One year later, spectators look to move on

By Catherine Ferris

Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian
Taylor C. Snow/Daily Collegian

Panicked, chaotic, unbelievable and tragic. These were the words that were used to describe the scene of last year’s Boston Marathon. One year later, spectators reflect on their memories after the bombing.

Seana Read, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, went to the Marathon last year to support the father of her boyfriend at the time, who was running. It was her second time attending the marathon and she was standing at the finish line.

Standing in front of the Max Brenner chocolate shop, Read was watching the runners cross the finish line when the first bomb went off.

“The first one was up the street from me,” she said. “I was standing facing the race and then the first one went off and it was kind of distant. My boyfriend said something like, ‘That sounded like a cannon.’”

Read thought it was strange that there would be cannons at the Marathon, and stepped away from the street to look at the sidewalk. It was then that the second bomb went off.

“It was just a boom, it was so ominous,” she said. “I started hyperventilating and people were crying and everyone just went in different directions. Some people stayed out to help and see what happened.”

After hearing the explosions, Read’s memories were a bit foggy, and she said her brain went into panic mode and her senses were heightened but details were lost. She and her boyfriend went into Max Brenner and were told to stay there by the people helping. She remembers watching the news at the bar, and seeing the images of the aerial footage.

She was initially skeptical, however, that they were bombs.

“I kind of had a naïve doubt in my mind that they were bombs,” she said. “I thought that they might have been gas explosions underneath the ground or manhole covers had popped off. But two explosions is not a coincidence.”

Her father had a friend inside of the restaurant Forum. He went outside to help people. “He won’t even talk about the things that he saw,” Read continued.

Read and her boyfriend were eventually let out in a back alleyway near Commonwealth Avenue, and met up with her parents by Fenway Park. Once she met with her parents, she felt better; however, her boyfriend was unable to get into contact with his father until 5 p.m. He had crossed the finish line four minutes before the bomb went off.

Her boyfriend’s father was worried, and “didn’t know if (they) were OK either because he had no way of getting in touch with us.”

Craig Schoaf, a sophomore at Emmanuel College, recalls standing at the finish line for the majority of the day, thrilled to have a chance to watch the Boston Marathon for the first time. At around 2:45 p.m., he started to get tired, and decided to head back to school. After returning to his room, Schoaf heard two loud booms, but thought it was only construction. He received a text message from a friend who said they thought a bomb had gone off.

“All of a sudden, I had an image of all my friends and teammates at the finish line,” he said. “I also had friends who I passed on my way home, who were heading toward the finish line. I was just thinking they could be out there, they could be hurt.”

Schoaf grabbed his shoes and sprinted back to where they were, by the Berklee College of Music, but police had already blocked it off by the time he got there.

“I ended up going around the back side of (Prudential Tower),” she said. “I remember seeing the long line of ambulances. I remember hundreds of ambulances lining up. I encountered some of the Boston firefighters, I was trying to get any information from them but they didn’t really have any information.”

Schoaf then met a man who was trying to find his fiancé and agreed to help him. The man let Schoaf use his cell phone, and “for some reason his was the only phone anywhere that could get signal.”

He was able to get in contact with his parents, who were “freaking out” because they knew he had been at the finish line, but did not know where he was at the time of the bombings.

Still walking with the man along the marathon route, they found runners who had been stopped by the police and were isolated from everyone. Schoaf remembers that around 3:45 p.m., the runners were let go to pick up their belongings and the man was finally reunited with his fiancé.

His day was generally filled with trying to get information about the bombing and helping those who need it, including the man he met and a woman who needed directions to the North End, where she was going to meet her family.

Schoaf finally got back to school around 8 p.m., which was about five hours after the blast happened.

“It was the first time I had gotten to sit down, and when I got back to school I was exhausted, tired, wanted to sleep but I just couldn’t,” he said.

Jenny Hersh, a freshman at UMass Amherst, went to Boston with her family to meet a friend, excited for the day ahead of her. She described the marathon as “amazing to see” and that it was “relaxing around Boston.”

Hersh and her parents separated and she went to stand at the finish line with her friend. She liked to watch the runners’ “great moment of happiness and exhaustion” as they finished.

