Boston marathon eyewitness report: I was 100m away from the explosions, waiting for a friend to finish

As we walked home we were palpably aware that either of us could have been killed

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Yesterday, for the majority of the day, the skies of Boston were canopied with the deepest shade of blue.  As a recent migrant to Boston, having moved from London six months ago, I still find the blue of the New England skies a visual delight compared to the often ‘dreich’ conditions back home. Unfortunately, the indelible memory I have of Boston yesterday is of a swirling funnel of black and grey smoke and the wrenching noise of two deafening explosions that occurred roughly 100m from where I was standing, near the packed finishing line of the Boston Marathon.

Having participated in two marathons, and watched many friends and colleagues run, I have always been struck by the palpable sense of goodwill, laughter and joy that can sweep across a city on marathon day.

These feelings are contagious, as everywhere you look, you can see acts of human decency; heart-warming images of strangers cheering on strangers, runners cheered on by the roar of the crowd and, most touchingly, exhausted athletes being embraced by family members, proudly displaying their medal. Although I have only lived in Boston for six months, I see much of London in this city; given the vicious nature of the Massachusetts winter, when temperatures can plummet to -15C, Bostonians, are, by their very nature, tough and often hard-nosed souls.

In the grip of winter, when walking faces eschew all eye contact, it can be a desolate city.  With these months of winter behind us, what a visceral joy to feel the warm sun and watch people reveling in the widespread atmosphere of bonhomie that had engulfed the city.

Earlier on that day I had been watching the runners trail past from the window of a friend’s apartment on Boylston street, when I saw my friend, Becky, jog past in a state of perspiring determination.

She had given me the vague instruction that she would be wearing a pink-and-red T-shirt; two colours which seemed to be de rigeur for all female participants. Eventually I spotted her - and as I watched her run determinedly past the finish line, I went down onto street-level to offer congratulations.

I was standing on Boylston street, waiting for my friend to collect her belongings, when suddenly an ear-shattering noise ripped through the streets. As I turned to my right, a tower of black smoke shot up into the sky.

In that moment, my first emotion was of confusion; confusion as to what had caused the smoke, and what I should do. A man dressed head-to-toe in Red Sox paraphernalia offered the suggestion that it was "probably a manhole", but that theory was quickly dismissed when a secondary explosion occurred further up Boylston St. All around me, faces that had similarly been in an expression of confusion rapidly turned to panic. Individuals rushed past, beginning to franticly make phone calls, as the faint screams of those either injured or shocked intermingled with the screaming sirens of the emergency services.

Then all I felt was numb disbelief.  It seemed clear this was some form of planned attack. However, if there were two explosions, would there be others? And if so where had they been planted? Was I still in danger, would moving further from the street endanger me, and where was Becky? Are people injured, is anyone I know hurt? As these questions swept through my mind, the blindness of disbelief mutated into fear…

Thankfully I was ushered away by a policeman, who was ordering pedestrians from the scene; I met up with Becky further down the street. It was quite clear when I met her that the sense of elation one would normally anticipate from an athlete who had just completed a marathon had evaporated. So had that tangible sense of bonhomie that had enveloped the streets of Boston only minutes before. And thus, as we were ushered further from the scene, passing the many individuals making desperate phone calls, all we could do was walk; walk, almost in complete silence, unsure of what to do or what to say. Palpably aware, that in an utterly arbitrary and nonsensical way, either of us could have been killed by this vile atrocity.  When news came through that an 8-year-old boy had died, my heart sank.

It was not until I returned home and watched the international news and the images of carnage and degradation unfolding on the streets of a city that I have grown to love that the dire consequences of the event sunk in.

One can only hope that whoever was responsible for this atrocity will be caught and brought to justice. Despite this, I cannot, as I remember the sound of those two explosions and the ensuing screams, even begin to fathom why a human would wish to cause such a wanton act of bloodshed on their fellow man.  

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