Baltimore-area residents near Boston Marathon blasts

Relatives scramble to confirm runners' safety

April 15, 2013|By Carrie Wells, Scott Dance and Patrick Maynard, The Baltimore Sun

Ryan McGrath and other Baltimore-area runners were relaxing after the Boston Marathon, refueling with some burritos, when they heard the blasts.

"I thought maybe it's one of those boat-type things that just shoots off a cannon every day," said McGrath, a Highlandtown resident who organizes a running group through Falls Road Running Store in Mount Washington. "One of my friends was like, 'Man, that didn't sound like a cannon.'"

Police and emergency vehicles quickly flooded the area, and marathoners and spectators ran by crying, McGrath said.

Four-hundred forty-eight Marylanders, including 59 people from Baltimore, were signed up to run Monday in the marathon, which became a grisly scene after two explosions at the finish line left at least three people dead and scores injured, some with severed limbs.

In the Baltimore area, those who had friends or family in the race frantically tried to reach their loved ones, though some in Boston reported spotty cellphone service.

Kristen and Jason Miller of Catonsville met their friends at the finish line about five minutes before the blasts went off.

They walked about a quarter-mile to the nearest subway station and had gotten on the train when police entered and told everyone to evacuate, Kristen Miller said. No one knew what was going on, including the conductor. Later, they learned what happened and how close they had been.

"Just knowing that you were that close, it just makes you pause for a minute and think about it, and be thankful that you were where you were," Miller said.

Miller said she and her husband walked for miles to get to their hotel outside the city, even though he was exhausted from the race. About a mile from the scene, her phone suddenly lit up with texts and missed phone calls, which might have been due to overloaded cellphone towers slowing service. All her friends in the race were OK, including one who was near the finish line when the explosions occurred.

The typically festive scene at the finish line turned chaotic as the blasts hit seconds apart. Thick, white smoke billowed across the street, even as runners continued to cross the line.

Visitors at a hotel two blocks from the finish line felt the concussions from the explosions. Most reporters were unable to reach the area because of lockdown procedures at the media center, but photos and videos of the scene were widely available on social media shortly after the explosions occurred.

The finish line facilities were soon shut down, and police and fire crews — already on duty for the event — called additional workers to the scene. What had been a medical tent for the race was turned into a triage facility, with ambulances continuing to arrive until nearly an hour after the incident. Authorities urged people in the city to avoid trash cans and suspicious packages.

"It's a mess," said Tom Gamper, a Charles Village resident who had participated in his third Boston Marathon. "This is terrible. It's just terrible. It's a bad scene."

Gamper had finished the race and was retrieving his equipment bag from a bus when he heard the first explosion. He said he was about two blocks away, with a view of the smoke and chaos along Boylston Street. "At first, it was very strange, as if everyone around me had a sense of denial," he said. "But at the same time, you knew just intuitively that something terrible had just happened."

Within five minutes, Gamper said, emergency vehicles started to race onto the scene in a steady stream. "Then the whole city went on lockdown," he said. "Our cellphones went out."

With the downtown Boston subway lines closed, Gamper walked two miles to retrieve his car.

"All through the city, people were in a zombie-like state," he said. "They were ashen, or there were tears coming from their eyes. People seemed to gather on Boston Common, just hanging out there, as if it was a safe place to be. ... It's overwhelming to me, a beautiful event like the Boston Marathon — how do you put that back together after this? It's heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking."

Some of the Falls Road Running Store team had flown to Boston and planned to stay the night Monday, but Ryan McGrath and others who drove expected to leave Monday afternoon.

The group of about 20 runners on the team had finished well before the explosions, McGrath said. Most of the race's entrants qualify based on their marathon results, but many of those who were still on the race course had been awarded spots for raising money for charity. The last wave of runners in the race started at 10:40 a.m. and had until 5 p.m. to finish, he said.

"This is probably the biggest in the eight years that I've lived in Baltimore," he said of the team's Boston contingent. "A lot of people got pretty psyched about doing it this year."

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