Father Luke Willenberg was relaxing on his couch in the rectory at St. Luke’s Church on Monday afternoon when the text messages started streaming in.
Where are you?
Are you OK?
The local priest was confused and turned on the television, then watched in disbelief at the reports of the explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. He struggled to accept the reports of people dead and hundreds injured.
Father Luke had finished the race — his third Boston Marathon — a couple hours earlier and was resting before celebrating a confirmation Mass in East Providence.
“I could not believe it,” said the local priest who finished the race in 2 hours and 55 minutes. “It’s hard to believe something like that could happen.”
Father Luke said he had initially planned to spend Monday afternoon in downtown Boston, celebrating the race with friends, but had to change his plans. He serves as a Master of Ceremony for Bishop Tobin and had been called to celebrate a confirmation Mass in East Providence at 5 p.m.
Many others from Barrington who ran in the marathon were also fortunate to avoid the deadly explosions.
Vinu Malik has completed 36 Ironman triathlons and nearly 60 marathons (including 8 Boston Marathons). He traveled to Boston early Monday morning with his wife and children and a group of friends, and was anticipating another exciting Patriots Day.
Shortly after finishing the race — he clocked a time of 3 hours and 27 minutes — he met up with his family and gathered his belongings. He said his children wanted to play on a nearby playground, but when the weather grew colder they headed for their car.
“We got in the car, and then we heard it,” Mr. Malik said, referring to the first explosion. “We were within four or five blocks of the explosion. We didn’t know what it was.
“You go through some emotions. You forget about the race… all that is completely irrelevant, then there’s a bit of fear. You can’t believe it’s happening.”
Andrew Sabourin finished the course in 3 hours and 36 minutes and was changing his clothes inside his car at a parking garage just a short walk from the finish line when he heard the explosion. The Barrington resident and Mt. Hope High School track team coach wasn’t sure what had happened. A few seconds later the second bomb exploded.
“When I heard the second one, I thought it could have been something bad. Then you just heard sirens and they were non-stop,” he said.
Mr. Sabourin ran in his 10th Boston Marathon on Monday and said each year is a great experience. He said the crowds of people cheering on runners makes the race wonderful.
“The spectators make it such a great race, and to think that those were the people (who were targeted by the bombs) cheering me on and everyone else — it’s just awful,” he said.
Barrington’s Bryna Hebert agreed with Mr. Sabourin. She said the spectators make the marathon a truly special experience and one of the premier marathons in the world.
“You feel like an Olympic athlete, it’s the only chance most of us will ever have a chance to feel like that,” she said. “They cheer the whole way, it’s so loud.”
Ms. Hebert, a member of the Wampanoag Roadrunners Group from Attleboro, finished the marathon in 4 hours and 2 minutes, less than 10 minutes before the bombs detonated.
“I was about 100 or 200 yards past the finish line. I heard this loud boom, the loudest boom I had ever heard,” she said. “The first thing that came to my mind was that it had to be a bomb.
“They (race officials) started yelling at us to start running… They were pretty serious. Then I heard the second one (explosion). (I was thinking) what the bleep? What’s coming next?”
Ms. Hebert said one of her friends was at the 25.7-mile mark when the bombs detonated and could feel the explosions. Ms. Hebert said the moments following the blasts were extremely stressful. She said she tried to contact her friends and family but struggled to reach them.
She said many runners who were halted on the course couldn’t get to the shuttle buses or their gear. “They couldn’t tell people they were OK. … It took a long time to hear from them.
“It was just very scary. Some (friends) had family members in the stands who saw everything.”
Ms. Hebert said she believed the person or people responsible for the bombings placed their devices near the finish line to maximize media coverage. She said there were more people crowded near the starting line and an explosion there would likely have yielded more casualties.
Michael Malik was running in his first Boston Marathon on Monday. He’s Vinu’s brother and was excited about the event, but admitted that scary thoughts flooded into his mind during the event. He said at the 15-mile mark he thought that a gun-man could have easily run onto the course and committed a horrific act.
The bad thoughts were a distant memory after Michael finished the race and traveled with his family and friends to a restaurant in another part of the city Monday afternoon. He said he went to the bathroom after entering the restaurant and when he came out noticed people crowding near the televisions at the bar.
“I knew something really bad had happened,” he said. “That just killed the day.”
Michael and Vinu, Father Luke, Andrew Sabourin and Bryna Hebert all agreed that the tragic event that occurred Monday afternoon at about 2:50 p.m. will not keep them away from next year’s Boston Marathon. In fact, if they are all able to qualify, the local residents all pledged to return and run again.
“I’m not going to stop doing this,” Ms. Hebert said. “They’re not going to stop any of us.”
Vinu Malik agreed.
“New Englanders are tough, Bostonians are tough. … All of us will be back to run next year. Every single one of us will be back.”
Barrington's Bryna Hebert shown at the Boston Marathon on Monday. "These are the pictures we should be looking at today - runners who worked hard for months, came out and ran hard, and then looked happy because their family members gave up a day to watch them for 1-2 minutes. And that would be all they gave up."