April 16, 2013

Cornell Runners Recall Terror, Shock After Boston Marathon Blasts

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Updated Tuesday evening with a statement from President David Skorton and the account of another Cornellian who ran the Boston Marathon.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings Monday, five Cornell runners recalled the terror they felt as they learned of the explosions, struggled to find family members and hurried to leave the city.

The blasts, which occurred near the finish line of the iconic race shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, killed at least three people and wounded at least 144, according to the Associated Press. At least 10 individuals affiliated with Cornell were registered to run the marathon, according to the Boston Athletic Association’s website.

As of Tuesday evening, the University was not aware of anyone from the Cornell community who had been injured, President David Skorton said in a University-wide statement.

“On behalf of the entire Cornell community, I extend heartfelt sympathies to all those who have suffered loss and injury from Monday’s unconscionable attack at the Boston Marathon,” Skorton said.

When she heard the first of multiple explosions near the finish line, Anne Elise Creamer ’13, a member of the Cornell Running Club, thought the noise was thunder, or the sound of urban construction.

“We didn’t think much of it, especially because I was so excited about finishing the race,” Creamer said. “We had no idea what had happened.”

It was not until Creamer saw an unusually high number of security guards positioned at a parking garage that she began to think something was amiss.

“That’s when we got a call from a family member, who said, ‘Turn on the radio.’ We got in the car, and they said …. there had been a bomb, that two people had died and that a bunch of people had been sent to the hospital,” Creamer said. “I was … shocked. Really shocked.”

Having just completed her first Boston Marathon, Creamer said she was flooded with a range of emotions as she began driving back to Ithaca. The pride she felt in completing the historic race was soon overshadowed by sadness, as she began hearing grisly details of injured runners and spectators emerge on the radio.

“I wanted to think that no one had died. I wanted to stay positive. But it just kept hitting you and hitting you with these facts — that so many people were injured, that people had died,” Creamer said. “I just felt my heart pounding.”

Like Creamer, Gilly Leshed, a visiting professor in the Department of Information Science, said she has been grappling with “very mixed feelings” in the aftermath of the explosions.

“On one hand, I was happy to run the race, and on the other, I was so devastated with what happened. I feel very, very sorry for the people who were injured, the people who died in the explosion,” Leshed said.

Looking back on the afternoon’s events, Leshed said a day that ultimately ended in tragedy began like any other Boston Marathon race.

“It was a holiday in Boston — Patriots’ Day — and there were the usual marathon celebrations. There were thousands of runners and people were cheering from both sides as I crossed the finish line,” she said.

Just five minutes after crossing the line, however, Leshed — then walking toward the baggage-collection point — said she heard a huge boom.

“I turned around and saw smoke at the finish line. … People were just shocked,” she said, recalling how she was about 200 yards away from the finish line. “Then there was another explosion, and at that point, I just wanted to get to my baggage, find my phone and call my family [to] tell them I [was] okay.”

Within minutes, Leshed said, the scene became chaotic. Cell phone lines became “very slow” as runners, friends and family tried to contact each other, Leshed said.

Leshed said she was fortunate she was able to locate her family — who had come to Boston to watch her run — and leave the city quickly. As they left Boston, however, they saw the chaos unfolding before them, with emergency responders racing to the scene of the explosions and family members struggling to find each other.

“It was all police cars, ambulances and fire engines running around like crazy, and we were just listening to the news like everyone else,” Leshed said.

As people sought their loved ones and tried to get to safety, Lesley Kay Middleton, a greenhouse assistant at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, said she did not know what to think. Rumors abounded about what had just happened, and in the immediate aftermath of the explosions, it was difficult to ascertain what was truth and what was speculation, she said.

“Naturally, I thought [the explosion] was a garbage truck emptying a dumpster or something like that, but then people looked frightened and everyone started quickly hurrying away from the direction of the finish [line]. You heard people saying ‘bomb’ and didn’t know whether to believe it or think they were rumors,” she said.

Making her way toward the Boston Common, Middleton said she comforted a woman who couldn’t find her mother, as well as a woman who had raised enough money to participate in the marathon but was not able to finish the race because of the explosions.

“She said this was her chance, as she’d never be able to qualify [again],” Middleton said.

Like many others, John Colson grad learned of much of the explosion through the radio while returning to Ithaca. But Colson — who completed the marathon more than an hour before the first explosion occurred — said he had no idea what had happened until he was already driving out of Boston.

Suddenly, he saw he had accumulated more than 15 text messages and six voicemails in the span of a minute, Colson said.

“Most of them were saying, ‘Are you okay?’ … but at the end of the marathon, that’s still [a] natural question to ask,” he said.

It was not until he turned on the radio that he realized there had been multiple explosions near the finish line of the race he had just finished. At one point, listening to the news reports of the explosions, Colson said he had to pull over and stop his car to compose himself.

“There’s a lot of build-up, a lot of excitement and the entire day is supposed to be a really celebratory event. So many people are cheering, and there were all these legendary places you ran by. I can think about those and picture all of them, but all I can think about now is how I hope other people are okay,” Colson said.

Colson added that he is unsure of whether or not the group of people he ran most of the race with are safe.

“Thinking back on it now, I just consider myself fortunate to have been alright,” Colson said.

Another Cornellian who ran the race, Prof. Yrjo Grohn, epidemiology, was three blocks away from the finish line when the explosions occurred.

Grohn said he thinks the relatively late timing of the blasts prevented more people from being injured.

“I think the death [toll] would have been much bigger if it had happened two hours earlier,” Grohn said, noting that the blasts occurred after many runners had finished the race. “[My wife and I] were able to drive home, but if it had happened to us earlier, the consequences could have been much more serious.”

Original Author: Akane Otani