As explosions turned a jovial celebration at Monday’s Boston Marathon into a tragedy, local residents frantically reached out to teammates and loved ones in the Boston area to inquire about their safety.
The bombs — kitchen pressure cookers packed with explosives, nails and other lethal shrapnel, according to the FBI — detonated near the finish line of the marathon about two hours after the winners crossed the line on Monday. The explosions killed three bystanders, and wounded more than 170.
Hughson native Phyllis Christian was in Petaluma, Calif. when she first heard of the attacks. Immediately, she thought of her 25 year-old niece, Kelly Christian, who resides in Boston as a graduate student at Lesley University.
“I started shaking because I knew my family could be there. I called to check and learned that Kelly was there. I was so relieved to hear she was safe, but rattled. It’s an awful feeling knowing that your loved ones could be in something so horrific. I still can’t believe she was there,” said Phyllis Christian.
Kelly Christian had spent most of her afternoon with friends just a block away from the finish line, and cheered on runners before eventually returning to the subway to head home.
“We were underground getting ready to go on the subway before people started screaming,” said Kelly Christian. “We were just a few blocks away, and you could hear people screaming ‘Evacuate the subway! Evacuate the subway! There is a bomb!’”
Christian, along with two close friends, followed the flock of spectators out of the subway to find utter pandemonium, confusion, and shrill screams from every corner.
“There were cops everywhere,” said Kelly Christian. “Everyone was running away from the scene. I’ve never been in a situation like that, where it was just pure chaos, screaming and running.
“The marathon brings a ton of families, and there were lots of little kids. Families were looking for their loved ones that were running. I saw people crying on the street. It became real. When the police found the third bomb, we heard it go off.”
Ceres native George Borden was on his way home before he received word from his mother about the explosions. The 19 year-old college student was a mile away from the explosions, but had not noticed anything odd until he heard his mother’s frantic voice on the line.
“My mom had called me crying, asking if I was okay 10 minutes after the explosion,” said Borden. “I thought everything was normal, but then she told me what happened. Five seconds later, I see people coming towards me, moving away from where it happened.
“The whole time I was walking back towards my house at Boston University, there were emergency vehicles passing me going in the other direction. I was in a state of shock. The marathon is something that Bostonians take as a huge holiday, where everyone rallies around it and enjoys the day. I never thought it would happen, especially when you come from a town like Ceres, or Turlock.”
Borden said his cousin was working one of the local booths across the street from the explosion, and felt relieved when he received a text message stating that she got away. Soon, his phone was flooded with messages from past acquaintances and friends checking to see if he was still alive.
Though Borden was not physically affected, he soon found that he could no longer return to work as a real estate agent. His company’s building is located around the corner from one of the explosions, and investigations are still underway.
“It is a much different experience being here than when I heard about other tragedies, like 9/11 when I was 9-years-old. Here, I have friends who were right down there,” said Borden. “I had known a couple of people near downtown. This is my home now, and it is tough to know that you are under fire. I’m sure a lot of people have a worse experience than me, but I hope everything will be restored to normal.”
Armando Ibarra-Espinoza had just arrived at a friend’s house in a suburb outside of Boston when his cell phone began to chirp.
It was then that the 25-year-old Ripon native learned of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon finish line – the same finish line he had crossed in triumph earlier in the day.
Ibarra-Espinoza finished the marathon well ahead of the explosions. He covered the 26.2-mile run in 2 hours, 49 minutes, 44 seconds, according to the Boston Athletic Association’s website.
“I’m glad I didn’t get caught up in all of that,” said Ibarra-Espinoza, a senior at Humboldt State running in his first Boston Marathon. “I’m pretty fortunate to have avoided the mayhem.”
Ibarra-Espinoza says he was on a subway when the explosions occurred and didn’t learn of the attacks until he reached Somerville, a suburb outside of Boston. Somerville and Boston are approximately 3-4 miles apart, separated by the Charles River Basin and Longfellow Bridge.
His first call was to his mother, Gladys Ibarra.
“First thing I did was call my mom and let her know we were alright and that we didn’t even know what was going on,” he said.
“Luckily I got through to her before the lines got tied up. It was an immediate outpouring of concern from everyone back home.”
One of the first text messages he received was from Demitrius Snaer, the Modesto Junior College track coach.
Snaer coached Ibarra-Espinoza from 2009-2010 at MJC, where he helped contribute points to a Big 8 conference championship.
Ibarra-Espinoza ran the 800- and 1,500-meter races, as well as the steeplechase. He went on to run the 800 for Humboldt State.
“He’s OK,” Snaer said. “He got back to me pretty quickly. … I was surprised that he got back to me so quick, because I considered the fact that cell service would be bad. It was good to hear he was OK.”
Ibarra-Espinoza will remain in the Boston area for another night, he said, before returning to Northern California.
He was traveling with friends from Humboldt State, where he says he has one semester left.
Ibarra-Espinoza needed only one attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon, punching his ticket in San Francisco. His time in Boston was a personal best.
“Any personal achievement seems silly next to that,” he said without pause or emotion.
A similar passion was felt by Turlock native Miguel Nuci, a runner who had secured 15th place in the Boston Marathon in 2007, and was unable to attend the iconic event with fellow teammates this year.
“I have a lot of good memories about the Boston Marathon, it is an American tradition. You run and you train hard and you do fundraisers to get into this race,” said Nuci, who was the second-fastest American finisher (2 hours, 20 minutes, 18 seconds) in 2007.
“It is a privilege to take part in this race. This is heartbreaking to see all those victims and their families. It is something that I just can’t put into words. It is sad and upsetting.”
Nuci was keeping track of his teammate’s scores when he heard news of the bombing.
“They were very fortunate,” said Nuci. “They finished way before anything happened. Unfortunately, not everyone was fine. My heart goes out to all those victims, and I know it will be hard to recover from this.”
For Nuci, the Marathon is more than an event, but a congregation of individuals looking to defy the odds, and attempting to put their strength and potential to the max.
Nuci also viewed the competition as a source of camaraderie and unity, which he feels important to instill during this disaster. He intends to run the marathon again next year.
“I don’t think we should be discouraged. We do running for a reason. We love it and we have a goal in life. We are exposed to these types of things, but we shouldn’t be afraid. This will not discourage me. I look forward to being out there again,” said Nuci. “I will keep the victims and their families in mind when I run, and I would love to help them in any way that I can.”
Shortly after the first two explosions, other members of the Turlock community began a vigilant watch on the five local runners listed as participants in marathon: Trenton Avilla, Julie Lascano, Nhu Stressman, Lisa Stewart, and Julianne Taylor.
Within the hour, comments began to stream about the status of those thought to be near the explosions. According to posts on the Turlock Journal Facebook page, each Turlock runner was accounted for.