EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 17, 2013

Fear, panic were just around the corner

Spectators and runners tell their stories

Staff Reports
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — For a long, painful, hour, Susan Marsh, 45, of Windham had no idea about the fate of her family.

Marsh, running her third Boston Marathon Monday, was stopped by police at mile 25 shortly after 3 p.m.

She walked for an hour, desperately trying to contact her three sons, parents and sister, who were sitting on the bleachers at the finish line on the opposite side of the street from the explosion. Her family sat in VIP seats because Marsh had raised more than $5,000 for the McCourt Foundation to benefit Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis research.

“The hardest part was that hour of not knowing if they were OK,” she said. “I knew they were on the bleachers. I knew they were exactly where the bomb was.”

Marsh was directed to walk to Boston Common.

“I didn’t have my cell phone with me, but people were generous and offered me their cell phone,” Marsh said. “There was some service ... after an hour, I finally was able to get in touch with my husband, who was working in Maryland. He told me that they had gone to a friend’s house in South Boston and they were safe.”

But Marsh still had to figure out how to get there and she didn’t even have a pen and paper to write down the South Boston address.

“I ended up writing the address on my leg with some lipstick I had,” she said.

Marsh borrowed money from someone at Boston Common and took a cab to South Boston. When she saw her children’s faces, the tears welled up.

“It was just unspeakable tears from everyone,” Marsh said.

They were at explosion spot 90 minutes earlier

Jony Perez last saw a Boston Marathon in person about 20 years ago.

A former cross country runner and captain at Greater Lawrence Tech, he took his wife, Argentina, and daughters, Joargy Marie, 13, Jone Mariah, 12, and Joba Mia, 4, near the finish line.

They were stationed about 100 yards from the end of the race on Boylston Street from noon until about 1:30 p.m.

It was within a few feet of where the first bomb exploded just before 3 p.m.

“We arrived there to see the elite runners complete the race,” said Jony, at1991 graduate of Greter Lawrence Tech. “We had a nice viewing spot. We stayed for a while and then went for a walk to get something to eat. We had heard two loud booms, but didn’t think anything of it.

“Then we got home at around 4:30 (p.m.) and realized what had happened,” said Jony, a professor at Cambridge College in Lawrence. “We were so saddened.”

Jony has been running consistently for the last few years, having completed a few half-marathons and a half-Ironman Triathlon last August.

His eldest daughter, Jone, has taken an interest in running and that’s one of the reasons he went to Boston on Monday.

Jony said the scare won’t deter his dream of one day running the Boston Marathon.

“It is now my goal to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon,” he said.

Things could have been different

Jillian Edmunds, 27, of Salem, N.H., can’t imagine what would have happened if she had taken just one more break.

“If I had stopped at a port-a-potty just one more time, things could have been a lot different.” Edmunds said.

Edmunds finished her sixth marathon in 3:57, a little more than 10 minutes before the explosions. She was just around the corner from the finish line when she heard the sound.

“At first, I thought it was a gas burst or something,” Edmunds said. “I didn’t think anything of it.”

She soon did.

Edmunds reunited with a friend and fellow runner, who had finished moments before the explosion, and the rest of her family.

“My friend came up and hugged me,” Edmunds said. “She had just finished minutes before and had seen the whole thing.”

She was able to get on a train and out of the city within minutes.

“We didn’t know the extent of it until we were on our way back up to New Hampshire,” Edmunds said.

‘Like a war zone’

Kelly Galan, 43, crossed the finish line with a time of 3:24:43, one of her best.

“I felt so high, I felt so good,” Galan said yesterday.

Those feelings evaporated when she heard the explosions.

The day started beautifully, Galan said, the perfect day for the marathon. “It was so exciting to be in Boston,” she said.

Galan took her spot in the second wave of runners at the race’s start. She said she felt good, saw walls of people lining the road, many children who reached out for “high fives” from passing runners.

Galan finished the race, got her medal then walked a few blocks to where runners gathered to grab their bags and other items. She then began to walk back to the Prudential Center to get her car. That’s when she heard the blasts.

“I knew that was a bomb,” she said.

She saw windows shatter in buildings and then saw hundreds of people running down the street.

“They were running toward me, screaming,” Galan said. “I stepped out of the way, I didn’t want to get trampled. It was major chaos.”

She let people pass by and looked down Boylston Street to see runners lying in the road with emergency crews running everywhere to help. She was told to go to the Prudential Center and wait until it was safe to leave, finally leaving the city by 6:30 p.m.

Will she run again?

“Absolutely,” she said. “This could happen anywhere, anytime. You can’t live your life worrying about it.”

Texts of panic from friends and relatives

Joseph Ebert of Haverhill, still running strong at 60, missed the qualifying time to run in this year’s Boston Marathon. Rather than run as a “bandit,” he decided not to take the trip to the starting line in Hopkinton.

