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April 15, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Seattle-area runners in Boston: ‘This is probably it for me’

At least three people are dead and more than 130 injured by two explosions at the Boston Marathon’s finish line. Local runners and other Seattle-area people tell their stories:

Boston police officers just after an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Monday, April 15, 2013. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)

Boston police officers react to the first explosion that knocked Bill Iffrig, 78, of Lake Stevens, to the ground during the Boston Marathon Monday. Iffrig, a veteran runner from the Seattle area, got up after a few minutes and finished the race. Images of Iffrig getting knocked off his feet were broadcast on television and posted online across the country Monday. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)

For Bill Iffrig, whether to finish the race was not a question.

The 78-year-old Lake Stevens man got knocked to the ground 15 feet from the finish line by the first explosion in a moment documented by a photograph that quickly went viral.

“The force from it just turned my whole body to jelly, and I went down,” said Iffrig, noting that nothing actually hit him.

“I thought, ‘This is probably it for me.’”

But when Iffrig rolled over and realized he had only a scraped knee, he knew he had to finish.

“Somebody came by with a wheelchair, but I said, ‘I’m fine.’ I wanted to finish,” said Iffrig, a retired carpenter and well-known Club Northwest running club member participating in his 45th marathon, including his third in Boston.

The U.S. Track and Field website lists him as one of the nation’s top masters long-distance road runners for his age category. On Monday, he finished fourth among men ages 75-79, according to the Boston Marathon website.

With sirens sounding all around him, Iffrig kept walking to downtown Boston’s Park Plaza hotel to find his wife, Donna. The two met on a blind date and got married 58 years ago, Iffrig said. They’ve been living in the same Lake Stevens house for 50 years, Iffrig said.

“We’re not quitters,” he said.

Iffrig and his wife spoke by phone from their hotel later in the day. Iffrig said his ears were still ringing, but the couple was glad nothing worse happened.

“I was really lucky,” Iffrig said. “If I’d been any closer at all to that thing, I wouldn’t have made it.”

The couple are planning to return home Friday.

– Brian M. Rosenthal

6:45 p.m. | Ericka Mitterndorfer of Seattle was picking up her bag of clothes about a block and a half from the finish line when she heard an explosion, then looked down the street to see white smoke billowing near the finish line.

Everyone around her turned to look, and then the second bomb went off.

Then there was a silence for a few minutes before the sirens started.

Mitterndorfer said she felt vulnerable, standing in the middle of the street in a city she didn’t know, hemmed in by school buses used to transport runners’ clothing bags from the start to the finish line.

“Where do you go? You don’t know the city, you don’t know what’s safe,” she said.

“You don’t know the city, you don’t know what’s safe.’”

She was able to make a quick call to her parents to tell them she was all right, but then cell service stopped, so she couldn’t immediately reach the friend she was supposed to meet, who was also in the race.

It was a difficult end to what, until the explosions, had been a great day for Mitterndorfer, who is 42 and had long dreamed of qualifying to run this historic race.

“I cried when I crossed the finish line,” she said. “It was this beautiful, I-am-a-strong-person and I-can-get-through-this moment.”

Then, 20 minutes later, she stood in the middle of the street with a knot in her stomach, feeling vulnerable and helpless.

Those two moments aren’t related, she said, but she will never be able to think about one without the other.
–Linda Shaw
5:45 p.m. | Had Jeff Poppe, 62, just been a couple of seconds slower or had his wife moved just a couple of feet closer to get a better view as he neared the finish line, both could have been badly injured.

Poppe and his wife, Anita, from Bellevue, said Monday they were lucky they weren’t harmed in the blast.

Anita Poppe, 64, was standing in front of a sporting goods store, waiting to catch a glimpse of Jeff, who finished the race at 2:49 p.m. and 27 seconds. The two blasts occurred around 2:50 p.m.

Poppe said it felt like she was only 10 feet from the blast. She saw white smoke and heard screams as she turned away from the stands and started to sprint. Soon it was a stampede with people falling down, she said.

“People were running for their lives,” Anita Poppe said. “We were afraid we were going to be hit. I didn’t look back until the second explosion, and it was again puffs of heavy, thick white smoke.”

Seconds after crossing the finish line, Jeff Poppe said he heard an explosion just 20 yards behind him and knew immediately it was the sound of a bomb.

In the chaos, Poppe realized his wife had been standing near the explosion.  “I thought, ‘Oh, my God! She could be there!’ ” Poppe said.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God! She could be there!”

When she found him, “he was in shock,” Anita Poppe said, because he feared she was dead.

