EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 18, 2013

From smiles to shock

City women shaken, friend hit by shrapnel in marathon blast

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — What was supposed to be an enjoyable day having lunch and waiting for family members to cross the Boston Marathon finish line turned to terror for two Haverhill women and their friends.

They felt the power of the bombs that exploded not far from the finish line, and one of the women was hit by shrapnel.

Stacy DiBurro, 41, owner of River Street Auto Body and Diamond Auto Works in Haverhill, said one moment she was standing on a Boylston Street restaurant patio with a drink in her hand and the next moment her drink went flying as she was thrown backwards against other people. One of her friends was thrown to the ground, leaving her bleeding. As of yesterday, DiBurro's ears were still ringing from the sound of the blast, she said.

"We'd just had lunch at the Atlantic Fish Company and we were on the outside patio at standing tables waiting for family members to cross the finish line," DiBurro said. "Then we heard the first blast, which sounded like a canon, and you knew something was wrong.

"We turned to look and saw smoke rising the air," she said. "Then seconds later, there was another blast. I got knocked off my feet and fell backwards," she said. "My friend Denise got knocked to the ground and I just screamed. We saw red and we saw smoke. We all held hands and ran inside the restaurant."

DiBurro was with friends Sera Manzi and Tara Ryan, both of Haverhill, Christine Lewis of Goffstown, N.H., and Denise Spenard of Manchester, N.H.

Spenard, 46, a purchasing director for Easter Seals in Manchester, said her drink went flying. At first, she thought it was the first blast that knocked her over, but her friends believe it was the second explosion.

"We heard the explosion and I turned and said, 'Was that real?''' Spenard said. "Then all of a sudden, I was on the ground and feeling pain. The pain got worse after we got back inside the restaurant. When I lifted my white sweatshirt, which had blood on it, I could see a hole on my right abdomen below my rib cage. I thought I'd been shot and that we were being attacked.

"One girl was standing there screaming and saying, 'You don't want to go out there, you don't want to go out there,'" Spenard said. "Everyone was in a panic. People were crying and screaming."

DiBurro said her cousin Robert "Bobby" DiBurro of Boxford, who owns DiBurro's function halls in Haverhill, was running in the marathon, as were her brothers-in-law Michael Skafas and Brendan Skafas and Brendan's wife Michele Skafas, all of Haverhill.

"We ran inside the restaurant and somehow I got burned on the soles of feet as my flip-flops had fallen off when I was knocked over," DiBurro said. "Tara was saying, 'Denise got hurt, Denise got hurt.'

"Sera took off Tara's scarf and tied it around Denise's waist where she was bleeding from shrapnel," DiBurro said. "It was pandemonium."

Seeing that Spenard was bleeding, DiBurro ran up to a man at the bar and asked if anyone there could help her, but in all of the confusion she was unable to get a clear answer.

"I looked outside and saw people on the ground and smoke that was very thick," DiBurro said. "I said, 'We have to get out of here,' thinking the building would collapse. So we ran out the back door towards the Charles River to try to get help. We were holding hands and running, the five of us. We just didn't want to let go."

DiBurro said Ryan tried to get in touch with Michael Skafas to tell him to stop running, but she wasn't able to make a call because cell phone service had been shut down in the area. They flagged down a car driven by a man from Lexington, who had finished the race. She said the man didn't hesitate to drive Spenard and Lewis to Massachusetts General Hospital.

Spenard said the nurses placed her on a bench in the waiting area. After using an ultrasound machine, they brought her to the X-Ray room. The images showed the shrapnel that hit her was nowhere near a vital organ.

"They brought me into the emergency room and doctors and nurses came in and said they had to check me out completely due to the situation," Spenard said. "They told me there was too much swelling to remove the shrapnel at that time, so they patched me up and said to return on Friday so they could remove the metal piece," Spenard said. "The FBI came in and asked me questions about what happened and if I'd seen anything unusual. I told them I didn't see anything suspicious or unusual."

Other victims of the bombings began arriving at the hospital.

"I was lucky I wasn't injured more severely," said Spenard, who, after returning to her home Monday night, went to a hospital in Manchester because her left arm had swelled up.

"They put my arm in a sling and gave me ice packs for a contusion," Spenard said.

"When the bomb went off, we ran inside so fast we didn't see the worst of it," DiBurro said. "I didn't realize the extent of the devastation until we saw it on the news. We're all getting together on Sunday for lunch to talk about it and, hopefully, put it behind us. We need to be together to know that we're all OK."

Spenard, who runs in shorter-distance races, including half-marathons, said she plans to return to running next week, depending on what the doctors say.

"I've been going to the Boston Marathon for 17 years," she said. "At this point I have no desire to see it again next year, although I hope that will change. What we experienced was much worse than my injury. I really thought we were being shot at."