2013-04-19 / Front Page

Coverage area touched by Boston bombs

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

BOSTON — The explosions that detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, turned what Dick Sawyer of Scarborough called a “joyful” scene into a tragic one, but South Portland and Cape Elizabeth residents said they were amazed by the kindness of strangers in the aftermath of the explosions.

The explosions went off a few seconds apart from each other just before 3 p.m. on Boylston Street near Copley Square and the Boston Public Library. Federal investigators and Boston police were still investigating the cause of the explosions as of the Sentry’s deadline on Wednesday, April 17.

In the immediate aftermath, police and race volunteers cleared the Boylston Street area while runners tried to meet up with friends and family members. Overloaded cell phone towers made contact difficult, but race officials directed all spectators and diverted runners to a family meeting area in the Boston Common through a megaphone.

The Boston Marathon brings thousands of runners and spectators to the city from all over the world on the Patriots Day holiday. This year, 20 individuals from Mainely Media’s coverage area ran the race.

Josh Cutler, 65, of South Portland, was running in his first Boston Marathon. He was diverted from the route in Boston about a mile before the finish line, as was his nephew, Joseph Finelli of Boston.

Cutler said most of his family couldn’t make it to the finish line because the crowd was too large, although his nephew, Adam Cutler, of Cape Elizabeth, and brother-in-law, Dick Sawyer, of Scarborough, were close to the blasts.

Cutler’s family met after the race in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of the city. He said on the walk over, he saw people uninvolved with the race offer cell phones to those trying to reach loved ones at hotels or out in the city. Cutler walked with a woman from Saskatchewan, Canada to the Boston Common, the designated area for friends and families to meet. Along the way, he said, two men uninvolved with the race offered him their jackets.

“It’s a great holiday and a great event,” Cutler said. “It’s sad that it can be ruined and a lot of people’s lives can be ruined in the process.”

Dunfey of Cape Elizabeth finished his 23rd consecutive Boston Marathon about an hour before the blasts. He was two blocks away, in the Westin Hotel, when the explosions happened.

His sister, Eileen Dunfey, finished about eight minutes before. Like Cutler, Bob Dunfey couldn’t believe a tragedy could happen at such a positive event.

“It’s as happy a day as Christmas, or happier,” Dunfey said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Erin Chalat, 52, of Cape Elizabeth, dropped out of the race because of a medical problem before she reached Boston. She was riding into the city with other runners who had dropped out, when she was diverted. One of the women on the bus got through to her husband’s cell phone, which is when Chalat learned of the explosions.

Chalat said the first call to her husband went straight to voice mail, but she got through to her mother. Her family was eating lunch in the Prudential building and heard the blasts.

“People were really helping each other, there were so many people available to help to get in touch with family and friends. Most runners worried about their families at the finish line,” Chalat said.

Dick Sawyer of Scarborough was standing in the doorway of Lord and Taylor at 760 Boylston St. when the blasts occurred. Sawyer was taking pictures at the finish line, which he described as a “crowded, happy, joyful and exuberant” scene, while waiting for his brother-in-law, Cutler and nephew, Finelli.

That quickly changed when the first blast went off within 100 yards from where he was standing. The second blast – immediately afterwards – happened across the street from where he and his son, Scott, also a Scarborough resident, were standing.

“All of a sudden, this feeling of exuberance and the feeling of happiness seeing people finish was totally reversed,” Sawyer said.

After he heard the blast, Sawyer said he and Scott ran through Lord and Taylor to get out of the area.

“There was a tremendous sense of panic,” Sawyer said. “I didn’t see any of the carnage of the people getting hurt.”

Sawyer said he was eventually able to reconnect with Cutler and Finelli, who were approximately one mile from the finish line when the blasts occurred.

Erica Jesseman, 24, a runner from Scarborough who finished the marathon in 2:44:35, had a different perspective of the explosions. Jesseman finished the 26.2- mile road race at 12:16 p.m., nearly three hours before the first explosion. Because she didn’t feel well after finishing the race, Jesseman decided to head back to the Fairmont Copley Plaza, where she and several of the people she ran with were staying.

After the blasts, she said, the hotel was immediately locked-down as police and emergency responders cleared the scene.

“It was scary because I had a lot of family and friends there. I am a coach, so a bunch of my athletes were down there too,” said Jesseman, who coaches track and crosscountry at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.

Jesseman said she heard the blast from her hotel room, but had no idea what it could have been. She said she didn’t turn on the television news in the hotel room because the young children of Sheri Piers, her running partner, were in the room at the time.

Although she did not witness what happened firsthand, Jesseman said the tragedy dampened the spirit of the event for her and other runners participating in the event.

“This was my first (Boston Marathon),” she said. “It was supposed to be a day of celebration, but it turned into a day of sorrow and grief.”

Nevertheless, Jesseman said the experience will not keep her from competing in the event in the future.

“It’s not going to keep me down. Life is such that everywhere you turn something bad might happen. You can’t hide from it. You have to go ahead with your life knowing there is more good than bad in this world,” she said.

Jeremy Bonnett, 39, of Scarborough, who was competing in his second Boston Marathon, said the tragic events will not stop him from running in large road races in the future.

Like Jesseman, Bonnett, who had finished the event just after 1 p.m., was not at the finish line during the explosions.

“I was not in the area when it happened. I was on the bus to Hopkinton,” said Bonnett, who had parked his car in Hopkinton prior to being shuttled into Boston for the marathon.

