At least 50 Cobb County runners were registered as participants, according to a search of the event’s official website, and numerous other people with local roots attended as spectators or had friends or family running the race.
Finding and getting through to them on overloaded cellphone networks in the aftermath of a terror attack proved next to impossible. There were a few exceptions, though.
She was cheering on her daughter
Pril Buege of Marietta was there cheering on her daughter, Margo Smith, who was running in her first Boston Marathon as part of the Massachusetts General Cure for Cancer team. Smith, 30, graduated from The Walker School, went to college in Boston and now lives in the city with her husband.
“We were probably three blocks down from where it all occurred,” Buege said. “You know how it sounds when they do the cannons at the (Kennesaw Mountain) battlefield? That’s how it sounded.”
She said the ground shook.
“We were very fortunate that our daughter Margo had not rounded the corner at that point. She was still a half mile out,” Buege said.
While the scenes played over and over on TV showed panicked runners and spectators screaming as they ran from the bomb blasts near the finish line, Buege said three blocks away the scene was more subdued.
“Everyone seemed not unconcerned but just calmly taking it in stride,” she said. “Certainly there was concern and curiosity, and then when they stopped the race you knew, OK, this must be something serious, but you weren’t sure what it was.”
Only after she got back to her hotel room and turned on the television did she find out what had happened.
“We heard both of them (explosions). We were just two or three blocks back, and we saw the smoke and then all the ambulances streaming in, so we knew that someone was hurt,” she said. “But we weren’t close enough to hear shrieking and screaming. Police told us to leave the street.”
Reminiscent of Atlanta 1996
Danny Bourgeois of Marietta was in Boston on Monday with his business partner Craig Sweeney.
“We were at the very spot where it happened a couple of hours before the blasts,” he said.
Bourgeois, marketing director of the 2014 Louisiana Marathon, said he was shocked to hear about the bombing and felt a sense of déjà vu.
“I was at the Atlanta Olympics in ’96, and it feels a lot like it did when that happened. Atlanta can relate,” he said. “It’s really shock and surprise right now because nobody knows exactly where they were or when, and then you’re checking your phones and seeing if you have anything, any photos or videos, the police could possibly use. I’ve got video and photos that I will be posting to YouTube.”
Bourgeois said he and Sweeney flew to Boston to promote the Louisiana Marathon at the pre-race expo in downtown Boston.
“And today we were just taking in the sights and scenes of the oldest and grandest U.S. marathon,” he said.
“When the wheelchair women and men’s elite were coming into the finish line between 11:30 a.m. and 12 p.m., Craig and I were at the same spot where this (bombing) occurred,” he said.
Bourgeois is a former employee of Marietta Daily Journal and has a home in Marietta.
First little person to finish race, almost
Juli Windsor, who stands just 3-foot-9, was all set to make history Monday at the Boston Marathon.
She was only a half-mile from the finish line, covering about a mile every 9 minutes, starting to slow down a bit but still on course to become the first female “little person” to finish the iconic Boston Marathon.
That’s when two bombs exploded near the finish line. The race was immediately called off.
“She was a half-mile away from the finish line when the blast occurred,” said her sister, Jailene Hunter, who lives and works in Marietta. “Thankfully she started running behind her time, and missed the finish line by 15 minutes.”
Hunter said her sister was born and raised in Cumming but lives with her husband Blake in the Boston area now.
“I talked with my sister afterward, and that was one of the best phone calls I’ve had in a long time. I’m just so grateful she’s OK,” Hunter said. “My sister reminded me of something very important. This is a great reminder that we are not in charge. We are not in control of our fate, and it’s a good reminder of who is in control and watching over us. She started off thinking this was going to be a wonderful day and she was going to complete the Boston Marathon. And we’re just thankful that she did make it through OK and are praying for the families whose loved ones didn’t.”
Hunter said her mother, Anita Erickson, also of Cumming, was waiting at the finish line for Windsor and did sustain minor injuries from the stampede of spectators who panicked at the sound of the blasts.
“She’s been released from the hospital and is going to be OK,” Hunter said.
As for 26-year-old sister Juli, Hunter said her spirit won’t be dampened.
“She’s run two other marathons, but this was one of her long-term goals to complete the Boston Marathon, and she almost did it. She’s been running since middle school.”
Will she take another shot at history next year, after coming so close?
“I’m not sure about that yet,” Hunter said. “But with her determination, I would not be surprised if she did.”
It’s going to change the sport
Jeff Drobney, assistant city manager for Kennesaw, is a marathon runner who had at least 10 friends he trains with in Boston.
“As soon as I heard about it, I immediately went online to see if they’re OK, if they had checked in,” Drobney said. “These are people I’ve trained with for several years and know fairly well. Once I found out that most of them were OK, then you start to think about the people who were killed and have been injured and how it’s going to change the sport.”
Within minutes after the explosion, Drobney said his friends began posting on Facebook to let their friends and family know they were unharmed.
Drobney said one wrote, “Thanks for all the emails, texts and calls, we are safe and fine. Pure anarchy here. This is madness.” Another said, “I’m safe. We’re trying to get out of Boston now. It’s crazy. God bless the people who were hurt.”
Drobney said the attacks will change the sport.
“These large marathons, there’s always a heavy police presence anyway and security presence, but this is certainly going to make it more difficult not only on the runners, but certainly the spectators as well. It’s a shame. It just makes no sense. Really, it makes no sense.”
Staff writer Jon Gillooly contributed to this report