Reflections of a tragic week in Boston

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Todd Thorson

It happened again! Why? A senseless act on the American people has occurred once again, with no warning, and with the pure intent to do bodily harm and death. Why? What have we done to deserve this? What did Boston do to deserve this? What made two bombers “retaliate” against America after living here peacefully and comfortably for over 10 years? They were enjoying their freedoms and the wonderful American way of life, away from the hardships of their native homeland. Again, why? Why would they do such a heinous crime? We can only hope that interrogators can find the answers when the lone surviving bomber begins to talk (if he does and is able).

What started out as a beautiful and exciting spring day in Boston, on Patriot’s Day no less, turned tragic and horrifying in the blink of an eye. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, sending a city into a state of panic. Innocent people were sent scurrying for safety last Monday (April 15) afternoon, and by the end of the week, the entire city was put into total lockdown. All because of the terrible acts of two young people, who appeared to be as normal as the rest of us. Why?

Sometimes we just don’t know why. Sometimes we don’t get answers. We just have to pick up the pieces, raise our heads, stand proud and do what great Americans do – persevere, assist and heal! That’s exactly what Boston did in the aftermath of the bombings. They helped, they healed, they assisted, they comforted. They did what anyone would do in that situation, anyone with a heart and conscience, and anyone with a sense of humanity. Law enforcement officials, EMTs, spectators, private citizens, business owners, employees, runners and even family members, stepped up at a time of need and made the rest of the country proud. Proud to be an American, that’s for sure!

Following a weeklong ordeal that thankfully came to an end Friday night with the capture of the second bombing suspect, the city of Boston and the rest of the country was ready to move forward, to heal, and to conquer. A sense of unity, both community-wide and nation-wide, was felt and seen all across our great land! And the fact that this terrible tragedy happened at a major sporting event also brought heightened interest. The rest of the sports world also stepped up in glorious fashion, from Major League Baseball, to the NHL and NBA. They all brought us along for the wonderful journey to recovery!

America shines brighter than ever in the face of adversity; it always has, and it always will. But why does something like this even have to happen? Perhaps it’s jealousy. Perhaps it’s to gain attention. Again, however, what has America and its wonderful people done to deserve such treatment? We reach out on a daily basis, to those in need all across the globe, helping those in need. So why does something so awful have to happen? It is a question that has been asked for centuries. We may never know the purest answer to that question. All we can do is carry on and continue to be the greatest nation in the world! “Proud to be an American” is a saying that truly stands out during times like these. And it always will!

(Three native Iowans – one a local runner from Story City – graciously agreed to share their thoughts and feelings with me following that fateful day in Boston last week. Their recollections and reflections are as follows :)

Beth Gibbons, formerly of Ames, now resides in Boston, after graduating from Ames High School in 2004 and Iowa State University in 2009. Many of us here in Story City were fortunate enough to meet and get to know Beth while she was attending college in 2008 and 2009. Her parents, also former Ames residents, now reside in Boston as well.

Beth was five miles away from the finish line when the bombs went off, watching the runners as many Bostonians do. “We had been cheering people on for awhile, and after watching my roommate (who was running in the race) pass (by), we headed inside to watch the race coverage on television. There had been talk of heading to the finish line, but we decided against it because it’s a very crowded area,” she said.

Most of Boston was off work that day, as it was also Patriot’s Day. One of Beth’s friends invited a group over to watch the race. Beth was the first person to receive a text message asking if she was o.k.

“At that point we switched the television station to find explosion coverage. As you can imagine, it was chaos for a while. Everyone was trying to get a hold of their friends and family. I received over 100 text messages within an hour, from people all over checking in. They stopped cell phone service at one point, as I heard they believed the second bomb was set off by a cell phone. Everyone was a little panicked, but as the day went on, everyone I was with learned their loved ones were safe.”

Beth’s roommate got into a cab following the race without her phone, no money and missing her apartment keys, after being separated from her boyfriend. “She was lucky to find a cab,” Beth said. “She borrowed the driver’s cell phone to call me, and headed to my friend’s apartment. A group of us stayed there for a couple of hours until they were saying it was safe to move around the city again.”

Beth works just a block from the finish line, and following the bombing, most of that area remained closed all week. It appeared that many businesses would not reopen until this week. “Parts of the city still looked like a war zone,” she said. “Boylston Street, one of the city’s busiest streets, was completely deserted, with men and women in bomb suits wandering up and down. It’s surreal to think my place of work is (now) a crime scene.”

Beth later learned that her second cousin was in the store where one of the bombs was nearest to. He and a friend immediately started helping the wounded, including saving a woman’s arm by using his belt as a tourniquet.

