EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 16, 2013

From the finish line: Locals tell their stories


The Eagle-Tribune

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Below is a compilation of the stories of local residents who were running in the Boston marathon or there to support a loved one when two bombs shredded a picture perfect day in Boston.

‘It was like a war zone’

Andover High track coach Peter Comeau was a block from the finish line near Trinity Church on Boyston Street working as a volunteer, giving out blankets to runners after they finished the Boston Marathon. Then the bombs went off.

“I heard the one explosion and then the other right afterward,” recalled Comeau. “A golf cart was coming by me (heading toward the finish line) and I realized there were four officials from the Mass Track Association at the finish line. I started jogging with the cart and seeing what was going on. When I got to the finish line (area), it was chaos. Bodies were on the ground everywhere. It was like a war zone.”

Comeau saw a Hummer pull up to the area near where the explosions took place and a few bomb experts jumped out and ran into the two offices. Soon they returned, said Comeau, saying everybody had to leave the area, including firefighters and police.

“This all happened in about 10 minutes. It was so quick,” said Comeau. “I was really struck by how many people were helping out, figuring what they could do to help. There were a lot of brave people there. I was really proud. Americans can be pretty cool when events like this happen.”

Crossing the line seconds before blast

Katie Schadlick was in tears as she crossed the finish line. She beat her previous best marathon run of four hours flat by nearly five minutes, crossing at 3:55.

“It was a really a special moment,” recalled Shadlick, who is from Salem, N.H., but currently lives in Michigan. “I had just grabbed my water bottle and then walking to get my medal. Then I heard this explosion. I thought it was a cannon. About three seconds later, there is another explosion. People started screaming. I just grabbed my medal and ran straight ahead. I was terrified.”

There were many things going through Schadlick’s mind. She had family, including her mother, father, brother and wheelchair-bound grandmother, all waiting for her somewhere near the finish line.

“I freaked out, wondering where everybody might be,” said Schadlick, a 2002 graduate of Salem, N.H., High.

Her mother, Deborah Schadlick, was with her wheelchair-bound mother about a block away from the explosion at the intersection of St. James and Berkeley streets, wondering if her daughter was anywhere near the explosions.

“They told me to move but I said, ‘I’m not leaving without my daughter,’” said Deborah Schadlick. “We finally got a call (from her boyfriend) that she was OK. It was very, very scary.”

“Thank you God’

John and Elisa Jacobs of Methuen ran their first Boston Marathon yesterday. They went into town in two busloads with their club, the Merrimack Valley Striders. John Jacobs finished first and was making his way back to their bus, parked close to Copley Square, with the help of a couple club volunteers.

Jacobs and the volunteers had just reached one of the group’s buses when they heard the explosions.

“I was so scared that my wife didn’t get across the line, and then they shut the race down,” he said.

He waited on the bus as reports of the carnage trickled in. But finally, Elisa Jacobs appeared at the bus, helped by other Striders volunteers.

“I was thanking God. When I saw her outside of the bus, I was thinking, ‘Thank you God,’” John Jacobs said. “I didn’t know where she was.”

Elisa Jacobs had just crossed the finish line minutes before the explosions, and was shaken. John Jacobs said she saw people running through the smoke.

“She said it was total chaos. Police running, people screaming. She was trying to run and get away,” he said.

Everyone in their club made it back to their buses safely, he said.

‘Seemed senseless’

Fifty-seven-year-old Lisa Doucett, of Andover, started the Boston Marathon yesterday at about 10:20 a.m. and finished in a very respectable three hours, 33 minutes. She was four blocks down-wind of the finish line when the explosions went off. A 25-race Boston Marathon veteran, she initially thought the bleachers alongside the finish line had collapsed. The scene where she was standing reflected a sense of calm in the moments after.

“They just sort of kept things pretty normal where we were down past the line,” she said. “They just said they wanted people to get off Boylston Street as fast as they could.”

Her cell phone was in her bag, stored on a bus, so she didn’t receive any calls to give or receive information from loved ones at first, she said. The news of what took place came instead from other runners who at that point did have their cell phones. People at home looking for their loved ones finishing instead saw reports of explosions and called who they knew at the scene to make sure everyone was alright.

“It was pretty immediate,” she said. “I was just amazed.”

Doucett said she tried searching her mind for a motive.

