible marathon," he said. "This tragedy will not keep me from running Boston again."
The Boston Marathon was also the 50th marathon for Jerry Dubner.
He heard the first explosion and saw the smoke just as he crossed the 26-mile mark.
A few seconds later, he heard and felt the second blast.
A seasoned veteran of the long-distance-running game, Dubner knew his limits when he crossed the finish at 2:51 p.m.
"I looked to my left, saw bodies on the ground and blood and realized I was in no position to help out, no condition to help out," Dubner said.
He got out safely, figuring the biggest contribution he could make would be to clear the way and let emergency workers do their job.
"I still have those images in my mind," said Dubner, 55, an actuary in Atlanta. "It really was kind of a surreal situation."
His training for this marathon, which also marked the 21st straight time he’d run the world-famous Boston race, did not go all that well.
"I was not in particularly good shape this year, hadn’t trained as much as I usually do," he said. "I was running a lot slower than I usually do. So, just finishing the race was going to be an accomplishment for me. It was going to be an emotional finish for me, and it turns out, the emotion was a different one than what I expected."
Sean Haggerty was the last official finisher at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
It wasn’t because he was the slowest.
The New Hampshire state police sergeant stopped before the finish line to help spectators who were wounded in the bombing. When he finally crossed, at 2:57 p.m. on Monday, he was pushing an injured woman to the medical tent in a wheelchair. He did not know he was the last one to record a time until he was told by a reporter three days later.
"I consider myself not completing the race. I didn’t run to the finish line. I ran to offer assistance to those that needed it," said Haggerty, who reluctantly agreed to be interviewed this week.
"When I did have an opportunity, later on, to use someone’s cellphone to call my wife and let her know that I was OK, she said she figured that I was because she got the (automated) text message that I had finished. I corrected her and said, `I didn’t finish, I didn’t make it to the finish line.’"
He did, but only after he had helped several of the wounded. Haggerty seemed reluctant to talk to a reporter, and said several times during the interview, "I did what hundreds of other people did that day.
"I just happened to be in a position to help," he said. "I saw the initial blast and immediately thought of the evil in the world, but the response showed me that there is a bright spot to it and that is the actions of all the people that I was able to work beside. Those people that I saw who responded were not B.A.A. officials, they were not emergency responders, although they acted extraordinarily. They were ordinary people that were there to watch the race."
Haggerty helped, too.
He borrowed someone’s belt and tied it around a woman’s leg to help stop the bleeding. He said he has a way to get in touch with the injured woman, when the time is right.
"The focus should be on those people whose lives will be changed forever," he said. "I’ll always remember and think about the people that lost their lives. I’ll always remember and think about the people that go on with their lives; it will be a bigger challenge for them.
"I’ll think about that next year," he said.
Because he will be back.
"It’s obviously changed the Boston Marathon forever," said Haggerty, who has run Boston nine times, including the last five. "I certainly will be back next year, for a number of reasons, one of which is that I don’t feel at all afraid to return to Boston. I’m confident in the law enforcement folks that are protecting the marathon and other events, not only in Boston but other parts of the world."