‘I fell down...when I got up, the first thing I saw was smoke billowing up behind me’
People at Boylston Street yesterday were in reflective, stoic mood
A day after the Boston Marathon, Maureen Johan, right, embraces her daughter Nicole Rand, near the site of two explosions. Photograph: Eric Thayer/The New York Times
Ralph McAfee returned to the streets near the scene of the Boston Marathon blast yesterday to pay his respects to the three killed in Monday’s bombing, including eight-year-old Martin Richard from the city’s suburb of Dorchester.
This was the second Boston Marathon for the 51-year-old man from Portland, Oregon. His thoughts were not on his time but on the young boy, and his mother and younger sister who were gravely injured, along with 174 others, 17 of them critically, in almost simultaneous blasts near the marathon’s finishing line.
“It’s not so much about me – it is about an eight-year-old kid that has not had the life I had,” he said.
The Richard family’s heart-rending tale captured how a day of joy turned to terror in moments on Boylston Street in Boston’s affluent Back Bay area.
Local reports said Martin ran to hug his father, a participant in the race, after he crossed the finishing line and then returned to the footpath to his mother and sister, where he was caught in the blast.
The 176 injured included eight children under the age of 15, among them a two-year-old boy with a head injury and Martin Richard’s sister (9), who lost a leg in the blast.
The young victims were being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Another family also suffered tragedy. Brothers JP (33) and Paul (31) Norden, two unemployed roofers who had turned up to support a firefighter friend, each lost a leg in the attack.
“I have two sons in two different hospitals,” their mother told NBC News. “I am just so heartbroken.”
The blue and yellow jackets and sweatshirts worn proudly by many of the 23,000 participants in one of the world’s most famous marathons stood out across Boston, a city in lockdown following the attacks.
Armed police and the National Guard checked bags at city subway stations along Boston’s T transit system as passengers sat nervously, watching their surroundings closely.
Satadru Hore, whose 37th birthday fell on the day of the blasts, was still walking the deserted streets six hours after being knocked over within feet of the second blast, about 90m from the finishing line.
“I fell down on the ground. When I got up the first thing I saw was smoke billowing up behind me.
“There were three people on the ground. One person had lost his right limb. One person in a white T-shirt was all bloodied and a guy in a checked sweatshirt wasn’t moving,” he said. “There was just utter chaos and confusion – running, screaming and crying. A couple of women tried to get into an apartment block to get out of the street.”
Runners and friends Yvette Webb and Noreen Moloney, whose ancestors hail from Cork and Armagh, kept on encouraging each other through the 26.2-mile course to the finish ahead of their expected time of four hours and 10 minutes, which would have put them close to the first blast.
“Seven minutes in a marathon is not that big,” said Moloney.
Their time qualifies them for entry into the marathon next year and they intend to run again.
“We just need to show them that they cannot stop us from running.”
Another runner, Robert Onktko from Houston, Texas, could not understand why the race was targeted. “Running doesn’t have any ideology,” he said.
Preparing to leave one of Boston’s busy hotels for her home in Burlington, Vermont, Sherah Ricket, a 28-year-old runner, thought like many other participants that the blasts were 21-gun salutes or cannon to mark Patriots’ Day, the day when one of the world’s oldest marathons is held.
She crossed the finishing line about 45 minutes before the blasts. Her running time in her fourth marathon could not be further from her mind.
“I feel really guilty for finishing in front of those people. I feel guilty that they were watching me,” she said, referring to the people killed and injured in the two blasts.
She refused to let whoever was behind the attacks to stop her running in Boston again.
“I don’t think tragedies like this should keep you from doing what you want because that is what they want; they want attention and I don’t want to give them that.”