BOSTON - If ever there was an event that could instantly reverse the enjoyment and satisfaction of a near perfect day at the Boston Marathon, it was the sound of those two explosions that rocked Boylston Street Monday afternoon. Imagine a pendulum swinging in fast-forward from fun to fear in ten short seconds.
That was my experience as I walked from the finish line of the world's most prestigious marathon.
My brother had just completed the race in a respectable time, and after congratulating his achievement, my wife, mother, and father began the trek through the crowds back to our hotel. At the last moment we took a detour back to Boylston street to get a last look near the finish line and pick up some sweets at a chocolate store. Little did I know I was less than 50-feet from the spot where people would be killed and injured minutes later.
Around 2:30pm, we pushed our way through the packed people lining Boylston Street, corralled behind metal fences designed to keep onlookers away from the runners. There were numerous police officers patrolling street corners. Streets had been closed to traffic. The nearest subway station was closed for security purposes. There was every reason to feel safe.
After leaving Boylston Street and meandering onto Exeter Street heading south, I heard that horrific sound. Jarring, shocking, and terrifying. It was 2:42pm. I turned around, as did everyone else walking nearby. For the few moments afterward, thoughts went swirling through my head. Was that a bomb? Or, could it simply be some kind of firecracker celebrating the end of the marathon? I had little time to deliberate, as the second explosion confirmed my first fear.
Boom! The vibration on the pavement was unmistakable. The screams of the crowd sent a wave of fear down my spine.
Something terrible had happened.
People began quickly running away from Boylston Street. My wife looked at me, and we didn't hesitate. We started running, too. My mother had already taken off in search of my brother, who we couldn't contact because cell phone calls weren't going through. Suddenly, the sounds of fire trucks and police cars began echoing through the city.
There was perhaps no greater contrast than to see the smiles and excitement of marathon runners walking from the finish line instantly become expressions of panic and confusion. One marathoner had tears streaming down her cheeks as she explained on her phone that we might be under attack.
After making it to Huntington Avenue, I turned around and began firing off photos with my DSLR that I had brought to take pictures of the race. I grabbed our home video camera as well, and tried to start shooting the scene like it was a news story. The problem was that police were forcing everyone away and ordering us inside whatever building would get us off the streets.
It's feels a lot different to be IN a news story than to observe one.
My family and I were staying at the Marriott Copley Square, and from my room I could see clearly the triage location they had created at the medical tent. I could see the ambulances filling Huntington Avenue. I watch the FBI and ATF bring in agents, while local police walked canine units onto roped off streets. For a time it was the best vantage point to see what was happening, as emergency responders began closing off every street leading to the bombing site.
Without cell phone service, it felt isolating. So much going on, but no one to tell. A colleague had already informed ABC Radio that I was on the ground in Boston, and I received a call from New York. I had several opportunities to tell the country on the radio network what the experience was like as a reporter near a bombing site.
Listening to other reporters and correspondents updating the death toll and the gruesome nature of the injuries left a hole in my stomach. I was very close to being part of the story, instead of being able to report the story.
If there was a day to be grateful for your life, your family, even the blue sky, today was it. This time, the unthinkable came very close to home.
Chris Trenkmann is sharing more information on his Facebook page. Like him here: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisTrenkmann
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