Eventually, the two got hungry and went to get some lunch, intending to return to the finish line, but after being at lunch for 10 minutes, they heard a “massive boom echoing through the building.”

Hersh initially assumed that something at the frame at the finish line had collapsed and didn’t think it was a bomb. She saw people running, and then heard a second, much louder sound.

“Masses of people started rushing in,” Hersh recollects, but she and her friend were unable to leave the restaurant through the front door because of the incoming crowd.

They were able to leave through the back door, and ended up in a back alley on Newbury Street, but she noted it was no longer bright outside, most likely due to the smoke. Her phone had no service, but she managed to borrow one to contact her parents, who were safe.

She saw the breaking news on televisions in restaurants and bars about the situation, and it was then that she realized that the sounds she heard were caused by a bomb exploding. There was a sense of panic, and shouts that it had been an act of terrorism.

As Hersh, her friend and her family walked back to a friend’s dorm at Boston University, she saw people piling into one of the BU commons. Despite not knowing the entire story, she had a sense that it was not an accident.

In case anything else happened, they decided to get out of Boston by walking into Cambridge and ended up getting a ride from a police officer into the center of Cambridge to catch a train home. Although there was “such a feeling of danger in the center of Boston,” as they got away, it became calmer.

One of the most shocking memories for Hersh was when the images of one of the possible bags that were used were released because she was in that security footage. She said that was when it “really hit me,” and that it was “too real.” Hersh’s biggest fear wasn’t seeing the bag, but seeing herself in the footage.

Rebecca Hammon is a native of New Mexico, currently doing surgical training in Massachusetts. She attended the Boston Marathon for the first time last year; she was able to see the elite runners come in, and “found it really exciting.”

Hammon’s father is a runner and used to run marathons, but the marathons she would watch didn’t have as much energy or spectators. She described the elites as “real athletes” and saw the determination on their faces, which was overwhelming and emotional.

She arrived around noon, watched for a few hours and eventually left because she “started getting sunburn.”

This was about a half hour before the first bomb went off, but she didn’t recall anything that was out of the ordinary prior to the explosion. When she got home, Hammon saw her landlord, who explained to her what was happening.

One of her first thoughts was to call her parents to let them know she was OK, but it was difficult to get in touch with them.

“What I remember is wanting to be able to help,” she said. “We didn’t know how many bombs there were or how many were hurt, but we wanted to give back to the hospital.”

Hammon described a “universal feeling doctors have when they see people in need.” They want to be able to help, but there are times that it isn’t possible.

She remembers the days that follow as “very muted, with lots of uncertainty.”

In the days following, people felt frightened because no one knew who was behind the bombing or where that person might be.  Hammon was also worried because Sean Collier, the police officer who was shot and killed at MIT was right outside the office where her husband works.

“Everything that happened that week felt personal even though I’m not from Boston,” she said.

All of these people have lived through the week that involved three deaths, more than 200 injuries and a four-day long search that ended in Watertown.

But they all look to move forward and put the tragedy behind them.

Hammon is planning on running the marathon this year, saying, “The energy will be very intense during the entire race.”

She wants to run “because this will be the one year anniversary, the feelings around the marathon are amplified.” She went on to say the despite the fact that she isn’t originally from Boston, she feels as though it is her adopted city and she looks forward to running.

“I intend on going to the marathon, even earlier this time, staying even later, cheering even harder. Nothing is going to make me leave that spot, I’m going to the exact same spot no matter what,” Schoaf said.

The marathon also made him think about his future career, and said he originally wanted to work in the political communications field. However, he said, “after the marathon I immediately decided to scrap that, and I decided I wanted to join the police academy immediately out of college and work for the police.”

Hersh commends the people who are going back, saying they are “really brave,” and that the way to get through is to “bring back the positivity.”

Read believes, “It is something that should be remembered, but something that should be moved on from in a positive way. As long as we aren’t playing victims, it’s a good thing.”

She continued, referencing the Boston mantra, “We’re Boston Strong, we’re better than just cowering or being afraid.”

Hammon comments on the strength of the city and said, “It shows these two guys can’t just derail a city like that. They are insignificant compared to what the people are capable of.”

Catherine Ferris can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Ca_Ferris2.

Julia McLaughlin, Rose Gottlieb and Katrina Borofski contributed to this report.