She said the chaos continued after the race was canceled. The Poppes are staying at the Marriott Hotel Copley Place, where guests are not allowed to leave.

“Everybody is freaked out, and Boston is shut down,” she said. “We’re in lock-down here. It’s mayhem here.”

She said people are still milling around looking for loved ones. Some are angry, others are hugging and banding together at the hotel, she said.

Poppe said she thought about moving into a better position to view the finish line, but the crowd was too thick. “If I had moved 10 feet to the right … it could have been a fatal change,” she said.
– Christine Willmsen

4:40 p.m. | Emily Brain, 29, a special-education teacher who lives in Seattle, had finished the race when 30 minutes later, “We heard a bunch of sirens and cop cars going by.”

She and her husband, Cullen Brain, a real-estate agent who doesn’t race, were walking back to a friend’s home near the finish line, where they were staying.

The bombings won’t stop her from returning for next year’s race. “And I believe strongly in not letting terrorists make you terrified. We can’t let it get to us.

“I believe strongly in the spirit of the event. It’s such an amazing race,” said Brain.

– Erik Lacitis

4:10 p.m. | Erika Lombardi, 45, of Bellingham, had finished the marathon and was in her hotel room at the Westin, on the same block as the finish line, when she heard the explosions.

“You could tell it was something big,” said Lombardi, who watched out the window with her husband and children as medical workers rushed around below them, evacuating the wounded.

She said the explosions happened right where her family had been waiting for her to finish just a half-hour earlier. “It easily could have been them,” she said.

Lombardi said the Westin is full of runners because it’s right at the finish line, and as of 7 p.m. Boston time, the visitors were being told to stay in the hotel. Most of the streets were still shut down, she said, and the mood in the hotel restaurant was somber – very different from the usual celebratory spirit after a marathon.

For Lombardi, who had never run the Boston Marathon before, one of the striking things about the event was how many different nationalities it drew, and how many different languages were spoken by the runners – making the attack all the more puzzling to her.

“You just wonder, why would someone want to do something like this?” she asked.

– Katherine Long

4:05 p.m. | Karen Nolting, 53, of Covington, was barely a block from the finish line and just past the fourth hour of her second Boston Marathon when she heard the boom and saw smoke and flames to her left.

Suddenly, pieces of fencing were flying. Her ears started ringing. A man she initially thought had been standing on the sidewalk but now believes was a runner tumbled and rolled in front of her in the street. She and other runners surged to the right.

“I’m not sure if I was thrown, if everyone was pushed by the explosion or we were all just trying to get out of the way,” Nolting said. “I just knew I had to get out of there.”

She said she could see people bolting from a nearby grandstand. Nolting realized there was no telling if there would be a third or a fourth. But there was nothing to do but keep running.

“We just had to keep going forward,” she said.  “There was no place else to go.”

Nolting immediately suspected terrorism and started thinking about her friends and family watching from the Boston streets. A horrible scene was shaping up to her left, as people raced to help the injured. But Nolting could see very little. Police officers rushed in and urged everyone to keep moving on through.

She crossed the finish line and eventually borrowed a phone. She texted a note to her friends that she was safe.

“The Boston Marathon is a wonderful, beautiful tradition,” she said. “We can’t let this ruin it.”

3:40 p.m. | Faye Britt of Everett, running in her fifth Boston Marathon, said she saw streams of people running up the street after the blasts.

“You had to think of 9/11,” she said.

“Some had blood on them. Some were trying to clean themselves off. Some were in shock, ” said Britt.

She had crossed the finish line about 20 minutes before the blasts and was back at her hotel when they hit. After the blasts, people were urged to get inside. The scene was unreal, she said.

“People were crying into their cellphones, trying to get hold of people. Other people were just in disbelief. Nobody really knew what happened.”

Britt, 38, is a middle-school assistant principal in Arlington. This was her fifth Boston Marathon and 49th marathon overall.

“How could someone do something like this? It’s so wrong.” she said.

– Jack Broom and Gene Balk

3:30 p.m. | Former Washington women’s soccer player Shannon Leach (then known as Shannon Dillon) crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon with a personal-best time of 3 hours, 31 minutes and 35 seconds. She then met her sister, husband, mom and dad in the family waiting area about three blocks away.

That’s when they heard the first explosion, followed seconds later by the second explosion. Leach and her family walked away from the noise, unsure of what it was. On their five-mile walk to their hotel, the family saw a TV screen showing what had happened.

“We talked to a volunteer who was working at the finish line,” Leach said. “We were walking back and he said by the grace of God he had to go to the bathroom and stepped away right when (the explosions) went off. He was so worried because he knows everybody at the finish line.

