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Boston Marathon Bombing | A Personal Account of Being at the Finish Line

We were stunned.  And so too were the runners coming at us. We were very busy helping them.

The runners were in shock.  They had no idea what had happened. They were dazed, shivering uncontrollably, needing our blankets, and could barely talk. We reassured them. We hugged them.  Many were very emotional – so we did all we could to take care of them – not knowing at all what many of them had witnessed.

At that point, being optimists, we thought a transformer had blown. But I think that was just talk to reassure ourselves and the runners – as we had heard the second blast further down Boylston Street – and could see another plume of smoke.

Everything started to change rapidly at this point.  The runners stopped coming.  We heard it was a “pipe bomb”.  The sounds of sirens all around us – coming from every direction – was deafening. We could not communicate except with hand motions.  Copley Square was the epicenter for ambulances.

Cindy and Bill headed up towards the smoke and the finish to see if they could help.

Both of them ended up removing the tables, water and food set for over 27,000 runners that day down the middle of Boylston Street. Bill said they were just flipping tables right over on to the sides of the street dumping everything as quick as they could – so that emergency vehicles could get through.

Throughout these minutes – we could all see the hundreds of police, fire and first responder professionals running into that smoke – and have our thanks to this day. The sirens just kept coming and coming. It was crazy.

I headed in several directions to find runners with the blankets.   The first place I went was the rear of the medical tent as I could see this was a staging area of ambulances picking up victims coming out of the medical tent and on their way to the hospital.  There were fences there – but I was able to hand off needed blankets to family members, first aid volunteers (white jackets) and some freezing runners too (a sea breeze had kicked up). It was the hardest, most difficult scene I have ever witnessed.

I kept returning with arm fulls of BAA blankets.

At this point I believe about 40 minutes had passed and a BAA official gathered all of the volunteers near that VIP tent and told us that our area was now a crime scene and we needed to leave Copley Square and head down to Berkley street — find runners and help distribute blankets and help anyway we could.

We did that till 6 pm.  None of the emotions of the moment and what was going on had sunk in with any of us. We were just working our tails off.  (We were very emotional along with our country –the next day, however).

All the runners we saw were cold. They were dazed in so many ways. And all we had was three simple things – a warming blanket, a hug and words that all of us volunteers hoped were helpful.  We were wrapping them up tight, often wrapping their legs too, giving more hugs, giving words of assistance, some were very confused, didn’t speak English, didn’t know where to go, where to find their personal belongings and so on. It was windy, the sirens continued – the day was getting late. It was getting colder, too.

It is at this point – it did start to hit us that there was an outside world. That we had friends and family members that figured or knew we were down here at the finish. Cindy checked her text messages – and reassured as many as she could – that we were fine. But then our daughter in college – wrote “PLEASE GET OUT OF BOSTON”.  We had no information, no news reports, but we figured there must be more threats. Word started to filter in – that that was the case.  So we gave out our last blankets. And headed to the South End to get Cindy’s car (I had taken the train in earlier).

I heard later of taxi cab drivers giving free rides to runners, strangers taking runners into their apartments, and others doing amazingly kind things to help these athletes get through this ordeal.  It was not perfect – but it was heartfelt.

We took one of the volunteers from Cumberland, RI home to my house to use the bathroom and I gave her a ride out to her car in Wellesley (half way point of the Marathon) as she had parked out of the city and took the “T” (transit) in early that morning.  I never knew her till this day, but I will also never forget her.  Despite the tough situation, she kept a smile on her face and kept us all up as we helped the runners. I hope to see her again someday. I know she got married on my favorite boat, “The Mount” Washington up on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

JD Hale


JD Hale
Updated Monday, April 22nd, 2013

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