(Updated at 11:03am, 04-16-13)
|A Boston Marathon competitor and Boston police run from the area of an explosion near the finish line in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/MetroWest Daily News, Ken McGagh)
Several local residents survived the chaos of an explosion that turned the finish line of the Boston Marathon into a scene of carnage.
Though physically unscathed, they were shaken emotionally as a celebratory mood turned grim in an instant.
Christy Titus, the daughter of Jeanne and Philip Titus of Bowling Green and a graduate student at Boston College, had finished the marathon sometime before the explosions. She was in the meeting area looking for a friend. In an email today she described the scene; “I ... had just picked up my bag of clothes and was walking to meet a friend in the family meeting area when I heard the first one go off. I was probably about 500 meters away but was behind a building in a big crowd so we all just went silent and everyone was looking around.”
About 20 seconds later the second blast went off. “It sounded almost like a cannon from where I was standing. At that point no one really panicked but we all knew something bad had happened.”
She connected with the friend and his family. “There were a lot of sirens so we knew it was something really serious but not quite sure what had happened.” Her friend and family left immediately to get out of the city, Titus needed to find her boyfriend who was on the subway. She ventured back to the finish line and waited in a restaurant at Copley Square. That’s when she heard the news.
“It was really scary being there and I felt bad that it took so long to let people know I was O.K. because the phone lines were down and a lot of my texts wouldn’t go through.”
She waited an hour before connecting with her boyfriend. They ended up walking out to the city’s South End to a point where a friend could pick them up in a car.
Among those waiting for a call from Titus were her parents. Jeanne Titus said it was “creepy” thinking of her daughter caught up in that kind of act of violence.
Jeff Taylor, manager of Dave’s Running in Perrysburg, said all the members of the store’s team had gotten through without incident.
“Everybody’s safe,” he said. They all got through before the explosions.
A member of the Dave’s contingent, Michelle Brooks, of Sylvania, said she had left the area after finishing and was in a hotel when the explosions occurred. They only learned of the tragedy when they called another runner to tell them they were at the hotel.
She and the other woman she was with stayed put, getting what information they could from the television.
This was her first Boston Marathon. For her it was a major accomplishment to make the cut to compete in the legendary road race. “The whole race is incredible,” Brooks said. “It’s a huge celebration for the whole community.
‘You come back and you’re happy that you finished, you’re happy with your time, then this happens and it puts a whole new spin on it. You think about your race but it’s always there ... It was just horrible. Why would somebody do that? You feel bad for everybody who got hurt, who were just celebrating.”
Amy Craft Ahrens, from Bowling Green, qualified for the marathon but was sidelined due to an injury.
She was watching the marathon from mile 25.5 — just seven-tenths of a mile from the finish line where the explosions occurred.
“We heard them and saw the smoke,” Craft Ahrens said in an email Monday evening. “Within minutes, the police were leaving their posts and running towards the finish line. A minute or two later the sirens started and there were police cars and unmarked cars with lights on heading towards the finish line, as well.”
The runners on the course were blocked from going any further and were all very confused. Spectators, including Craft Ahrens, were passing cell phones to the runners trying to call family and friends.
“We were all just trying to figure out what was going on. None of our phones were able to call out, but we could get a few texts through and found out within five minutes or so that the explosions were the result of bombs,” she said.
Craft Ahrens has run the Boston Marathon three times before, so she had many friends among those running Monday.
“Luckily, all of my 50-plus friends running and their friends or family were uninjured. It took a few hours for us to account for everyone,” she said.
If Craft Ahrens could have run Monday, her customary time would have had her finishing about 40 minutes before the blasts.
Alma-Lynn Dupont, a Bowling Green High School graduate attending Simmons College in Boston, was watching the marathon in front of her apartment about one mile from the finish line. With the noise of the race and celebratory atmosphere, she did not hear the explosions.
“It was just so loud. The entire city was out there,” Dupont said.
Each year the marathon is a citywide celebration, with the Red Sox playing, and schools and government offices closed to celebrate Patriots Day.
“Everyone has the day off,” she said.
But about four hours into the marathon, Dupont said she heard a police officer nearby talking about a couple people dying close to the finish line. At first, Dupont thought they had probably collapsed from running — but she soon saw people walking by crying, and others silently huddled around a television watching coverage of the explosions.
Very quickly, the city went from being festive to stunned. Runners were rerouted, and spectators were asked to go inside. Cell phone towers were flooded, making communication difficult. A friend of Dupont’s who serves in the National Guard was called to duty.
The mood of the city immediately changed after the explosions, Craft Ahrens agreed.
“It was surreal. It went from very celebratory, to very confusing with a lot of people walking around in shock and desperately trying to get information,” she said. “It’s such an amazing weekend in Boston under normal circumstances and it is just so hard to see this celebration of the hard work, dedication and love for the sport turned into something so tragic.”
However, Craft Ahrens said the marathon will not be tarnished by this violent act.
“Having been through the cancellation of the NYC marathon last November after Hurricane Sandy, I know runners are resilient and will not let this horrific act ruin our love for our sport and this very special race,” she said.
Monday evening, the hotel where Craft Ahrens was staying was in a lockdown. Later guests were told they could leave the hotel — but only if they headed west, not east. “We are about two blocks from the first explosions,” she said.
The streets by Dupont’s apartment that were flooded with runners and fans earlier in the day were strangely quiet.
“There was no one on the streets,” she said.
Simmons College officials had been in contact with students, “telling us to stay in our apartments or our dorms,” Dupont said.
By late Monday evening, law enforcement was still not permitting people to pass by the mile radius of the explosion sites, so no one was allowed past Dupont’s apartment.
“There still isn’t traffic on the streets,” she said.