“Up until that point, it was a beautiful, beautiful day,” Leach said. “It was absolutely perfect weather and a wonderful course. It’s just so devastating that such a beautiful athletic event ended like this. It’s just sickening, really.

“Nobody really knew what happened because it was so close to us. The news knew before we did. But I do have to say that the police officers in Boston did a tremendous job of getting people to where they needed to be and responding to the scene. It was just a constant flow of sirens coming down to the area.”

“Our hearts are just breaking for anybody affected by this,” Leach said.

– Jayson Jenks

3 p.m. | Olympia orthopedic surgeon Brodie Wood was a little more than a mile from the finish line at the Boston Marathon when police blocked the course and told runners to disperse because of the explosion.

Although he was too far from the finish to hear or see the explosion, “we saw, walking back, one woman with a severely bandaged head, that had received some sort of head blow,” he said.

Police stopped the race at mile 25, and Wood and his wife – who met him earlier in the race – were sent on a circuitous, 2.5-mile walk around the city to get to their hotel, which is just four blocks from the finish line at mile 26.2. The Woods arrived there around 2:30 p.m. Seattle time, or 5:30 p.m. Boston time.

“The whole city’s shut down, the center of the city,” Wood said.

Wood said rumors are circulating about other bombs being found in the city. He said he and his wife had to show police their photo IDs to get into the hotel.

It’s the second time that Wood, 49, has attempted the Boston Marathon. Last year, he was severely dehydrated by the heat and ended up in a medic tent at mile 15.

– Katherine Long

2:40 p.m. | Tom Cotner, a running coach with Club Northwest, a track-and-field group, said a dozen club members started the race and 11 finished. Club staffers were able to reach 11 of the 12, and they are all fine, he said.  They think the 12th runner, based on his likely finish time, probably is safe as well.

Most the runners were contacted by text or email.  They’ve had trouble reaching people by cell phone.

One runner, Dave Flowers, finished about 10 minutes before the bombs went off, Cotner said, but found his wife, who was a spectator, and they had moved away from the finish line before the explosions.

The news about the explosions started spreading through the Northwest running community even before the first media reports, Cotner said.

– Linda Shaw

2:32: p.m. | Nick Welch, a Seattle native studying at Tufts University, said he and his dad, a Seattle physician running his 57th marathon, finished the race about 10 minutes before the explosions struck.

“We were two blocks away,” Welch said. “We couldn’t see anything, but we heard one loud boom, and we didn’t really know what it was. And then about 10 seconds later, a second boom that definitely sounded bad. Then lots of sirens.”

The two walked away as fast as they could, Welch said.

Welch said he knew a lot of Tufts students running in the marathon. So far, they all appear to be OK.

“Thank God,” Welch said.

– Brian M. Rosenthal

2:28 p.m. | Seattle dentist Collins Grossman, 42, had finished the marathon and was about two blocks from the finish line, in the runners’ recovery area, when she heard it:

“Two loud booms, and everyone was silent a moment. Then there was chaos.”

Grossman said neither she nor any of the other runners knew what had happened until a woman runner next to her got a call from a relative in California, who said there had been an explosion.

Grossman had to stay in the finish area to wait for her family to arrive by train, which took a long time because the train lines were shut down immediately after the blast.  “It was pretty scary,” said Grossman, who was worried for her family’s safety.  “Everybody was really upset, everybody not knowing if family members were OK,” she said.

It was the first Boston Marathon for Grossman, who said “it could easily have been me out there” when the blasts went off. “I pushed a little harder, and finished 10 minutes before it happened,” she said.

Grossman was at a Boston restaurant around 2 p.m. PST – about 5 p.m. Boston time – and she could still hear sirens as emergency vehicles went by the restaurant.

“I haven’t seen any of the video – I’ve intentionally avoided it,” she said.

– Katherine Long

1:22 p.m. | Amy Roe, editor of Seattle’s Real Change newspaper, had passed the finish line of her second Boston Marathon and made it through a slow-churning crowd to a series of school buses where runners store their gear.

“I got my bag and was putting some sweats on and I heard I a loud explosion,” she said. “ I looked down Boylston and heard another one and saw a big plume of smoke, probably two and a half blocks away, but very visible. We all just turned and looked at each other and sad, ‘Whoa. What’s that?’ ”

Roe was supposed to meet her husband near the finish line, near the site of the explosion, but no one had any information.

“I was in disbelief and shock, and I was really worried about my husband,” she said. “It was an emotional rollercoaster.”

