Sheer terror Local men describe scene in Boston after explosions
By: STAFF REPORT The Ephrata Review, Staff Writer
As Denver’s Bruce Waskowicz crossed the finish line in the Boston Marathon on Monday, he initially had two different emotions.
First, he was miserable after having just run 26.2 miles. Eventually he had a sense of elation because he finished his first Boston Marathon.
Quickly and sadly, however, the race became insignificant as two bombs exploded near the finish line which killed three and wounded more than 170 others.
The blasts went off just over four hours into the marathon, and it was only a short time earlier that Waskowicz and his brother-in-law Jeff Shue had finished the race, in 3:40.49 and 3:45, respectively.
Having received some water and a bag of food after going through the finish area, and then picking up their belongings from buses, Bruce met his wife, Mary, while their party was within a couple blocks of the bomb explosions.
"There was a big building between us and where the explosion actually took place," said Waskowicz. "After the second one, we were praying that it was something innocent, but it didn’t sound innocent. Then we saw people who had just finished, and what had been a very slow move through where you got your blankets and a bag of food, we saw people moving very quickly through and that was sort of our clue that something had happened."
Meanwhile, Tom Jefferson, a student at Fisher College in Boston and a 2011 graduate of Ephrata High School, was walking down Boylston St. near the finish line and was an estimated "50 feet to a half a block" away when the initial blast went off.
"We were just walking and we heard this loud bang … It was the loudest noise I think I’ve ever heard in my life," Jefferson said. "We just turned around and we saw smoke and dust coming at us. We didn’t really know what to do at first, and then the second one went off. Everyone just starting running away from the smoke. We were just running, everyone was panicking, and it was really crowded so you really couldn’t move much. People were pushing each other."
Not knowing what to expect next was certainly unnerving for Jefferson.
"The entire time I just kept thinking (the bombs were going to continue going off) down the street," he said. "It was just this feeling of waiting for another one to go off and waiting to die. It was the scariest moment of my life."
In hindsight, Jefferson was glad that nothing happened to slow his progress as he was making his way through the finish line area.
"I’m just so lucky because if I had stopped to tie my shoe or something, I could have been involved," he said. "We were that close to it … like 30 seconds away."
The Waskowiczes were far enough from the site of the explosions that they didn’t notice chaos at their location. But there was certainly a sense of worry and fear.
"I think there was genuine anxiety," Bruce said, noting that they could smell smoke. "The emergency people were incredibly good. There were an awful lot of policemen out and they were stern and firm, but they knew what they were doing. (Mary and I) were both impressed that they dealt with the scene incredibly impressively. They didn’t instill panic. You knew what they wanted and you did it. They moved people out in a prompt manner."
In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, there were many questions and few answers.
"When it first happened, it was probably five minutes before we did anything because people just didn’t know what was going on," Bruce said. "We actually called our neighbor (in Denver, to see if anybody had heard anything on CNN). I didn’t call my son (John) because I didn’t want to worry him, but we called a neighbor and at that point, they hadn’t heard anything. But fairly quickly, it was impressive how quickly word got out that there were explosions."
The Waskowiczes’ biggest concern at that point was finding other family members and people in their group. They at least had the peace of mind of knowing that Bruce’s parents were not at the explosion site, as they were able to contact them right after the explosions took place before the cell lines went down.
"My parents were set up the whole day on the same side of the street, probably less than a block away from there," Bruce recalled. "And they actually went by where the explosion (occurred) probably 10 minutes before it went off. They left when they knew I had finished."
One of their friends was still nearby, though, waiting for her husband and two daughters to finish.
"She wasn’t injured at all, but she was knocked down by the blast," Bruce said. "A local Bostonian basically took her under his wing and they were evacuated into a store front of a building right there where they had to wait until the scene was secure. And then he guided her to where we were. We had moved out to the Boston Common at that point."
An acquaintance of Jefferson’s was in a nearby restaurant when the second bomb exploded and saw the effects of it.
"I do know someone who was right by the second explosion and he said the window shattered in the restaurant he was in," Jefferson said. "I’m glad I saw what I saw, and nothing worse."
As the events were unfolding, Jefferson quickly made his way back to Fisher College.
"We just left," he said. "We weren’t sure what was going on, and we weren’t sure if it was going to continue happening, so we just ran back to the school which is only maybe like a five-minute walk away. I just wanted to get to an area that was a lot less high-profile … The entire time we were running I just kept looking around. There was this huge church to my right, the public library was across the street and the Hancock Building was in front of me and I was just like waiting for those to blow up. It was just terrifying."
Jefferson described the city as being "eerily quiet" in days following the bombings.
"I haven’t been out and about, but everyone says there are military people everywhere," he said. "You can just tell there is a weird tension in the air. In classes (Tuesday), everyone was quiet. It was just strange."
Strange was one emotion. Anger and sadness are two other feelings that Waskowicz was feeling.
"It was incredible sadness," he said. "I think the realization from the get-go was that this was something bad. On the local news (in Boston), they commented that the front page of (Tuesday’s) Boston paper always has the winner of the Boston Marathon in it, and today it was ‘Marathon Terror’ in the headline. It’s such an important event that shows civic pride and patriotism because it’s held on Patriots Day, and all of a sudden, it was just sad … and anger, I think."
Overall, there were 30 Lancaster County residents were among the 27,000 runners in Monday’s Boston Marathon. Eight of those participants were from the local coverage area, including:
? Waskowicz, 52;
? Mark Arnold, 46, of Lititz, who finished in 3:47.37;
? Mike Wege, 51, of Lititz, who finished in 3:14.08;
? Ryan Brubaker, 39, of Manheim, who finished in 2:58.22;
? Dwight Yoder, 44, of Manheim, who finished in 3:36.28;
? John Mark Stoltzfus, 39, of Ephrata, who finished in 3:02.58;
? John Stover, 39, of Ephrata, who finished in 3:10.30;
? Alain Ouilikon, 40, of Denver, who finished in 2:58.48.
Stover finished in 3:10:30. His wife Mandy accompanied him on the trip and they are both OK, however they were not available to comment for this story.
Penn State University is taking extra precautions for this weekend’s Blue-White activities, according to a University press release issued April 16. In addition to increasing police presence, the University will complete a security sweep of the stadium with the assistance of police dogs in order to secure the venue early. Visitors will be prohibited from bringing bags, backpacks or purses into the stadium for the noon scrimmage Saturday.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the city is amping up security for its upcoming Broad Street Run, to be held May 5, according to reports from 6ABC Action News. Nutter said there will be a more visible police presence throughout the event. More BOSTON, page A12