Madness at Boston Marathon: Faculty, Staff and Alumnus Recount Monday's Bombing

Witnessing both explosions, several give their stories.

This year would be the biochemistry professor’s first year to run in the Boston Marathon.

It had taken Paul Paré, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, four years to qualify for one of the nation’s most prominent marathons. Little did he know that moments after crossing the finish line, two devices would explode, blasting the normally happy event into bloody headlines across the globe.

Paul Paré

Paul Paré

Three people, including an 8-year-old boy and a Chinese student, died in the two explosions, and more than 170 were injured. The blasts occurred as the first of the 27,000 marathoners began crossing the finish line about 2:50 p.m. Monday (April 15).

Police have identified parts of the devices to include ball bearings and parts from a pressure-cooker.

Paré said he has been running for 40 years after picking up the sport from his father. In the last four years, he came close to earning qualifying times for Boston in Chicago, Dallas, Memphis and Oklahoma City. Then in December 2010, he finally qualified in Jacksonville, Fla.

Paré said he would have participated in last year’s marathon. However, unusually warm weather conditions caused the Boston Athletic Association to offer a deferral to runners who wanted to wait a year to participate. He flew up Saturday (April 13) with fellow runner and friend of 25 years, Edson Pinto, a pathologist at Covenant Medical Center.

My personal goal was to go up to have fun and visit with relatives living and visiting Boston,” he said. “I was anxious as well as excited before the start of any marathon. No matter what the training, 26.2 miles is a big deal for me. Before the race you are bused from downtown Boston to Hopkinton, approximately 26 miles southwest of the city. On the bus, I talked with several runners who described how last year’s run was unusually grueling because of the heat. Medical tents were filled with runners suffering from heat exhaustion. With the weather close to perfect, those of us chatting on the bus agreed that this year’s run would be completely different.”

A man on the bus told Paré about his expectant wife and shared his bagel with Paré. To the chemistry professor, life was great. Once arrived, runners in the athlete’s village buzzed with pent-up excitement.

While Paré relaxed and stretched in this holding area, he noticed members of what looked like a SWAT team suited and armed on the roof of the school where runners gathered.  The image in a setting with such a high density of people chilled him, he said.

As he ran the 26.2 miles, enthusiastic crowds cheered so fervently, he felt like he wanted to join them. Music filled him with emotion.

2010 Boston Marathon

2010 Boston Marathon (courtesy: Wikipedia)

Personally the event was so filled with passion that I began to get choked up as I crossed the starting line,” he said. “My finishing time was 4:09:59. I was just about to exit the secure zone for the runners when there were the two loud blasts in close succession. Since the blasts seem to be up ahead of us in the direction we were walking, the crowd came to a standstill. Clearly the noise was ominous.”

Volunteers at the exit to the secure area for runners closed the gate and advised runners to wait until police had discovered the origin of the blasts. Within a short period of time, he said, emergency vehicles entered the restricted area loaded with runners. Anxious, exhausted and in many cases cold with a stiff breeze and shade from the city high-rises, runners moved as quick as was possible to the designated area to meet up with family and loved ones.

“I did not see any injured spectators or runners from the blast, but a few blocks from the finish line the level of anxiety was clearly present,” he said. “Once I arrived at the designated reunion area, the scene was different than usual for a marathon. Runners and families were not connecting up as would be expected. There was a bank of cell phones provided by AT&T for runners to call their loved ones, but people couldn’t seem to get through. The plan to meet up with my dearest friend Edson Pinto, who is never late to anything, and have him not show was disturbing.”

Paré said he tried to muster up the physical and mental energy to figure out what was going on but really just didn’t have much in the way of reserves after the grueling race. After about 15 minutes, Pinto finally arrived after working his way through the blast zone.

“The warm embrace and full-length robe from the hotel was amazingly comforting,” he said. “As a professor at Texas Tech with several international student from countries with troubled political histories such at Egypt and Sri Lanka, it fills me with empathy and concern that these students are forced to face the stress and anxiety of having their family and friends exposed on a daily bases to real and immediate threats of violence."

Jennifer Adling and Eric Fisher

Jennifer Adling and Eric Fisher

A supporter's vantage point

Monday would be Eric Fisher’s first time to run in the Boston Marathon, too. The manager of treasury services for the Texas Tech University System and member of the West Texas Running Club had just qualified in August at California’s Santa Rosa Marathon with a time of 3:14:45.

Fisher had only trained for the Boston Marathon for two weeks and not gone more than five miles because of an injury. Because of illness, he was unavailable for comment.

“Going into the race we were really worried about his foot and expected him to do quite a bit of walking as needed,” said his wife, Jennifer Adling, who is director of Texas Tech’s Procurement Services. “But Boston is a once in a lifetime chance for most people and he didn't want to miss this opportunity. During race day, I was getting texts for the marathon updating me on his status and was concerned he was going too fast. Little did I know that would be a blessing.”

The couple arrived a day before the race and walked through the Common and down to the finish line. They attended the runner’s expo at the convention center, and then stopped in at Lord & Taylor for a gift and at the Starbucks on Boylston, right where the second bomb went off the next day.

