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The Finish Line: What The Bombing Was Like

by Tim Dahlberg, Eddie Pells And Jimmy Golen
Saturday Apr 20, 2013

The woman wearing bib No. 19,255 was a flute instructor from Utah, listening to her son singing through her headphones as if the sound of his voice could somehow will her body the last few yards to the finish line.

Just ahead of her was a pediatric nurse running her first marathon as a tribute to a teenage liver transplant patient. Ten years earlier, Courtney Fratto had attended her first Boston Marathon and told a friend that one day she would run in the race.

This was her day.

The swarm of runners nearing the finish line as the clock ticked toward 3 in the afternoon included a medical supply salesman, a teacher’s aide, a financial analyst in her 55th marathon, and a cop who would become the last recorded finisher of the 117th Boston Marathon.

This was their day, too.

On a gorgeous spring afternoon made for running they headed for the finish line that was their goal.

And at 2:50 p.m., hell was unleashed on the most prestigious marathon in the world.

The first explosion knocked a 78-year-old man running alongside them to the ground. The ground shook, smoke filled the air and the screaming began.

Erik Savage tried to make sense out of something that didn’t make any sense. The blast had knocked him back, into a semi crouch. His ears ringing, he stood up and instinctively walked toward the chaos, trying to see if there was anyone he could help.

He saw a man and a woman emerge from the smoke. The man’s pants had been torn off by the force of the blast.

"My first instinct was, `Strange. Why is that man not wearing any pants?’" Savage said. "Then I had a quick moment of clarity, which was there was something very wrong and my wife and my 8-year-old and my 4-year-old were 25 yards up the road.

They were caught in a no man’s land, eager to finish but even more eager to get out of harm’s way. Exhausted, mentally numb and totally spent, they now had to make what could be life and death decisions and deal with shock, too. Their first thoughts were to try somehow to get to safety but they also had husbands, wives and children in the crowd near the bomb site with no way of knowing if they were OK.

Jennifer Herring had already finished her race, helped along by another runner who acted as her eyes on the course. She was in a collection area with other blind runners when the first bomb went off, followed by a second loud explosion.

Suddenly, everyone grew quiet. A guide dog named Smithers, a Golden Retriever, started shaking badly. They took turns petting him, trying to calm him down.

A total of 23,336 runners started the Boston Marathon, with 17,580 finishing. These are some of their stories from the finish line area when the bombs went off:

The Sergeant

Army Sgt. Lucas Carr had heard the all-too-familiar sounds before.

He arrived at the finish at 2:48 p.m., and was standing with his girlfriend about 50 yards away when the bombs went off.

"I knew what it was, knew what the repercussions were," he said.

He told his girlfriend to run west, back onto the race course, because he knew everyone else was running the other way. The second bomb, he suspected, was placed where it was because it was along the most obvious escape route for those trying to flee the first.

A few seconds later, he was in the melee - an Army Ranger back in the middle of the blood and casualties he thought he’d left behind for good when he returned from the Middle East. Pictures of the 33-year-old helping the wounded have circulated widely in the wake of the bombing.

Another picture, texted to The Associated Press, showed his bloodstained running shoes. "This is not how a marathon is supposed to end. Running shoes drenched in blood!" was the message he sent along with the text.

"I saw things that brought back experiences overseas that I would never want to have anyone witness here," Carr said in an earlier AP interview. "It was an all-too-familiar smell that I can’t get out of my body. Tourniquets, tourniquets and more tourniquets I put on people that day. People with limbs missing. You don’t want to see that."

Carr was running in his sixth Boston Marathon, and his second to benefit the Boston Bruins Foundation.

A longtime hockey player, the Norwood, Mass., resident runs for MATT BROWN, who was paralyzed in a high school game on Jan. 23, 2010. Brown, now in a wheelchair, is overcoming pneumonia and his doctor advised him to skip this year’s race.

Carr says they’ll both be in it next year. There’s still work to be done.

"When it happened, in the aftermath, I felt helpless," he said. "You come home, you readjust, you feel happy for what you did. Then things like this happen and it puts a tainted memory on everything you did and puts you in a position of wanting to get answers now. But it makes you more resilient and vigilant than anything. My job was being a soldier. Everyone’s job is being a soldier right now."


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