As the week continued to unfold, Beth found it harder and harder to view the photos and watch the videos. “It is unimaginable that such a horrific thing could happen on a street I walk almost every day,” she said. “While I’m eager to get back to my office and back into a normal routine, it will never be the same.”

Kent Meier of Story City ran in his second consecutive Boston Marathon, arriving in Boston on Saturday evening, April 13, and making it back home by noon on Tuesday, April 16. What he experienced in those three days will never be forgotten.

Kent stayed at the Loews Back Bay Hotel, which is only two blocks from the marathon finish line. He was in the first corral of the second wave of runners when the race began mid-morning on April 15. “I made it to the corral just as the gun went off,” Kent said. The athletes’ village and starting point was located in Hopkinton.

Before the first wave of runners was released to go to the starting area, ironically there was a moment of silence held to honor the memory of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims. From this point forward there will now be moments of silence for the Boston Marathon victims.

Here is Kent’s recollections of the race and the incidents that followed after he completed the 26.2 mile race:

“The weather conditions were ideal for running. It started near 50 degrees and increased to about 55 by midway through the race. The crowds were amazing; very supportive and loud! The route passes near three universities, and the roar of the spectators in those areas is unreal!

“My race went very well and I felt strong the entire way. I had trained for a 3:07 to 3:08 finishing time, and I was fortunate to finish with a 3:05.57, which is a personal record.

“After finishing I made my way through the finish area where I received my finishers’ medal and post-race snack. I continued on to pick up my clothing bag from the bus and headed back to my hotel.”

Fortunately, as it turns out, Kent made it back to his room about 45 minutes before the bombs went off. He was in his hotel room when he heard a noise that sounded like someone or something bumping into a wall. “I thought nothing of it,” he said. “I was looking out my hotel window watching the runners pickup up their clothing bags when I received a text from Lars Skaar (of Story City) saying there were explosions occurring at the finish line. I looked out the window (again) and there was nothing that would indicate anything was happening.”

That’s when he turned on the television and saw the live coverage. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was there only 45 to 50 minutes prior, and ran along the side of the street where the explosions took place!”

It was at that moment that Kent went from experiencing joy and an all-time high of finishing his race in record time to feeling incredibly sad for those who were injured. “I knew a few people who were coming in near that time too, so I was trying to find out if they were o.k. I also tried to contact my family to let them know I was fine.”

Kent was able to text and use Facebook, but his cell phone service was shut off, for fear that other bombs may be detonated by a cell phone.

As time passed, Kent’s emotions began to unravel. Trying to contact several people and watching the events unfold on television soon took its toll on his emotions. “The weight of the sadness and scenes of horror became too much to bear and I broke down in tears,” a saddened Kent explained.

Now stuck in his hotel room, just two blocks away from the tragic events, Kent could only watch on television, the surreal experiences so close, yet so far away. His hotel was soon put into lockdown, as he was confined to his room for the rest of the day.

“As the day went on it was becoming more and more real, as roads were closed, streets were sparsely populated, with pedestrians and the sound of emergency vehicles, and helicopters flying overhead,” he continued.

Kent tried to absorb the tragic events that kept him secluded and confused, and pondering the unthinkable. He soon realized that in the midst of all that horror there were scenes of great humanity. People were seen unselfishly helping the victims, or the tired and worried runners, some of which had been stopped only .20 miles away from the finish line.

“I came to realize that although there were one or two evil people, there were hundreds of thousands of good people,” Kent said. “People coming together to help and support others!”

On Tuesday morning (April 16) Kent headed to the airport. As he was going through security, a worker asked him if he was able to finish the race. Kent told him yes he did, and the worker said that was great. The worker also said for Kent to make sure he came back next year, because the race will be back, better than ever!

While walking to the gate to board the plane for his flight home, Kent wore his Marathon jacket to honor and memorialize the victims of the Boston tragedy. “I took a picture of the jacket and posted it on

Facebook and wrote that this act of terrorism would NEVER stop me from doing something that I love,” he concluded. “I will run as long as I’m able, with no fear, and I will be back to run in Boston again!”

Emily Vander Linden Taylor is my cousin, and niece to my mother Eloise Thorson. She resides in Houston, Texas, and was in Boston on business. Emily works for Academy Sports and Outdoor as an Adidas athletic footwear buyer, and travels all over the country. She was near the bomb blasts at the finishing line’s Marathon Sports complex, standing in the VIP section. Fortunately she left about an hour and a half before the blasts occurred, and had arrived at the airport when her group learned of the explosions.