“I took a picture of the finish line that day,” she said.

On race day, Fisher got up early to catch the bus, leaving the hotel at 6 a.m. Adling got up around 7 a.m. and went for a run along the Charles River. She texted him to say he wouldn’t need his warmer clothes after all, since the chilly weather from Sunday had subsided.

Adling went back to her hotel, changed and then toured the Freedom Tour. In the meantime, Fisher  started about 10:15 as he was in the first wave. From marathon progress text messages, Adling watched as he completed 10k at 11:00, then finished half the race at 12:01 p.m.

“At that point I headed to the race,” she said. “I found a place right next to the Lenox Hotel on Exeter Street. I was about 30 to 40 feet back from the street but there was a giant screen of the race within our sight there. Lots of family members stood around me. I stood there for nearly two hours. It was freezing where I was standing so I was anxious. He seemed to be taking a long time. I finally logged into the app and it said he passed the 40k mark. I finally saw him run by. He finished at 2:21 p.m. with a race time of 4:15:24.

After she saw her husband, Adling knew he would need help, so she went quickly to the family waiting area about three blocks from the finish line on Stuart Street. Fisher texted her to say he had stopped at the medical tent to get his foot taped.  At Family Waiting Area J, Adling just watched the hundreds of people around her. Exhausted runners stood thankful to be with their families.

“A girl who had just finished the race asked to use my phone,” Adling said. “While she was talking, I heard the first explosion. My phone record says she made the call at 2:50.  I really didn't know what it was. Some of the people in the crowd all looked around, but we just figured it could have been anything. Then quickly after that we heard the second. At that point, the entire crowd got quiet. We still didn’t know it was a bomb, but I think everyone was concerned. The girl gave me my phone back and I decided to walk toward the medical tent but as soon as I did, there was Eric.  We hugged and were pretty emotional. He was hurting and just exhausted. He did not hear the explosions. I wanted to get him away from the crowds and get him some food.”

Television news trucks lined up at site.

More television news trucks arrive the morning after explosions.

The couple walked down Stuart Street to Arlington Street, only to find ambulances and police cars screeching to the scene. At that point, Adling told her husband about the explosion sounds, and they knew something was wrong.

As they entered a restaurant, the crawl on the TV news already reported the explosions.

“At that point we notified our parents that we were OK,” she said. “Then we started getting so many texts and calls from people checking on us. We were getting updates from our waiter. We went back up to the front of the restaurant and watched more news. This was about 4:30. We decided it was better to get farther away from the site. Sirens were all over the place. There were also army vehicles, federal cars. We stopped in the commons and talked to a family. He told Eric congratulations and that he didn’t get to finish.  They had stopped them at about mile 25. Everyone was so somber. It didn't seem real. We got back to the room and watched the news for a while. This is where we really figured out what was happening.”

Adling said the events still are shocking to think about, perhaps even moreso because of the setting. Going back to the scene and looking at where the event happened left a ghostly, surreal impression on her.

“We walked to the site the next day and both were emotional about the scene,” she said. “It was very eerie. Everything stood exactly where it had been left the day before. The runner’s bags were still there waiting to be picked up. The media on the Commons were swarming. Most runners had purchased the official blue and yellow jackets, and every time we saw someone with that jacket on, we just glanced at each other and it was like we understood what each other was thinking. Just disbelief.

“I just can’t imagine these families and friends that came to watch friends and family run and were victimized. We attend and run in races all the time and it is certainly not something you would expect to happen – most certainly not to lose a family member. I will say we both feel more strongly about running and the running family now than ever before.  I will also say the Boston Marathon staff, volunteers, and runners were incredible.”

Will Bigham

Will Bigham

From behind the lens

At the finish line with video camera in hand, Will Bigham, a 1998 theatre arts graduate who won a position working at DreamWorks Studios through the Fox Reality TV show “On The Lot,” stood at the finish line only 30 yards away from the first bomb. He and two others had come to film two runners sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, he said.

“Before the explosions, it was an amazing experience,” Bigham said. “A true international event. Very inspirational. Families all around. Unity.  I saw, heard, and felt both explosions. At first, I thought it was part of the festivities, like at a certain time they shoot off a canon to celebrate. But when the second explosion sounded, I turned to see glass flying everywhere as the Starbuck’s windows shattered. It was surreal and scary, and I knew instantly what was happening. My thoughts turned to, ‘When and where will the next one hit?’”

Bigham said people started moving away from the buildings and into the street after the second bomb exploded, which was about 50 or 60 yards behind him. A police officer spotted a discarded bag a few feet behind him, and he was quickly moved away from the area.

“Personally, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way, I'm angry that someone would choose to do such a thing at an event that is so motivational and inspiring as the Boston Marathon,” he said. “Right before the first bomb, one of the runners ran to his wife who was standing close to me.  He gave his wife a kiss, grabbed his baby and headed off for the finish line. I, along with everyone else, was feeling a high of positive energy. A minute later everything changed. And for some, their lives are altered forever. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families who were affected. And I encourage everyone to focus on the positive rather than fuel the negative.”

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