His daughter, Christine Scovotti, is glad her father passed up this year’s race. “He would have been coming through the finish line at exactly that time (the bombing),” she said.

Her husband, Paul Scovotti, 41, ran his fifth Boston Marathon on Monday. He ran a previous marathon in 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Scovotti, who works for Verizon, completed his race at 3:36. Crossing the finish line at 1:41 p.m. He and Christine then went to Back Bay Station, where they waited for the 2:56 p.m. train to West Natick.

“We heard an explosion just before our train arrived but we were unclear what it was at that time,” Christine said. “About five to 10 minutes after boarding our train, we began to get texts of panic from relatives and friends, asking if we were OK. At that point, we began to learn of the horrific events we just left behind us. I began to panic, learning that the bombs were in backpacks. I immediately started to look around the train, noticing several backpacks stored above passengers. Whether it was panic or motherly instinct, I began to ask passengers if these items belonged to them.”

While it remains to be seen whether he’ll enter next year’s Boston Marathon, Paul Scovotti, said he will “absolutely not” stop running.

A complete feeling of emptiness

Tracy Carracedo, 42, of Windham was running a full hour ahead of his best time when his marathon came to a sudden halt.

“I was literally a half-mile from the finish line when we were stopped,” said Carracedo, who was running in his eighth Boston Marathon. “Enough people were running with smart phones and enough runners caught wind, and we policed each other.”

The mood quickly shifted from disappointment to concern.

“We all had contingencies waiting at the finish line,” Carracedo said. “I remember looking around and seeing runners sobbing and crying. It was reminiscent of Sept.11, not because they knew their families were harmed, but that they just didn’t know. It was a complete feeling of emptiness.”

He tried to reach his wife and two children, who were en route to the finish line.

Using social media, he diverted them and they reunited at the Westin Hotel at Copley Place, two hours after the explosion.

This was to be Carracedo’s final marathon, but he’s already reconsidering.

“Considering I never made the finish line,” he said, “it’s hard to go out that way.”

Confusion and shock

The scene near the finish line was like something from the movies, Lisa Leonard said.

“At first, we thought it was a cannon,” she said. “We all looked at each other and it was confusing. Then we saw the smoke and people just started running right toward us.”

Leonard was waiting for her daughter, Sheila Fitzgerald of Plaistow, to pass her at the corner of Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Before she came, a “surreal” scene evolved, Leonard said.

“There were police, SUVs, trucks and motorcycles coming from every direction,” she said.

With no service, and her cell phone dying, she quickly called her husband to say she was OK. She also reached Fitzgerald, who was running with her phone.

Leonard was unable to retrieve her car, parked at the Prudential Center. She got it yesterday and was shocked at the scene.

“It was the freakiest thing,” she said. “At Legal Sea Foods, the doors were locked and you could see food left all over the table from the day before. It was such an eerie feeling.”

Timing is everything

Longtime Greater Derry Track Club member Linda Lutter of Hudson ran the Boston Marathon 12 years ago. But on Monday, she was there to cheer on niece Julie VanSchalkwyk, who was running as part of the Dana Farber cancer research team.

She and other family members cheered at the finish line when VanSchalkwyk crossed in just under four hours — minutes before the bombs went off.

Timing was everything, Lutter said.

The group went to the Marriott Hotel, where Dana Farber team members were scheduled to gather. There, Lutter said, they heard about the explosions and started to worry about her niece, who, with other runners, had been hustled out of the area. Once everyone was accounted for, the group was anxious to leave the city.

“We got nervous about taking the T so we just walked back to our car in Charlestown,” Lutter said.

Derry runners all accounted for

Eleven members of the Greater Derry Track Club ran in Boston Monday. Others were there to volunteer or watch friends and family cross the finish line.

Club president Jim Peters stayed home and tracked club members’ progress.

“I had my list up and was tracking our runners,” he said. “Then, I heard about the explosion and could see that three of them had finished, but seven had not.”

By Monday night, all runners were accounted for.

Always look for the good

Amanda McMeniman, 35, of Hampstead finished her third Boston Marathon slower than she wanted, but it was 30 minutes before the bombings.

She was two blocks away when she heard the boom.

“I just thought it was for Patriots Day or something,” she said. “But then I saw the smoke and I knew it was something else.”

Shortly after, the texts started flooding in.

“Everyone started asking if we were OK,” she said. “Then all the pieces started coming together.”

The hardest part of the day, she said, was talking to her two young children about what happened.

“It’s hard when you have kids and my kids were right there,” she said. “I just reminded them to always look for the good people in life.”

Staff writers Alex Lippa, Paul Tennant and Bill Burt contributed to this report.