‘I felt the ground shake’
Rachel Stanton set a new personal best Monday while competing in her second Boston Marathon, finishing in 3 hours, 39 minutes and 39 seconds.
But it’s what happened 20 minutes after the Lake Placid woman crossed the finish line that she’ll never forget about this race.
“I set a personal record and qualified for next year, but you can’t get excited about that because of what happened,” Stanton said. “It’s just so sad.”
Stanton was one of three local residents – all from Lake Placid – who competed in Monday’s Boston Marathon. She, Darci LaFave and Billy Whitney are all safe; they weren’t among the victims of the fiery twin blasts near the race’s finish line that killed three people and injured more than 140.
However, two of the three told the Enterprise Monday they were close enough to hear the explosions and witness the chaotic aftermath of what authorities are calling an act of terrorism.
‘That’s a bomb’
Stanton said she and her boyfriend, Scott Raymond, were walking to the subway and were about half a block from the finish line when the explosions occurred.
“I didn’t see anything; I felt it, and I heard it,” Stanton said Monday night. “I felt the ground shake, and I said to my boyfriend, ‘That’s a bomb.’ There were two of them that went off, one after another.”
At first, Stanton said the people on the street didn’t really react to what had happened. Some may have thought the explosions were fireworks or part of the finish line celebration, she speculated. In a short time, however, Stanton said the street started to fill up with police cars and fire trucks rushing to the scene.
“That’s when you really knew something was amiss,” she said. “Facebook started blowing up. At first, I actually sent a text to (a friend) like ‘What’s going on? There was a big explosion here. What’s happening?’ That’s when it was confirmed that it was a bomb.'”
The subway had been shut down, so Stanton said she and Raymond stayed put on the street while they waited for it to reopen. They tried several times to reach her 20-year-old son, Craig Roberts, also of Lake Placid, and other family members who had come to the marathon to cheer her on.
“It was really scary, and the scariest part was not being able to get to my son,” Stanton said. “That was first and foremost. The second thing was I was scared they were going to shut the subway down and we would be trapped there.”
After about a 30-minute wait, Stanton said she and Raymond were able to get on the subway. They eventually made it back to their car in Framingham and began the long drive home to Lake Placid.
Stanton did eventually connect via cell phone with her son, who had made it to a friend’s apartment just outside of Boston. He plans to drive home today.
‘Overwhelming and shocking’
LaFave, 45, was half a block from the finish line, gathering her belongings, when the blasts occurred. She had just finished her first Boston Marathon 12 minutes earlier.
“I had gotten water and food when I heard an explosion and everyone around me turned around, and all we could see was a big huge white cloud of smoke,” LaFave said. “At first people around me thought it was a cannon or something celebrating Patriots Day, but then just a few seconds later we heard a second explosion, so then we all knew, you know, this isn’t good.”
LaFave said said volunteers and police told people to start running away from the finish line, down Boylston Street. She did so, and eventually found her aunt and uncle, who had taken pictures of her just before she finished the race.
“My aunt and uncle had been right in front of, I’d say maybe three storefronts up from where the explosions happened, just 12 minutes before,” LaFave said. “It was just overwhelming and shocking. It wasn’t until we got back to the hotel room and started seeing all the pictures that we put it all together.”
LaFave said the hotel, the Westin Copley Place, was one block from the finish line. She said it was being used as a law enforcement staging area, as it was swarming with FBI agents and state police clad in body armor and carrying guns.
‘The race is over’
While LaFave had already completed the race, her boyfriend, Whitney, 51, was still on the course. He was about 5 miles from the finish line when word of the explosions started to spread, runner by runner.
“A guy came up to me and said there were two bombs that just went off at the finish line,” Whitney said. “I thought he was a crackpot, and I kind of just stayed away from him.
“I kept running a little further, and there was something going on. This guy and myself, we both stopped, and he asked a policeman. He said, ‘I heard two bombs went off at the finish line,’ and he confirmed it.”
Still, Whitney and the other competitors kept running. They were eventually directed onto the sidewalk as a slew of police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles raced toward the finish line.
“We were just shy of 25 miles, and they stopped everybody there,” Whitney said. “They said, ‘That’s it. The race is over.’ Then I started freaking out a little bit because I knew Darci’s time, and I started looking at the clock and thinking she would have been finishing just about then.”
Whitney said people offered him their cell phones, but text messages and calls wouldn’t go through at first. It wasn’t until just before 6 p.m., nearly three hours after the explosions occurred, when he was finally able to reach LaFave and was relieved to hear she was safe. Whitney and a group of other runners stayed in a synagogue until they were picked up by buses and brought back to the finish area.
“I walked into the hotel room, looked up at Darci, and it was all over the TV,” Whitney said. “It’s just an overwhelmingly sad day.”
LaFave and Whitney are scheduled to fly back home sometime today.
The news of the bombings kept LaFave’s family in the local area on edge, as they initially had a difficult time trying to reach her via cell phone.
“I was frantic at first,” said LaFave’s mother, Jo’el Kramer, who followed the news from the Adirondack Life magazine office in Jay, where she works. “I had been tracking Darci all day long for the marathon, and I knew she had finished. I tried to call her, and it went immediately to her voice mail. I was obviously very upset.”
About 30 minutes later, Kramer said she heard LaFave was OK through a call from her granddaughter, Alex Lafave. Kramer said she finally talked to her daughter Monday night.
“I was very relieved,” Kramer said. “Thank goodness they’re OK, but my heart goes out to all the other people.”
All three of the local Boston Marathon competitors had been training for it for months. They said they were pleased with their performances but feel it will be overshadowed by the bombings.
“I missed my goal time, but I’m still happy with how I ran and how I finished,” LaFave said. “I mean, the event is still awesome. This year, unfortunately, there’s going to be the memory of a horrific bombing. It’s really sad.”
Whitney didn’t qualify for the marathon based on his times in other races; he got in by raising $6,000 for the American Liver Foundation.
“Partially, I’m like, ‘I want the medal,'” he said. “I know that sounds so selfish with everything going on, but it’s something I planned for so long to do, and had so many worries about, but then everything came together and I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m going to finish the Boston Marathon.’ But all of that doesn’t compare to anything that these people have gone through who were injured and killed.”
“It’s just supposed to be a fun day,” Stanton said. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.