Peter Sagal had guided blind runner William Greer across the line moments before. "I told him he could stop running," wrote Sagal, but Greer already had figured that out. Greer bent briefly, hands on knees, to catch his breath. Sagal put his arm around Greer's shoulder to escort him through the finishing chute. The sound of an explosion startled them.
"What the hell was that?" said someone.
Neither Sagal nor Greer could figure it out. "I had just finished my 10th marathon, my 3rd Boston," says Sagal, "and I never had heard anything like that. Never. Cowbells. Music. Cries of pain, sure. But never that."
"Keep moving please," officials shouted through megaphones, still uncertain themselves what was happening.
Mary Gorski also was in the finishing area. Her adjusted finishing time was 3:56:31. Though feeling "a little beat up," she surprised herself by being able to maintain a steady pace in the last few miles, even summoning a bit of a sprint after turning onto Boylston Street.
Gorski would write: "And there was the first blast, just behind me. Just where I would have been had I not kept up the pace."
She turned and saw smoke billowing into the air. "We thought the worst while quickly trying to think of plausible explanations: Maybe a generator blew? A gas leak? It couldn't have been a bomb. We're overreacting. It just couldn't have been a bomb."
Runners who had progressed as far as the baggage pickup area began to scramble in their bags for cell phones.
Sirens began to sound.
Kristin Stevens, 44, a dermatologist from Portland, Oregon, had qualified for Boston with a time of 3:34:09, then three weeks out became injured with plantar fasciitis, "no doubt due to overtraining," she would confess. Stevens almost canceled her trip, then decided to run Boston 2013 anyway, wisely using the race as a reconnaissance mission for 2014 when (she promised herself), she would train more intelligently. Starting in Wave 2, she finished the marathon in a chip-adjusted 4:20:09. Stevens was reasonably happy. Crowd support had carried her through the most painful miles. Mission accomplished. Then:
"I was just reaching for my Mylar wrap a half block away when the first bomb detonated. I felt the explosion in my chest and smelled the smoke, but finish line banners blocked my view. Even after the second explosion, I had no idea what was happening, then runners who had finished behind me came running past, shouting, 'Run! Run!' The scene was surreal." The next several hours for Stevens, and so many others, would become, "a cold and lonely blur."
Jill Kratzer had finished in 3:41:23, well before the first explosion. She was in a changing tent with several other women. "Everyone paused for a second, then resumed dressing. It wasn't until I came outside that I realized something was wrong."
Jeanie Kayser-Jones, a professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, had run Boston once before in the 1970s, but was in town mainly to support friends. She had positioned herself on the sidelines on the left side of the street, several hundred yards up from the finish line, waiting for her husband to finish. His name was Theo Jones, a retired chemistry professor from the University of San Francisco. He had hoped to break four hours, but with the clock ticking toward 4:10, it appeared that he was having an off day. Kayser-Jones walked down Boylston toward the finish line, but the crowds were too thick for her to get close. She stopped and waited, stepping up on the bottom rung of one of the barricades. She hoped to get a photo of Theo when he finished. Then the bombs went off.
"We were horrified," Kayser-Jones would explain in an email to a friend. "I began to cry and a man next to me grabbed my hand. He was waiting for his son and said he had three grandchildren in the crowd. We could smell the gunpowder."
Heather Lee-Callaghan had finished earlier. Her foot bloody, she limped through the area where she had been handed a Mylar blanket and walked over to one of the barricades to lean against it. It was not merely the pain, she was exhausted—mentally as much as physically. She began to cry. A medical volunteer approached her.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"No," Lee-Callaghan said and pointed at her blood-stained shoe.
The volunteer signaled for a wheelchair. Lee-Callaghan lowered herself down into it to be rolled into the Medical Tent. "Every bump we hit felt like an earthquake. Every muscle in my body hurt. She lay down on one of the cots and one of the medical aides propped a foam roller under her leg and began to remove her shoe.
"If my toenail is hanging off, I don't want to see it," Lee-Callaghan instructed the aide, covering her eyes with one hand. She feared that if she saw the sight of her own blood, she might faint. The aide told her she would not lose a toenail. The blood was from blisters.