Bonnett, who knew a dozen people at the event either watching the race or running in it, said he originally planned to head to the finish line to cheer on the runners as they crossed the finish line, but a spur-of-the-moment decision changed those plans.

“By the time I recovered and changed and waited for runners, I got cold so I decided to head back home,” said Bonnett, who grew up in Natick, Mass. “Otherwise my plans would have been to cheer on people at the finish line.”

When he heard the news on the radio while he drove back to Maine, Bonnett said he quickly tried to make sure his friends at the event were safe and sound.

“I immediately broke down the whole way home,” he said. “There is still a wave of raw emotion. It was pretty crazy. It was pretty intense. Luckily no one I knew was affected.”

Kennebunk’s Michaela Swiatek, 20, participated in the Boston Marathon for the fi rst time on Monday with a race time of 3:24:19.

“I fi nished the race around 1:30 p.m. During my cool down is when I felt both of the explosions,” Swiatek said. “The ground shook and no one knew what was going on. It was obviously scary. Pretty much as soon as we felt the ground shake we started walking in the opposite direction. The most diffi cult thing was trying to fi nd people after that.”

This was Swiatek’s third marathon; she said the explosions would not prevent her from participating in the Boston Marathon again. Swiatek, who attended York High School, is currently a student at Colby College in Waterville.

Robert Gomez of Saco, who fi nished in 2:22:53, 32 overall in the race, two hours before the explosions occurred, was in the Prudential Center Mall at the time of the explosions, about a thousand feet from the fi nish line. Gomez said the explosion was so powerful, “people were running out of the mall, just pouring out, because the building was shaking and everyone thought the explosion was inside.”

Gomez said during the fi rst 10 or 15 minutes after the explosion there was “a lot of confusion and chaos, people standing around” trying to fi gure out what happened. Until he checked his Twitter account, Gomez didn’t know what had occurred.

One hundred yards from the fi nish line, Angela Coulombe, also of Saco, was working as a volunteer, helping to direct runners from the fi nish line to stations where they could get water, medals and medical supplies if needed.

Coulombe saw the fi rst explosion and immediately thought, “Was that a cannon? Why would someone light a cannon with all that smoke? How inconsiderate to the runners.”

When she heard the second explosion however, it started to set in that the marathon could be under attack.

Brad Watts, a U.S. Marine and former Saco resident who now lives in Boston, said he is “concerned for all the veterans who were running in that race that thought they were done seeing roadside bombs when they came home from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Even hearing about the attack, said Watts, can be diffi cult for veterans struggling with PTSD.

“I’m also very thankful that there were two soldiers there in uniform that were resourceful enough and cool under pressure enough to clear the barriers previously impairing emergency personnel from access to those who needed help,” said Watts, who is studying to work veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues.

“The key thing to remember with acts of terrorism is that their goal is terror. If we refuse to allow the actions of cowards to terrorize us or change our way of life then we refuse to let them win,” Watts added.

Coulombe was at the scene moving pallets of water and Gatorade from the street so that emergency personnel could enter. She said everybody worked together very quickly to remove the barriers.

Emergency personnel were “fast to respond,” said Gomez, and “very professional in a very trying time.”

“There were catatonic people walking around,” Coulombe said. “It was very heartbreaking to pass people who were crying, mothers trying to comfort children who were scared.” Even still, Coulumbe said, “These were the best medical staff I’ve ever seen.”

With cell phone communication down, people turned to social media to communicate. Dunfey of Cape Elizabeth said his phone was “going bananas,” but he couldn’t respond with calls or texts because of poor signals. He was able to post on Facebook however, letting more than 100 of his friends and family know that he was OK.

State Rep. Justin Chenette, who represents Saco, relied on social media to contact his sister, who attended the marathon as a spectator.

“As soon as I heard the news reports, I frantically called my sister to see if she was OK and couldn’t get through because cell phones were impacted,” Chenette said. “I used social media to also reach out and fi nally got through.”

In the tragedy’s aftermath, Chenette said, “It really made me appreciate how short life is and can be in a split second. Hug your loved ones a little harder and say ‘I love you’ more.”

Others ponder the same things.

“It is sad that one of the most historic and wonderful races in the world, and one of the greatest days in New England was tarnished because of this,” Gomez said. “It puts personal achievement like running a race on the back burner.”

To Dunfey, the attack was “kind of like a bomb going off in Disney World, it just doesn’t make any sense … Marathon Monday is like ‘Happy Land.’ I still have a hard time accepting that this happened.”

Coulombe said future races will be different, “but they can be spectacular because the human spirit is spectacular. It fortifi es you to go through the worst possible atrocity and see the greatest act of kindness and compassion, not negativity.”

Coulombe, who has been helping to organize Jimmy the Greek’s Maine Mall 5K for Lyme Disease run, taking place on April 28 in South Portland, said a portion of the proceeds will now also be going to families of the victims of the Boston Marathon attacks.

“We end it with positivity and love and show the world that’s what it’s all about,” Coulombe said.

– Staff writers Ben Meiklejohn, Mike Kelley, and Alex Aquisto contributed to this article.

Beach to Beacon

Dave Weatherbie, president of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K Race Committee: The pain of the Marathon bombing is “fresh and deep,” so it’s too soon to discuss the specific impact on Beach to Beacon, but race organizers will put security measures in place “ to provide a safe and positive experience for everyone on August 3.”

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