Portsmouth family near marathon finish line escapes injury


PORTSMOUTH — Jay Bragan and his family were waiting in VIP seats to watch his brother cross the Boston Marathon finish line Monday. Instead, they found themselves in the middle of chaos and confusion that unfolded after two explosions went off.

Mr. Bragan, head of performing arts at Portsmouth Abbey, came to watch his brother Scott Bragan, who had traveled from Tampa, Fla. to compete in the marathon. He was joined by his wife Kate, their daughters Lila, 5, and Gwenyth, 9, and two friends.

Scott Bragan, 45, had finished his 40-kilometer split at 2:47 p.m. and made it to Boylston Street not far from the finish.

"I knew my brother was coming any minute," said Mr. Bragan.

But at about 2:50 p.m. the bombs went off, bringing the race to a halt. Unfortunately for the Bragans, they had prime seats to view the horror.

"It was really scary," said Mr. Bragan. "My brother works for John Hancock and he gave us these VIP seats in the bleachers across the street. When you look at the explosion on the television, you see it on the right and on the left is an American flag. That's where we were."

The family heard a loud "boom" while watching the runners. "It sounded like the canon in the Fourth of July parade," said Mr. Bragan, adding that he knew right away a bomb had gone off.

"I said, 'Let's get down.' I laid down on Gwenyth and Kate laid down on Lila. We knew there was going to be another one and sure enough, 10 second later ..."

The second bomb added to the confusion and terror.

"We felt like sitting ducks because we were right in the middle of it. I said to my daughter, 'Jump on my back.' Everything went really fast."

The family was able to escape unharmed, and Mr. Bragan said he feels fortunate that his girls didn't see most of the carnage. "We were low enough in the bleachers that we couldn't see the people behind the barricade who were killed," he said. "We just hit the deck and we carried them out of there."

An hour later they met up with his brother, who never got to finish the race. "He was supposed to fly out (Monday), but his wallet and phone were at Copley Square and they wouldn't give them to him," he said.

His brother stayed in a hotel overnight and retrieved his personal belongings before traveling back to Florida Tuesday. "He's like, 'Sorry I gave you your seats,'" said Mr. Bragan.

His children are doing OK, Mr. Bragan said Tuesday.

"We're trying to give them a normal day to play with their friends. But the conversations we're having with them are not the kind of conversations you want to have with kids that young," he said.

His children know, for example, that an 8-year-old boy was killed and that several people lost limbs in the explosions. He and his wife have been emphasizing to them how rare an event Monday's tragedy was.

"But at the same time we want them to talk about it so they won't be so afraid of it."

Grateful to Abbey

As if bearing witness to such a traumatic event wasn't enough for the Bragans, they're also mourning the loss of Kate's father, The Rev. Hébert Bolles of Portsmouth. He passed away April 6 and his funeral will be held this Saturday.

"We didn't think anything could eclipse that, so we're having a hard time," said Mr. Bragan.

He and his wife are grateful, however, for all the support they've received from people on the Portsmouth Abbey campus, where the family lives.

"That's the thing about staying at a place like the Abbey," said Mr. Bragan. "You have monks praying for you and colleagues bringing you soup. It's a nice place to be when you're having a hard time."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.