“It just seemed senseless,” she added.

Soon after news of the explosions spread, word got around that some Boston subway transit was going offline, including the Green Line.

“I know a lot of people are stuck,” she said. “It’s very confusing down there right now. I can’t imagine the number of people still out on the course, that whole area.”

‘Something terrible’

John J. Gorman, 55, of North Andover, finished the Boston Marathon yesterday afternoon and was walking toward Copley Square to meet a friend when he heard explosions.

I saw hoards of people running down street running towards me,” he said. “I was near Huntington (Avenue). People were running in fear, people were crying and calling their loved ones.”

He hurried to Copley, met his friend and left town.

“It took a little while, but I saw some smoke, and I saw a lot of people running away from explosion,” he said. “When one goes off, you know it’s bad, but when there are two, you know it could be something terrible. It was a tough afternoon.”

‘You can’t let it affect your life’

Colorado runners Danielle Hilson and Sam Johnmeyer, who are engaged to be married in September, were first-time marathoners, staying with his uncle Lee Nill in Salem, N.H. They heard the bombs.

“I thought it was something that fell off a truck,” Johnmeyer said.

It happened a short while after they finished the marathon. They said they didn’t think more of it until they heard sirens and then people crying.

The runners had to walk to South Station. They spoke by phone with their uncle and Sam’s mother, Cathy, who were in Boston to see them.

“We were on the Green Line, pulling into Arlington Station,” Nill said. “They stopped it in the tunnel. I’m pretty sure the reason was because the bomb hit.”

The Green Line was closed, everyone sent out.

“It’s sad,” Hilson said. “But you can’t let it affect your life.”

‘They need manpower’

Dr. Surya Karri, of Hudson was not at work yesterday afternoon. He wasn’t even in Massachusetts when the explosions occurred. He is a research associate at Massachusetts General Hospital, but was prepared to help in any way.

So he jumped on a bus from Salem, N.H., to MGH at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday.

“Irrespective of your occupation, they need manpower,” Karri said. “You want to help with the patients, be there for them.”

‘How can this be happening?’

Joe Appolonoia of Hampstead was glad to be back in Salem, N.H., at the park-and-ride lot.

It was a full day without the bombing: Lexington re-enactment, golf, Red Sox game, marathon viewing with a friend from work.

“We heard it go off, we didn’t know what it was,” Appolonia said. “We thought it was firecrackers.”

When they found out, they got away from the race.

“God, how can this be happening in our country?” he asked. “Then it makes you angry. This is our country, it shouldn’t be going on.”

His wife Donna had filled his phone with texts: “Where are you? Are you OK?”

Last night he was in Salem, en route to Hampstead and his wife.

“It’s good to be home,” Appolonia said.

‘90 minutes of hell’

Steve Cooper of North Andover was about 40 seconds away from completing his eighth Boston Marathon and this one had as little drama of them all.

“I was cruising along, going past Kenmore Square and making the turn at Commonwealth Ave.,” recalled Cooper. “I finally wasn’t stumbling along to Boylston Street and I was going to finish about four hours. But then, all of sudden, we stop completely, like going from 60 miles an hour to zero in a split second. I figured somebody tripped or something in front of us.”

The next 90 minutes were a living hell. Word circulated about bombs and possible terrorism. And Cooper’s wife, JoAnn, was waiting for him with special access right at the finish line.

“I started to realize that she was probably real close to the explosions,” said Cooper. “I didn’t have my cell, but a guy let me use his. I tried calling, but couldn’t get through to her. Then I started calling friends and family. ... I called my boys who were home to ask if they heard from their mom, but they didn’t. Then they started getting nervous and asking if she was OK. You start to assume the worst.”

JoAnn was more than OK. A critical care nurse by trade, she helped some medical vehicles get in and around the finish line area to access the victims of the bombings.

When things settled down for her, she too worried about her husband’s whereabouts, knowing he was supposed to be there about the time of the explosions. But cell service was cut off in that area so the was no communication. They finally bumped into each other, literally, in front of the Park Plaza Hotel.

“We started hugging and crying,” said Steve. “It was out of a movie. I was shaking. Mind you, this is after I’ve run a marathon. I can’t even describe it.”

Staff writers Doug Moser, John Toole, Bill Burt, and Dustin Luca contributed to this report.