She started to feel more comfortable the farther away she got from the finish line. Tracy was relieved that she did not hear any further explosions, but where was her husband? Seated in the grandstand, he would have been as close to the first explosion as she was. She borrowed a cell phone from a stranger. Chris answered her call. Tracy experienced a sudden feeling of relief.
So did he. "Where are you?" he asked.
"I'm two blocks away."
Chris said that he was still at the finish line. "It's nasty," he said.
Tracy would learn later that Chris had fielded her call standing in the middle of Boylston Street, looking for her, watching police shove barricades aside to get at victims, watching medical personnel carrying those same bleeding victims past him in stretchers, on wheelchairs, wondering where his wife had disappeared to after the two explosions. Was she safe? She was, and they agreed to meet at their hotel, the Marriott Copley. Within a few minutes they were reunited.
As close as she had come to the finish line, within the last hundred meters, Tracy McGuire is not listed as one of the finishers of the 117th running of the Boston Athletic Association Marathon. She would not be alone.
Vivian Adkins, 43, an attorney from Potomac, Maryland, had run the early miles with an Internet friend, Michele Keane, who had grown up in the Boston area. Adkins enjoyed the running account Keane offered of sights passed: "Michele had been injured, I was undertrained," says Adkins, "so we both plodded along together, not caring about our finishing times." But when Keane stopped in Natick to chat with her mother, Adkins pushed ahead. Approaching the finish line, Adkins was just ahead of Tracy McGuire, although the two did not know each other.
The first bomb went off behind Adkins, who would recall: "My initial reaction was that it sounded like the howitzer they fire at the start of the Marine Corps Marathon. I next thought, why would they do that? Some overzealous celebratory stunt?" Then she saw the smoke and two yellow balloons floating skyward. It suddenly dawned on Adkins that this was not a stunt.
She ran to the right barricade near the grandstands and crouched down on the ground, rolling into a fetal position, hands over her head. Her ears were ringing. Adkins heard a second explosion. A nearby photographer frantically began to pack his gear, preparing to flee. "I knew then I was in the midst of something really bad."
Adkins got up and ran toward the finish line, aware that she could get hit any moment. She crossed the line, her chip-adjusted time recorded as 4:09:39. Walking through the finish chute, she began crying, realizing how close she had come to death. Two medical workers ran past Adkins toward the Medical Tent with a stretcher, the woman on it bleeding profusely. "I saw a trail of blood just spraying from her lower body."
The image that would remain in Vivian Adkins mind, however, was that of the two yellow balloons wafting slowly to the sky, caught in a cloud of smoke. She found this to be "haunting," because balloons were a symbol of celebration and joy. In this case, the balloons probably had been released by someone grievously injured, "the innocence of all of us going up in smoke."
Ever since their parting in Natick, Michele Keane had been trailing Vivian Adkins closely without realizing it. Keane was less than a quarter-mile behind when the first bomb went off. "I stopped, hesitated, then took another step before the second bomb detonated. People were running at me and shouting to stop, stop, stop!"
Keane moved off the course to the sidewalk near the underground garage of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Later reports of a bomb at that hotel would prove false. Borrowing a phone from a spectator, she called her mother and texted her daughter still at Mile 25 to assure them she was okay. Keane would confess later that, being an engineer, she reacts very rationally to tragedy. Handing the phone back to the spectator, she saw a young runner bawling uncontrollably. "She was distraught, because she had no way to get to her sister, or call her." Keane had relatives who lived only two blocks away. She invited the woman to accompany her there.