They eventually connected by phone and agreed to meet back at their hotel, but streets were quickly being closed and she became disoriented. She saw runners gathered at a dry cleaners trying to glean news from the television and saw others just wandering back into the city.

“People were calm but it was still chaotic,” she said.

The end of the race had been canceled, but many runners who’d been turned around didn’t even know why.

“The whole thing is just so unbelievable,” she said. “The Boston Marathon is usually such a joyful occasion. It’s this happy place. It’s the reason I came back, because it’s got this wonderful sense of tradition and community. It’s such a special day for so many people. This is the last thing anyone would ever expect. To see something like this happen is just so awful.”

– Craig Welch

2:04 p.m. | John Kokes, president of the Seattle Marathon Association: The Seattle marathon has some security, Kokes said, and tries to keep spectators and the general public out of the immediate area around the finish line.

“But when you have a finish line area that’s packed full of people who are free to come and go – gosh, you can’t put metal detectors out on the streets,” he said.

“This is stunning.  Good grief. It’s not like races don’t have enough things to worry about, and then you have to worry about something like this.”

– Linda Shaw

1:52 p.m. | Trisha Steidl, wife of  top Washington runner Uli Steidl of Seattle, said her husband heard the explosions from his hotel room, but didn’t immediately recognize what they were.

“His hotel is very close to the finish line, so he heard it, but I guess there is a loading dock near the hotel also, so he thought there was something  was going on with that,” Trisha Steidl said.

He hadn’t realized what happened until she called him.  He told her his hotel is on lockdown. (Steidl was one of the top 100 finishers in the marathon.)

Trisha Steidl said she didn’t run in the race because, as head cross-country and  track coach at Seattle University, she could not get away in the middle of the track season.

– Linda Shaw

1:40 p.m. | Alice Snyder, of Stanwood, said she went to Boston to watch her daughter and son-in-law run the marathon.

The family had lunch reservations at a restaurant near the finish line, but had to cancel because the daughter got shin splits and was running slower than expected.

“That’s probably the best thing that has happened to us in long time,” Snyder said by phone, speaking over the sound of sirens.

Snyder said she was about to reach her daughter and son-in-law, then at around mile 20, shortly after the explosions. They were taken in vans to an evacuation site on the other side of the city.

Snyder said she was working in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The feeling here is very much same. Everybody is in a state of shock,” she said. “I never thought I’d have to experience something like that again.”

– Brian M. Rosenthal

1:30 p.m. | For Snoqualmie insurance agent Sean Sundwall, 40, the scene at the Boston Marathon this afternoon is “a glimpse of what 9/11 must have been like.”

Sundwall and his sister, Sommer Reynolds, finished the Boston Marathon more than an hour before the blasts. The siblings and their mom were walking to lunch when “the city just lit up with sirens.” They were too far away to see what happened, he said.

When reached by phone at 1 p.m. PST, or 4 p.m. Boston time, the Sundwalls were near the Prudential Center. The sounds of sirens could be heard in the background, and Sundwall said he could see about  50 aid cars and a bomb squad truck. He said authorities have told people to go inside, and there have been repeated warnings over the public address system to “stay sheltered where you are.”

“There are lots of people crying – it’s just unbelievably sad,” he said.

Sundwall noted that the blast happened around four hours into the race, well after the largest mass of runners crossed the finish line. “If it had happened 30 to 45 minutes earlier, it would have been terrible” because of the large numbers of runners who finish at that time, said Sundwall. Today’s race marked the third time he has completed the Boston Marathon.

– Katherine Long

1:20 p.m. | Adam Cornell, 40, of Edmonds, had just finished his first Boston Marathon in 3:13 and was feeling exhilarated. He was stretching in his hotel room at the Westin Copley Plaza when he started hearing sirens that just wouldn’t stop. So he turned on the television.

“This is stunningly horrible,” he said by phone. “This shouldn’t happen. This was 27,000 people pursuing their passion, just trying to enjoy their sport. They weren’t hurting anybody.”

Cornell crossed the finish line about 50 minutes before the explosion. His wife, who was walking to meet him, passed by it a half-hour later.

“It’s one of those things – it could have been me. It could have been my wife,” he said about 1 p.m. Seattle time from his hotel room. “I’m looking out the window right now at a line of ambulances two blocks long just waiting to get into the medical tent set up across from the finish line. The sirens still haven’t abated.”

“This is a horrible day for sports, for the world,” he said. “This sport does absolutely no harm to anyone. To have this happen …” he trailed off.

“I will remember this day for a long time, but not for the reasons I initially thought I would,” he said.

– Craig Welch

0 Comments | More in General news, The Blotter | Topics: Boston Marathon, explosions, local stories

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