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Nearly two dozen people from the Roanoke and New River valleys were running Monday in the Boston Marathon.
KENSHIN OKUBO | The Daily Free Press/AP
People react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon on Monday. 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.
Monday, April 15, 2013
They were scattered across the city -- some 2 miles from the blasts, others two blocks away. And through spotty cellular service and chaos, runners visiting Boston from the Roanoke and New River valleys found ways to reach out and reassure.
They were OK.
Authorities in Boston on Monday afternoon responded en masse after at least two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon wounded dozens and killed at least three people, including an 8-year-old child.
A search through the Boston Athletic Association database showed at least 22 people from Southwest Virginia travelled north for the 117th running of the marathon. Several of them were reached by phone, e-mail and social media.
Like so many others, Jill Sible heard the blast then saw the aftermath : a towering plume of smoke and ash, and so many people rushing to get away. Police cars and ambulances swept into the area, sirens blaring.
"They weren't rushing people out of the area, but there was a general sense to get away," Sible said.
It was her first time at the marathon. An assistant vice president for undergraduate education at Virginia Tech, Sible said she and two colleagues had ventured north together for the race. She had finished 15 minutes before the first blast sounded.
She was only minutes away from Shawn Fortner, a 49-year-old Roanoke County woman who'd finished the race in 3:43:55.
There's a spot near the end of the race where runners, sweaty and accomplished, meet with family and friends. Fortner said she was there, had just connected with her husband, Mike, when an explosion rocked from two blocks away. Then there was another.
"I told Mike, 'That sounded like a bomb,' " Fortner said. "He said, 'No, it was just a cannon.' "
The pair made their way back to the finish line, in search of water. People were walking in the opposite direction, she said. Then they were running. And then they saw tears.
In the lobby of a nearby Westin Hotel, where other runners stood in a bunch, they saw the initial news reports. The room went silent.
"The whole group there just seemed like they were in shock," Fortner said.
While in the lounge, she saw two FBI agents sweep the area. Later, she and her husband were interviewed by U.S. Marshal s. When Fortner checked her cellphone, she had 70 text messages from worried friends, wanting to know if she was OK . Some were from students.
A teacher at Back Creek Elementary School in Roanoke County, she runs the school's kids running club. Forty of the kids are running in the YMCA kids marathon at the Blue Ridge Marathon on Saturday.
"I don't want any of my students to feel insecure about the race," she said.
Fortner and other runners described the area near the blast as being filled wall-to-wall with spectators, four and five rows deep. Cynthia Rancourt, of Blacksburg, said she had been there not long before the explosions.
"It was families, kids in carriages, runners, elderly people," Rancourt said.
She never heard the blasts. Her nephew had finished the race and their family had walked 2 miles away to a parked car before they heard the sirens - all of them racing back downtown.
"We came up here because my father ran 19 consecutive marathons," Rancourt said. "My nephew was carrying the legacy forward."
When she later learned details of what had happened, Rancourt's voice quivered with anger. The scenes being looped on television were eerily reminiscent of scenes she'd seen before.
"It's horrible," she said. "You can't even do anything like this anymore. It reminds us so much of 9/11, trying to find loved ones, trying to find friends."
Pam Rickard, a Franklin County woman who has traveled as far as the Gobi Desert to run, said she had finished the race and returned to the YWCA where she was staying when the blasts rang out. This was her fourth time running the Boston Marathon.
Catherine Prescott, of Roanoke, said she and her husband, Matt, had just reached their hotel room after he finished the race.
"Luckily my husband had finished the race about 1:23 p.m.," she said. "We are just sickened to see on TV the live footage."
As she sat in stalled westbound traffic leaving the city, Sible spoke to a reporter by phone. Her two colleagues, Marc Edwards and Ignacio Moore, were in the car with her.
"We're all pretty calm, but everyone's pretty shell shocked about what happened," she said.
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