By Justin Swanson | LB and NB Indy
Laguna Beach resident Bryn Valaika, 20, found her mother Karen in the throng of people, both runners and supporters, after each completed the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 25 minutes before the first bomb went off.
It was all they could do, for the sake of their muscles, to slowly meander back to their hotel. They were mentally at loose ends, out-of-it and left to wade through the thousands of people in the streets.
The first blast roused them from exhaustion while around them humanity froze en masse.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Valaika said later. “Thousands of people silent, unmoving.”
Ten seconds passed. Another bomb.
“Then there was panic,” Valaika confirmed. “We knew it was bad because all the people in neon vests started running directly towards the sounds.”
“We thought they might have been canons or fireworks,” said Rene Rodarte, 58, an Irvine man who finished the race 20 minutes before the explosions. “It became apparent it wasn’t.”
While Rodarte searched for a way to get back to his hotel, Valaika and her mother tried frantically to find friend and fellow runner Robin Burgoon of San Clemente. Valaika could see the smoke coming from the direction of the finish line.
Already in her hotel resting, Newport native Mollie Rosing, 37, heard a bevy of sirens screaming past her building. Her and her husband, Jim, ran and finished the race together an hour before. They did not hear the bombs. They turned on the television to find the chaos that had been unleashed, the confusion that ensued.
“Our hearts were breaking,” Rosing recalled.
Meanwhile, Rodarte was trying to get back to anywhere he could to find out what was going on. Seemingly every available route back to his hotel was blocked off. Wide-eyed security personnel turned away civilians, all too frequently ushering police cars and ambulances through closed areas of the city. Finally, Rodarte found his way to a bar. When he spotted a television, his proximity to the attack struck home.
“When I was running, I was next to this lady pushing her kid in a stroller,” he said. “I saw, on tape, the kid being pushed across the finish line, out of the way, right after the bomb. I didn’t see the mom.”
Valaika and her mother were still in the streets. They couldn’t run; they had not the energy and were baffled by the confusion around them. They still couldn’t find their friend Burgoon.
“We thought, ‘we should go to the hotel, that’s where she will go,’” Valaika remembers.
From the 21st floor of the Westin, the Valaikas could just see the finish line two blocks away. The gates were pushed away. No one was in the area at that point.
Burgoon finally reunited, and together they started watching the news as ambulances lined up outside, nearly 30, waiting to respond when needed.
“We heard on the loudspeaker to stay inside,” said Rosing, who was in a different hotel. Unregistered guests were booted as security tightened. “We wanted to help, but we weren’t allowed out.”
The day turned to night. The internationally and nationally drawn participants of the marathon stuck to their hotels, placed on lockdown, and they each tried to manage the shock they sensed: the sinking sensation that overcame a runner’s euphoria. All felt tarnished and disturbed by an act of terrorism.
Newport resident and runner Joshua Beisel reflected, “To go from such a high… Something like this makes everything about that day fail in comparison to what actually happened.”
Rosing and her husband ran the entire race together, an emotional experience tripped up “within minutes.”
State police and FBI agents holed up at the Westin along with the Valaikas and Burgoon. A cadre of armed police officers waited at the front of Beisel’s hotel the next morning.
“It’s eerie,” Valaika ventures. “People are just wandering around. It’s insane to see it all. You can still smell the smoke in the air. Everyone is unsure what their reaction should be.”