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April 18, 2013

Fraser resident shares story of Boston Marathon attack

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

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Kathy Clark, of Fraser, finishes the Detroit marathon in October. Clark also ran the Boston Marathon earlier this month, finishing just before the bombs went off.

FRASER — Kathy Clark crossed the finish line five minutes before the bombs went off.

It was the 56-year-old Fraser resident’s third time running the Boston Marathon, and she was in a good mood as she crossed the finish line, grabbing some water and goodie bags.

She had, after all, achieved her goal of qualifying for next year’s marathon. She needed to finish the race in less than four hours, 10 minutes; she finished in four hours, four minutes.

That’s when she heard the boom. At four hours, nine minutes and 44 seconds on the race clock, she heard two loud booms, one after the other, coming from behind her as she walked forward.

“It was very loud,” she said. “Probably because it was the closest I had been to something so loud.”

She turned around and saw the white smoke rise. She guessed that she was about a half-football field length away from the finish line at that point, but her vision was marred by buildings and elevated structures. She wondered if it was a terrorist attack, but then thought to herself, “Don’t even think that. It might be something else.”

Most of the volunteers around her continued to smile and hand out water and goodie bags to the finishers. One volunteer on an elevated platform overlooking the finish line seemed concerned, and told those below to “just keep walking,” she said.

She walked briskly toward a special zone around the corner from the finish for runners to meet up with their families and friends. There, she met her waiting husband, Jim Clark. Plan A had been for Jim to meet her at the finish line, but it had been too crowded for him to wait there, so they met at their backup location instead, she said.

At the family meet-up area, she asked him whether he had heard the boom. He had, he replied, but the buildings around them had masked the direction from which it came.

Those watching the news soon learned that the two “booms” had been bombs, which had gone off 12 seconds apart near the finish line. Investigators later determined that at least one of the bombs was a pressure cooker hidden inside a backpack, according to the FBI. The other bomb also was contained in a metal container, though it was not clear, as of press time, whether that was a pressure cooker, too.

As of April 17, three had died from the blasts and about 180 were wounded, reports said.

But to Kathy, who didn’t have the benefit of news reports, little seemed out of the ordinary in the minutes that followed the blast, except that the people around her seemed more concerned than the first two years she had run the Boston Marathon, in 2005 and 2010. “Usually, people seemed more happy,” she said.

The people around her seemed equally unaware that the noise had been the sound of bombs.

A bomb squad truck passed them, and Jim, a retired Warren police officer of nearly 36 years, suggested they go back to the hotel, which was about a half-mile from the finish line.

They were walking back to the hotel when Kathy received a call from her brother in Detroit. It wasn’t until then that she learned the extent of what had happened.

“It makes me sick,” she said.  

She wasn’t sure whether she was going to run the Boston Marathon again, but the attack wouldn’t stop her from running the race again, or any marathon for that matter.

From their hotel room, she answered text messages and phone calls that were able to come in. Cellphone service was hard to come by. She answered them as best she could. “My son was so worried about me,” she said. “I had so many people who were really worried about me and really made me feel good.”

She said about 15 phone calls and 30 text messages came in from worried friends and family members. She said the experience showed her that a lot of people cared about her. She had 41 comments once she was finally able to post to Facebook from her phone.

Looking back on the race, she said there were times she wanted to slow her pace. But her goal was to qualify, so she struggled on. She wonders, if she had slowed, whether she might have come a lot closer to the bombs.

A friend running behind her was about a mile away from the finish when the bombs went off, she said. He never got to finish.

The Clarks filled the next day before their departing flight with lackluster sightseeing. The tragedy put a damper on the accomplishment of running the marathon.

It was bittersweet, she said; On one hand, it felt like a huge accomplishment to finish a marathon. On the other hand, it was sad to know that, at some point, she ran past people who, just a few minutes later, would be dead or injured. Some ‘might have cheered for her, she said.

They returned home the afternoon of April 10.

Clinton Township resident Andrew Neuwirth had qualified and registered to run in this year’s Boston Marathon, but he didn’t end up running the race because of lower back pain, he said. Neuwirth, 61, has run the race three times in the past.

Neuwirth said that knowing his finishing time, it is conceivable that he would have been near the finish line when the bombs went off, he said.

When asked how he felt about the attack, he said, “Obviously, I’m upset and angry and disappointed for the people there.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.