Maine runners, spectators and volunteers at the Boston Marathon said they saw terrifying scenes of chaos and many people who were badly injured after two explosions struck nearly simultaneously about 3 p.m.
Sheri Piers, 41, of Falmouth brought her three children to the Boston Marathon for the first time.
As an elite female runner, she started the race at 9:32 a.m. and had already finished her run and was in her hotel room at the Fairmont Copley Square with friends when they heard the explosions.
“At start line today, and this is bizarre, I was thinking about 500,000 spectators and I was like, ‘What a place, if someone wanted to do something rotten’ and I NEVER think like that. I’m not one of those people who thinks like that.”
A friend, Kim Marcotte, 39, of Falmouth, had come to cheer on Piers and Marcotte’s sister.
“She saw it happen,” Piers said. “They tried to get back to their car and get back to their hotel, but it was (locked down, meaning people weren’t being allowed in or out).”
Marcotte was separated from her two children for nearly four hours.
“I was a nervous wreck because I wasn’t with my children,” she said.
Adding to her anxiety was the knowledge that she and her family had been standing at the site of one of the explosions about 30 minutes before the bomb went off.
“We were just there. It could have been us,” she said.
Bryan Gattis, a runner from Falmouth, Maine, who now lives in Cambridge, had finished about 15 minutes before the first explosion.
“I was a block up and a block over when the explosion happened. It was just a massive explosion followed five seconds later by a smaller one. People around me were just in a total standstill and then there was like a wave of people running onto the street we were on.”
“It was pretty terrifying. I think people knew immediately it was some sort of violent act,” Gattis said.
“There was a mad dash to the Esplanade … they were frantic,” he said. “People were screaming.”
Kirby Davis, 28, of Camden, who had finished the race two hours before the blast, was recuperating with about 10 other Maine runners at the Prudential Center when he heard the two explosions. At the time, he said, he and friends didn’t understand what the noise was. It sounded like a large tailgate slamming down on a truck, he said. The Prudential Center is nearly 2,000 feet from the blasts at Copley Square.
After about five minutes, they understood the severity of the situation when they saw people running towards them from the direction of the sound. He said the expression on their faces was that of “controlled fear.”
Lisa Lavonte of Saco was at the finish line when the first blast hit. Within a minute, the second one had gone off.
“Up in the sky all of the sudden there was big plume of dark smoke,” said Lavonte. “I said to my friend…I said ‘Oh my god. I think that was a bomb.’ This is at about the four-hour mark. All the elite runners had already gone through.”
Then she and her friends who were volunteering saw rescue workers rushing forward. They returned with a man in wheelchair. He had lost one leg from the knee down, and on the other side, his foot was severed at the ankle.
“He seemed like he was in total shock, holding his head like he was thinking,” she said. “He was all bloody. His eyes were open and he was staring into the palm of his hand.”
He was rushed into the medical tent for treatment.
Organizers initially told the volunteers to disperse, but then called them back to clear pallets of water and Gatorade from the street, which had been shut down for the race, so that emergency vehicles could get through.
“It was really chaos,” she said.
Angela Coulombe of Saco was in Boston volunteering for the race.
“We were in sector six security, the finish line, a block away from where the first explosion took place. We heard it. We saw it. No one was certain exactly what was happening and then there was a second explosion almost within a minute,” Coulombe said.
Glenn Jordan, a Portland Press Herald reporter covering the Boston Marathon, was among reporters who were put in lockdown at race headquarters, inside the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel.
“At first I thought it was thunder but I checked the radar and there wasn’t any,” Jordan said.
Jordan said that the top finishers would have already finished, but the slower runners would have been coming in just as the explosions went off.
Louis Luchini, of Ellsworth, said he was anxious about the fate of his friends who ran in the marathon on Monday. About seven runners from Hancock County were in the race, and he has tried to reach two of them on their cell phones but neither has picked up.
“I’m just nervous for the people I know who are down there and can’t get a hold of them,” said Luchini, who is a Democratic state representative from Ellsworth. “It’s terrible. It’s just an historic race. It’s really sad to see something like this happen at such a great event. To me, as a runner, it’s mind blowing anybody would do this.”
Up and down Commonwealth Avenue, signs like “Go Cassie!” and “BC Superfans run Superfast” were strewn on the sidewalks, abandoned by people who quickly left the race route when word of the incident spread.
Zachary Heiden, 39, of Portland, had run past Kenmore Square and was about a mile from the finish line when the runners in front of him began to slow down and bunch up.
At first, he thought, the runners had been slowed down by the large crowds of people watching the race. But then word was passed to him from the runners in front that there had been an explosion near the finish line.
He said all the runners and stopped and stayed put in “lockdown” mode for about an hour. They then walked about a mile to climb on buses that took them way from city center.
Online content producer Jason Singer and staff writer Tom Bell contributed to this report.