2013-04-19 / Front Page

Reporter reflects on bombings

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Race volunteers organize bags containing keys, phones, clothes, and other personal belongings that runners left at the beginning of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass. Many of the bags were unclaimed because runners were diverted when two explosions went off near the finish line. (Yoojin Cho photo) Race volunteers organize bags containing keys, phones, clothes, and other personal belongings that runners left at the beginning of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass. Many of the bags were unclaimed because runners were diverted when two explosions went off near the finish line. (Yoojin Cho photo) BOSTON — When I spoke to Cape Elizabeth resident and longtime runner Bob Dunfey three days before this year’s Boston Marathon, he told me runners aren’t exempt from life’s problems, but the exercise and time alone with their thoughts help runners like him “look at the bright side” of their lives.

The explosions that detonated at the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon proved that no one is exempt from tragedy.

Not the runners who look forward to the event and train through the cold winter months. Not the volunteers and police who put emergency plans into place, hoping they will never be needed. Not the spectators who circle the marathon date as the one day the occasionally aggressive city of Boston is brought out in pure, unbridled, communal joy.


Staff writer Jack Flagler Staff writer Jack Flagler It’s hard to describe that shared positive energy to someone who has never attended a marathon. As a Boston University alum, I’ve watched the race in years past from Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Beacon Street at BU’s South Campus, and Kenmore Square, less than a mile from the explosions.

I look forward to the race every year, but struggle to answer when asked what makes watching a few thousand runners pass by so much fun. As Erik Malinowski of Buzzfeed said, it’s the inescapable sense of happiness among each and every spectator and participant that sets the marathon apart from other athletic events.

Any identifying item on a runner is cause for encouragement, no matter how small. Spectators yell out until they’re hoarse for every country whose flag is pictured above a runner’s bib number, for every sports team, even the ones we don’t like – on a headband or jersey, and for every name written in Sharpie on the runners’ pinioning arms.


Runners were allowed to enter the Copley Square area after police and race volunteers cleared a crime scene of more than 10 blocks around the finish line. This runner was reunited with her family, who broke down in tears with relief, about an hour after the explosions. (Yoojin Cho photo) Runners were allowed to enter the Copley Square area after police and race volunteers cleared a crime scene of more than 10 blocks around the finish line. This runner was reunited with her family, who broke down in tears with relief, about an hour after the explosions. (Yoojin Cho photo) There’s a reason, as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports writes, that Bostonians don’t leave after the top finishers cross the finish line. The finishers in hour three, four and five aren’t generally world-class athletes. They’re people who push themselves because they believe in something. Sometimes that’s a family member battling cancer or a loved one who lost the battle with the disease years ago.

It doesn’t matter if you know the name on the T-shirt. An encouraging cheer is often met with a smile, nod of acknowledgement or a high five. These are ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing who sometimes need a little help to push through, and Bostonians are always happy to provide that support, every single year.

The morning of the 2013 marathon brought that familiar happiness back. The first shouts of excitement followed police escorts that beckoned in the first finishers in the men’s wheelchair division. The cheers picked up in intensity and volume as more runners poured down Beacon Street through the home stretch to the finish line. The Red Sox even won their annual morning game at Fenway Park.

Then, just before 3 p.m., that unbridled emotion turned to panic, fear and confusion in an instant when two loud explosions went off near the finish line of the race in Copley Square.

Police and volunteers ushered spectators out of the Boylston Street area to safety. A woman with a megaphone told the crowd to move towards the Boston Common, where volunteers had set up a family meeting area. Officers warned there could be other devices in the area, pleading with the crowd to move away from the scene.

Any runners who had yet to finish the race were diverted a few miles from the finish line. Some spectators stayed put, hoping their loved one would be among the large group of runners that entered the area through Newbury Street when the area was clear. Cell phone towers were jammed. Calls couldn’t come through, so spectators and runners relied on social media and text messages both for news updates and to send messages to loved ones saying they were safe.

One man leapt over the barricade when he saw his wife in the crowd, breaking down in tears with relief. Dozens of yellow unclaimed runners bags served as a reminder that others were still searching. Hundreds were taken to local hospitals with injuries, some critical. We later learned three died.

The panic, confusion and anger could have broken Boston down. That was surely, at least in part, the intention of the cowardly human being or group behind the senseless violence. The positive energy that defines the marathon could have evaporated in a time of crisis. That didn’t happen.

When a woman from out of town looking for her husband didn’t know how to get from Copley Square to the Boston Common, a group immediately offered to walk with her. Strangers made phone calls to hotels or cell phones, trying to do whatever they could to help. In the footage of the explosion, dozens of people, trained or untrained, immediately and instinctually rush to help the wounded.

Within a few hours, hundreds of city residents posted apartment addresses and cell phone numbers on a Google Document spreadsheet, offering a night’s sleep and a meal to those in need.

Bob Dunfey finished the marathon in 3 hours and 41 minutes. He crossed the finish line less than an hour before the explosions. He said Friday running doesn’t help you escape life’s troubles. It puts you in the right mindset to meet the challenges that come along. The same was true at Monday’s Boston Marathon. The positive energy of the event didn’t prevent the tragedy, but it came through stronger than ever to help those in need.

I’ve never been more proud of my city.

Jack Flagler is a staff writer at Mainely Media, covering South Portland and Cape Elizabeth for the Sentry newspaper. He attended Boston University from 2007 to 2011, and graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. He has attended six consecutive Boston Marathons, and plans on returning again in 2014.

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