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Happiness turned to horror for Marylanders at Boston Marathon

Emotions ran high in the moments before and after bombings

April 20, 2013|By Kevin Rector, Yvonne Wenger and Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

The next day, Michael Gross stayed at the hotel with a migraine and Brannock worked on a biology project for a graduate course at Towson University. Downing focused on final race preparations with Nicole Gross, who had moved to Charlotte about 10 years ago after graduating from Mount Hebron High School and the University of Tennessee.

They went on a chilly, 25-minute run. At Target, they picked up a sweatsuit Downing would peel off after she warmed up during the race. They bought tickets for the "T," Boston's subway system, so the family wouldn't have to stand in line after the marathon. And they made a trip to Hopkinton.

"I said, 'Let's go to the start real quick and see what it looks like ...'" Downing recalls. "We got there and it was just like, 'Oh, this is so great.'"

Before the race, held on the Patriots Day state holiday, some members of the family considered watching the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays — the game was being played early, before the marathon. But they decided there wasn't enough time.

Brannock had another sport on her mind as she prepared to watch the race. She texted a friend: "You think I'm gonna have trouble wearing a Ravens shirt on Patriots day? Haha."

'Dad, there was a bomb'

When Kathryn Ledwell crossed the finish line at 2:44:26 p.m. — after nearly four hours of running — she was exhausted. "I didn't want to take a step further," says the 22-year-old Charles Village resident, a senior at the Johns Hopkins University. "My legs had had enough."

The first 16 miles had gone well, the rest not so much. But she had pushed on.

"My thought was the faster I finish, the faster I can stop running," she said. Medical aides approached. She was OK, she told them, but didn't want to move. Slowly, she walked to a nearby water stand. Moments later, the first explosion sent smoke, shrapnel and debris into the air.

To Ledwell, who grew up in Prince Edward Island in Canada, it sounded "like a mix between a cannon and a bunch of fireworks." But her brain wasn't processing it. Men and women in yellow jackets and sweaters — race personnel and volunteers — and security officers in black vests rushed past her, toward the thick line of smoke. Runners and spectators streamed toward her.

When a second explosion sounded, Ledwell knew to flee. "OK, if there were two, there might be more," she thought.

Three minutes after the first explosion, Ledwell's friend, Charlotte Healy, who had run the race as well and was waiting for her, managed to reach her on the phone and asked what the sounds had been. "I was freaking out and she didn't know why," Ledwell recalls.

At 2:57 p.m., Ledwell's father called from London, unaware of the explosions. He had been tracking her progress online and wanted to congratulate her. "Dad, there was a bomb. There was a bomb, I gotta go," she told him. Then her phone stopped working.

In Toronto, Ledwell's sister had also been tracking the race online and was terrified, knowing Ledwell had been at the finish line about the time of the explosions. At 3:07 p.m., Ledwell's boyfriend, Daniel Ben-Ami, a Hopkins junior, texted from Baltimore: "Hey please tell me you're OK."

Ledwell's father quickly emailed the sister to let her know Ledwell was OK. But Ledwell's phone would not let her respond to the dozens of others who began texting her.

'Just in a daze'

Down the street, Lynne Douglas of Columbia heard the first explosion as she ran down the right side of Boylston — within a block of the yellow band with "FINISH" lettered in blue. She saw the smoke rise, but she and the other runners nearby kept moving.

Police officers lining the road were alert but didn't seem too concerned. Her first reaction was that it was a gas explosion.

Seconds later, directly to her left, another explosion on the patio of the Forum restaurant sent something — she doesn't know what — straight into her leg, cutting her skin. "At that point I knew it was bombs," she says.

A runner just to her left had been badly injured — one of his legs was gashed open and bleeding. In front of the Forum, Douglas could see wounded spectators on the ground.

"Everybody just started running away and screaming and crying," Douglas, 57, said. "I didn't know what direction to go. I stood still for a moment and just tried to figure out what to do and where to go."

Instinct took her to the right, to a metal fence along the course. She climbed over and huddled with a family who told her, "Get down! Get down!"

A man whose clothes were burned and his pants split down each leg approached Douglas on the sidewalk, asking, "Am I OK?"

"And he was just like all of us, just in a daze," she recalls. "I said, 'You've been hit but you look like you're OK,' and he just walked away and so did I, and I can't believe I didn't say, 'We need to get you to the medical tent.' But I wasn't thinking straight."

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