What started out as a glorious day last Monday, at one of the country’s infamous and premiere sporting events, would turn tragic before our eyes. Emily’s morning Facebook post brought hope, excitement and joy to the wonderful city of Boston:

“It’s a gorgeous day in Boston for the 117th annual Boston Marathon! Best of luck to the 27,000 elite runners who have qualified to run in the 26.2 miles today. We will be cheering you on amongst the 500,000 spectators at the finish line, with our Adidas product sales team! #allin4boston”

Around 11 a.m., Emily and her colleagues headed to their VIP section near the finish line. They had their purses and bags checked by security personnel, so she felt safe, at least in her area. It was purely evident that security was strong near the end of the race. They even had bomb sniffing dogs to assist.

“Once we arrived at the VIP access, we walked over to the bleachers and tried to go into the first section closest to the finish line. We later found out that this was where the Sandy Hook families were located,” she said. “This section was completely full since we had arrived later to the race. So we moved on to the second set of bleachers, directly across from the second bomb blast at Marathon Sports.”

For the next two and half hours, Emily and her group watched the elite runners come in from their 26.2 mile run. Coming in three waves, the first included the physically challenged, then the female runners and finally the male runners. “We were able to take some amazing photos of all three top winners,” Emily said. “Seeing those people run made me feel empowered and excited. I felt compelled to start a new regime myself when I got home, which would consist of training for my first marathon.”

One of the highlights for Emily was seeing all of the military personnel coming in from their long race; in full combat gear no less, including boots and 20 lb. bags on their backs. “It was so inspiring to be a witness to that,” she said. She also saw a father running in the race with his special needs child in a wheelchair. “It brought all of us to tears.”

Around 1:30 p.m. Emily remembers looking at her watch and realizing it was probably time to go, as their flight was scheduled to leave at 4 p.m. With 500,000 people in downtown Boston and traffic undoubtedly expected to be tight, Emily and her friends headed back to the hotel to get their luggage. Once they got to the airport and through security, they soon noticed the live local feed on the airport monitors, and realized not one, but two bombs had gone off in the area just across the street from where they stood and cheered.

“I will tell you, my heart immediately sank, and I felt sick to my stomach,” Emily remembers. “As the live stream continued to roll, I realized very quickly that the area of the second bomb was directly across the street from where we were standing for hours. I felt numb and completely helpless, but most of all, eternally blessed and grateful to God that we had been spared. It could have been us. I kept saying to myself, it could have been us. Thank God I looked at my watch when I did and we left. What if our flights had been later in the day? We would have still been there in that exact spot and been subjected to the gruesome events that transpired. In my mind, it brought me back to 9/11.”

With mass chaos ensuing and cell phone service disrupted, the only way any communication lines were left open were through Facebook and texting. Emily and her group were also left to ponder the whereabouts and safety of some fellow co-workers, who had decided to stay later to watch more of the race. Two runners from Adidas that they knew were also running in the race. So their concern and worry continued to mount. All they could do was sit at the airport and nervously wait for some good news.

“As we neared the departure of our flight, we all kept thinking there was just no way would we be flying out of Boston that day,” Emily stated. “We were shocked and stupefied that they did not shut down Boston airspace! We boarded the plane on time and waited on the plane attached to the gate for nearly an hour with the door open. Our pilots were stuck in traffic, trying to get out of downtown Boston and the mass exodus that had transpired.

“While I sat on the plane,” she continued, “so many things raced through my mind. Should I fly? Should I stay? I saw several folks get up and leave the plane for fear of a potential terrorist attack. Once the pilots came on board, we still remained attached at the gate for quite some time. Then all of a sudden the doors shut and we were off.”

Later, after arriving back in Houston, Emily learned that the two Adidas product people they knew had left the stands and were still at the marathon when the bomb went off across the street at Marathon Sports. One of the runners had taken 10 steps off the finish when the bomb went off, and what Emily was told, the runner turned around and saw everything, “and I mean everything,” Emily said. “She will forever be changed by the gruesomeness of what she witnessed.”

The two gentlemen they knew in the stands that also remained behind had just walked down and under the VIP bleachers when the blast went off, as they were heading to the finish line to meet up with the runner who had just finished. “They were so lucky,” Emily stated. “They were seconds away from a direct hit!”

All in all, Emily said she had never had a better experience in Boston than on that fateful day. The weather was great, the crowds were cheering and the runners were happy. “It was a once in a lifetime experience!” But in light of the tragic events, Emily was thankful for the experience and for being able to tell her story.

“In many ways, it’s been very therapeutic. I was so happy to hear that they had captured the younger brother (alive). There are so many questions I want to know, but more importantly, who he is affiliated with. He took away three innocent peoples’ lives and wounded so many others. It’s just so very senseless, with so many unanswered questions, that we may never know.

“My heart breaks for all involved, but Boston and the nation will be stronger because of this. If asked to go back to the marathon next year, I will not be afraid of attending. We have to live our lives. They want us to live in fear, and if we give in to them, with that power over us, than we have failed as a nation.”