PHOTO: People run down the street after the explosions at the Boston Marathon April 15. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Herndon)
PHOTO: Flowers, balloons and messages are set down at a makeshift memorial in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Herndon)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Jen Petersen thought she was hearing fireworks.
“We heard a loud bang go off, followed by a second loud bang,” Petersen recalled. “We all thought that they were celebratory fireworks going off for Patriots’ Day.”
The truth, of course, was that a tragedy was taking place. Bombs killed three people and injured about 170 others near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15, and turned the streets of downtown Boston into a frenzy of smoke, blood and panic.
Petersen, of Monticello, was one of the fortunate ones. She finished in 3 hours, 46 minutes, 30 seconds, crossing the line about five minutes before the first of the bombs exploded.
After finishing, she was among those herded into a chute where runners receive water bottles, orange slices and more.
Once the bombs went off, Jen had other reasons to worry. Four family members, including two of her three children, were in Boston to watch the event. Eleven-year-old Lizzie and 8-year-old Tate were accompanied by Terri and Ev Petersen, parents of Jen’s husband Nels.
“The word began to quickly spread,” Petersen said. “This is when I became frantic, not knowing where my family was and whether they were safe.
“I continued walking to the subway station, and this was when I saw a young man sitting on a corner with both his knees and elbows smothered in blood. Others began to quickly run to him, and he was walked up the street away from me.”
Finally, 10 minutes after the explosions, Jen saw her family members at a subway station.
“Lizzie was the first one to run up to me,” Jen said, “and her statement was, ‘We are safe.’ Tate, Lizzie and I held hands as we walked to a nearby restaurant.”
The Petersen family members had planned to see Jen run at the 20-mile mark, then catch the Green Line train to see her at the finish line. They were unable to catch a train in time.
Terri Petersen told the story this way:
“We were very frustrated because the trains were crammed with people. There were four full trains before we could get on the fifth one. Because of this, we were late and did not get to see Jen finish.
“In visiting with Nels later, I realized why he was so fearful, as the bomb was very close to where he had stood with Jacqueline (the oldest Petersen daughter) the last Boston Marathon Jen ran.”
Terri said they finally arrived back at their hotel about 5 ½ hours after Jen finished her race.
“Tate’s comment was, ‘If we were able to catch the train, we would have been at the finish line,’ Thank God for not being able to get on the train,” Jen said.
Lindsey Herndon, a 2003 graduate of Monticello High School, lives in South Boston with her fiancé, Patrick O’Hern. She had planned to run in the Boston Marathon. But a foot injury during last fall’s Chicago Marathon derailed her training.
Still, with a day off from her job at Camden Consulting Group in Boston, she decided to attend the race as a spectator.
“I had been standing in front of Crate and Barrell for nearly an hour, just watching the runners and looking for people I knew,” Herndon said. “Crate and Barrell is next to The Forum restaurant, the site of the second explosion. It was roughly a quarter-mile from the finish line.
“The only reason I left that spot was because my friend Steph was having trouble weaving through the thick crowd, and asked me to come meet her down at the corner of Hereford Street and Boylston Street (two blocks away).
“Within 30 minutes of me leaving, we were leaving Summer Shack, a restaurant, and felt the ground shake and heard a distant boom that sounded a little bit like a cannon.
“We really didn’t think anything of it. It was Patriots’ Day, and I figured the sound of fireworks or celebratory cannons was normal.”
She soon learned what had really happened.
“Once I had been told what happened, I felt frozen, empty. Amidst the people running by me, I felt like I couldn’t move and didn’t know what to think,” Herndon said.
When she then found out where the explosions had taken place, she said, she became more frightened.
“What if there were more explosions to come? Surrounded by tall buildings, I did not feel safe,” she said. “By then, a few police officers were running up and down the street yelling at everyone, telling us to ‘get out of Back Bay immediately.’
“All the people I saw were just crying and running away, some with blood on their clothes and faces.”
Herndon said after running away from the scene, she started walking home, about six miles away.
“It felt a whole lot longer,” she said. “I had no cellphone service. I was somehow able to get hold of my mom just before the towers went down. She had not yet heard about the news, so I’m glad I was able to let her know.
“I felt lucky, and extreme sadness for those not as lucky and really just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I still don’t have an answer as to why I was so lucky.”
Upon leaving Boston, the Petersens were stopped by an FBI agent asking if they had any videos or photos from the day.
“It’s unfortunate that such an amazing day had to end in such a way,” Jen said. “My 8-year-old boy will remember the police armed with guns patrolling the streets. My 11-year-old daughter will remember the tears of relief of strangers as they met up with their loved ones.
“I will remember the fragility of life, and that there is much more good in the world than there is bad. That was clearly seen by the amazing kindness of the Bostonians, and the police, and the EMTs who worked so selflessly to protect my family and those around me.”
Lindsey Herndon said the craziness continued Friday, when a manhunt was on for the second of the two bombing suspects.
“I am a little south of the downtown area, and we still were hearing sirens and helicopters all night long,” Herndon wrote in an e-mail Friday morning. “This is like something out of ’24′ or ‘CSI.’”
Petersen said she had planned for this to be her last of 10 Boston Marathons, but the events of April 15 changed her mind.
“The training in the winter, coupled with trying to balance all of the other facets of my life, proved to be difficult,” she said. “But because of my love for our fellow runners, and my love for Boston, and my love for this country, I will be back at the Boston Marathon.
“A cruel and senseless act as seen on Marathon Monday cannot rob us of what this great event stands for.”
PHOTO: Boston Marathon runner Jen Petersen of Monticello poses with her children Tate (left) and Lizzie (right). Jen was in Boston picking up her registration packet April 12, three days before the marathon. She completed the race, crossing the finish line five minutes before the first explosion. The family is safe. (Photo courtesy of Jen Petersen)
PHOTO: Lindsey Herndon was downtown Boston when the bombs went off, but was well away from the finish line and safe. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Herndon)