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Valley spectators, runners shaken by shocking attack

  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

    In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT Purchase photo reprints »

  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

Waiting for her daughter to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon, Elaine Puleo of Shutesbury heard an explosion about 200 yards away that she and others initially thought was a cannon firing.

When a second explosion occurred moments later, they quickly realized that something was amiss.

“It was just chaos. It was chaos,” Puleo said. “It was really a frightful event.”

Puleo said the explosions caused immediate confusion as runners were not allowed to complete the race, family members waiting couldn’t get in touch with their loved ones right away and panic set in as fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers quickly descended onto the scene.

Through it all, Puleo said, police officers, bomb squads and emergency personnel appeared to act in a professional manner.

“They were handling it as best they could, but there were just so many people,” Puleo said.

Julia Stifler, a former Florence resident, was on Boylston Street near the Boston Public Library when she heard an explosion about 50 feet away and saw smoke.

The 24-year-old, who was with a friend, said she fled from the scene with a crowd of people, fearing another blast, not sticking around long enough to have the smoke envelop her.

“We immediately started running away down Dartmouth Street and got swept up in a large crowd of people who were all moving away from the blasts,” Stifler said via email. “I was terrified that there would be more explosions.”

Puleo and Stifler were among the spectators, competitors and race volunteers who were near the scene of two bomb blasts that left three people confirmed dead and more than 140 injured and being treated at Boston hospitals.

Bloody spectators were carried to the medical tent that had been set up to care for fatigued runners, while authorities went onto the course to carry away the injured. Runners still finishing the 26.2-mile race were rerouted away from the scene of the explosions.

“This is a horrific day in Boston,” Gov. Deval Patrick said. “My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been injured.”

The Boston Athletic Association released a statement extending its sympathies to anyone affected.

“Today is a sad day for the city of Boston, for the running community, and for all those who were here to enjoy the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. What was intended to be a day of joy and celebration quickly became a day in which running a marathon was of little importance.”

Puleo, who made it to her son’s home in Somerville by early evening, said her nerves remained shaken. It was the first time her daughter, Jessica Summers, was competing, and though she was unable to complete the race, had she been running her usual pace she would have been crossing the line just as the bombs went off.

“She was having a bit of a bad day,” Puleo said.

While Puleo’s husband, John Buonacorsi, was tracking Summers, Puleo was not reunited with her family until about 45 minutes later at the Boston Common.

Stifler said the finish line was still quite crowded as a steady stream of runners were crossing and then walking slowly toward the water station. She said the crowd on the sidelines was still three or four people deep at the time of the blasts.

“I heard one extremely loud explosion and saw a huge cloud of smoke with debris coming from the sidewalk and it looked like it had exploded out toward the finish line,” Stifler said. “I didn’t stick around long enough to see the smoke clear.”

“While I was running away, I saw a lot of people crying and yelling and appearing scared and frustrated that their phones were not working,” Stifler added.

Williamsburg native Jean Hartnett, who now lives in Boston, said she was cheering for her friend at the finish line shortly before the two bombs exploded there in quick succession. She left the area to meet her friend at the bag check.

“We were on Stuart Street heading toward Copley to watch the rest of the marathon,” she said at 4 p.m. via text message.

“We had no idea what was going on and then tons of cops and ambulances started rushing everywhere,” she said. Hartnett said word quickly spread around the area that there had been an explosion and people had died.

“I didn’t see anyone with injuries but I did see everyone trying to leave the area and get as far away as possible,” she said. “We went to the Copley Marriott and watched the TVs and waited to see what was going on.”

When the MBTA trains began shutting down, Hartnett started walking in the direction of the explosion site to meet a friend who could give her a ride home. “It was scary. I saw a man in a T-shirt that had bloody hand prints on it and SWAT teams and FBI everywhere,” she said.

“I met my friend at Boston Common and she was standing on the sidewalk and a big SUV pulled up and SWAT surrounded a trash can and she was like, ‘OK, I need to get away from here,’” Hartnett said. They walked to Massachusetts General Hospital and were waiting for a ride there at 5:30 p.m.

Brian Salzer, the Northampton school superintendent, finished the marathon about 20 minutes before the explosions and was still at a friend’s home on Commonwealth Avenue Monday evening, where the street was closed down and people weren’t being allowed out on stoops as helicopters flew overhead.

The area of the lockdown, which ran several blocks, was eerily calm, Salzer said, because no vehicles or people were allowed on the streets.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, the scene was quite different.

“There was a lot of confusion, a lot of people left out on the road,” Salzer said.

But he said there were also a lot of people looking after each other.

“This is a day when everyone is checking on each other, family and friends, to make sure they are OK,” Salzer said. “Unfortunately, some people aren’t going to be OK.”

Bob Flaherty, who hosts a morning show on WHMP, was in Boston to watch his daughter-in-law Jennifer Flaherty complete her second Boston Marathon, which she had finished about 45 minutes before. It was a gorgeous day and perfect for running, and Flaherty said he feels fortunate that she completed it in time.

“If she’d been a slower runner, we would all have been involved in it,” Flaherty said.

Instead, Flaherty’s family was at the public gardens and swan boat area when they heard the loud banging sound.

“It was Jennifer herself who said it just didn’t sound right,” Flaherty said.

They then made their way to the Park Street subway, which was shut down. Eventually they got out of the city and back to their homes Monday night.

Flaherty said his 15-year-old granddaughter, Casey, has long been concerned about acts of terror and this will only cause her more concern.

“We’re all very upset by this,” Flaherty said. “It’s not in the abstract anymore when it’s right down the street.”

Bob Knittle, a Northampton native who now makes his home in Worcester, said he was about a mile from the finish line when he learned he would not be allowed to finish the race due to the explosions. This created confusion for the runners as well as their families and friends.

“Nobody knew which way to move. It took a good hour for us to figure out they would lead us to Boston Common,” said Knittle, who, as part of Team in Training, was running on behalf of his brother Bill Knittle, a non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor, and brother-in-law Denis Herlihy, who is battling multiple myeloma.

During this period, Boston residents were handing out bottles of water as well as jackets and plastic bags to help the runners stay warm. “It was such a chaotic scene, but people stepped up to help out. It makes you proud,” Knittle said.

Knittle said his cellphone, clothes and other personal belongings were put in a bag and were supposed to be bused to Boston Common, where they could be picked up after the race on presentation of his bib number. Instead, his team ended up at the Park Plaza hotel, where he was given a change of clothes and contacted his family to pick him up.

David Perlmutter of Shutesbury was volunteering as part of the bicycle spotter crew in the media center at Fairmont Copley. Though not directly affected by the explosions, because he left Boston after the women’s winner crossed the line, he was checking to make sure all of the Shutesbury running group, known as the Coffee Cake Club, was safe. He said about six runners were participating.

As someone who has run the race twice and volunteered for several years, Perlmutter said he is saddened by what happened.

“It is so awful. The injuries, the deaths,” Perlmutter said. “This mars another wonderful, wonderful event.”

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