A Bay Area runner had just crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon today and was walking off his leg cramps when two bombs exploded behind him, killing three and injuring dozens in downtown Boston.
Stan Rowland, 60, an attorney from Alamo, said he heard a sound like he’d never heard before a block or two away and turned and saw smoke rising from the marathon route.
“It was absolutely horrific,” he said. Rowland’s first reaction was to anger as he concluded that the two explosions were bombs.
He said that the event’s volunteers kept remarkably calm, immediately guiding people from the chaotic scene of the blasts and clearing the area before police arrived.
Locals: Marathon ‘will never be the same’ [Chron]
Within minutes emergency responders swarmed the area, including police cars, ambulances and even military personnel who had previously been along the marathon’s route as a tribute to the armed services.
At least three people were killed in the blasts, which occurred shortly before 3 p.m. Boston time. Reports this evening indicated that an 8-year-old child was among the dead, and that more than 140 people were injured.
Rowland was in the area of the finish line for about 90 minutes following the explosions, calling friends and family and returning messages from people wondering if he was OK. After that, he said, police started clearing a larger perimeter and shut down several blocks.
Many were stranded away from the marathon’s stragglers as the police investigated, and were left wondering if their loved ones were alright. Rowland stopped to talk to one girl behind him, tears streaming down her face, who didn’t know where her father was and couldn’t call him.
Police cars were flying down the streets, he said, and firefighters were investigating other suspicious packages found in the area feared to be more bombs.
Rowland said he has run 15 or 20 marathons before, but never Boston, and had always intended to as it is an old classic of marathon running.
“If you’re a marathon runner you’ve got to do the Boston Marathon,” he said.
Boston Marathon officials posted about the incident on the event’s Facebook page just before 1 p.m.
“There were two bombs that exploded near the finish line in today’s Boston Marathon. We are working with law enforcement to understand what exactly has happened,” the statement read.
Another Bay Area resident, Berkeley resident Lucretia Ausse, 54, witnessed the bombs as she was about to receive her medal for finishing the race in just over four hours.
She said she heard an explosion and saw a plume of smoke. About 10 seconds later, she heard a second blast.
“I thought it was a water cannon,” she said this afternoon, “I thought that was odd.”
She soon realized something serious was happening.
“There was definitely fear and panic in the crowd,” she said.
She was able to get her gear from a tent where her cellphone was, but she was unable to connect with her partner, who was on the subway trying to meet up with her at the finish line. Today is a holiday in Massachusetts — Patriots’ Day—and the subway was packed, Ausse said.
She said a frantic 30 minutes passed before they were able to meet up safely and return to their Beacon Hill bed and breakfast, where she said everyone was hunkering down, watching the news closely and following police orders.
“It was a very terrifying and saddening experience,” said Ausse, who has run five marathons. “For this to occur at this event is enormously frightening.”
She said fellow runners, who come from around the world for the storied race, are shaken up.
“It’s just starting to hit me what happened,” she said.
One of the top finishers was Daniel Tapia, 26, of Castroville, who said he had finished running the 26.2-mile course around noon Boston time and had gone into the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel near the finish line to grab a snack and recover.
He said he was inside the hotel when he heard what sounded like a loud pop. Hotel staff turned on the TVs as emergency personnel told hotel patrons to stay inside.
“I haven’t left the room that I’m in,” he said early this afternoon.
Tapia said his family is with him and that he was hoping to go out to dinner tonight in Boston, but as of this afternoon that didn’t seem likely.
He said a medical tent had been set up in front of the hotel, and that he had heard about severe injuries.
Tapia said he knows dozens of runners who participated in the race, and that he doesn’t know where they all were when the explosions happened.
“I hope everyone’s OK,” he said.
Tapia placed ninth in the marathon, according to the race’s website.
San Francisco native and Berkeley resident Andrew Batjiaka, 25, had finished the race an hour before the blasts happened and had left the downtown area when he heard about the explosions.
He was able to return to a home in the city’s Allston neighborhood where he is staying with friends.
Batjiaka said his sense of accomplishment and well-being after the marathon quickly turned to horror when he heard the news.
“I was super happy when I finished the race,” Batjiaka said.
He said his Boston friends have offered to host fellow marathon runners stranded in the city.
Hundreds of similar offers have been made on a growing Google Document list titled “Need a place to stay—Boston Marathon explosion.” The list is being shared online via social media.
President Obama made a statement this afternoon after he was briefed about the explosions, calling Boston a “tough and resilient town.”
“We still do not know who did this or why,” Obama said. “But make no mistake—we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this.”
Sasha Lekach/Scott Morris, Bay City News