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Local runners come home safe

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: theday.com

Published April 15. 2013 4:00PM   Updated April 16. 2013 4:19PM

When Karina Montoya of Mystic crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon, she was having trouble walking and had to sit down on the pavement. Over the next 10 minutes, medical personnel brought her blankets and gave her Gatorade.

Then, just 100 feet from where she was sitting, two bombs detonated a few seconds apart.

"We looked down the street and saw smoke," she said Monday evening from a train bringing her home. "Everyone was running down the street and we were scared we would be trampled."

"It was very scary. We were just trying to get away. We didn't know if there would be any more explosions," she added.

Montoya said she and others ran to the buses that held their running gear, about 300 feet way. When they got there, she said, they climbed over the metal security fence to get away from the crowd.

"It was very confusing. Phones were not working. We were asking people to use their phones to call our friends," she said. "No one knew where to go or how to get in touch with family. It took us two and a half hours to account for everyone."

When she got to her hotel, the Marriott at Copley Place, it was locked down. Many runners faced the same problem across the city.

"It doesn't even feel meaningful, " she said of finishing her first Boston Marathon. "I just want to get home to my kids."

Montoya was among a group of southeastern Connecticut runners who ran the marathon. Some never made it to the finish line because race officials closed down the course after the explosions. All spent hours trying to reach family and friends to tell them they were safe.

Maggie Jones of Mystic, the executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, was in the family meeting area near the finish waiting for Montoya and other friends when she felt the force of the explosions.

"We all said, 'What was that? That was not good.' We were looking at the Prudential Building and thinking, 'Is that coming down next?'" she said. "It was slow-motion mayhem. Police officers were running around. No one knew what was going on. Then we heard rumors there were other bombs."

Last year, Jones said, she watched the race from the exact spot where the explosion occurred but this year decided to go to the family area instead.

"I guess it was a blessing in disguise we decided to go there," she said. "We were waiting for some friends who had just finished, but they were not showing up. We didn't know until 5 p.m that they were all safe."

Jones said a group of Mystic area runners had planned to have a celebratory dinner Monday night in Boston but instead headed home.

Steve Fagin of Ledyard, running in his 11th Boston Marathon, was less than a half-mile from the finish when he turned a corner and saw his path blocked by runners milling about in the middle of the street. Some were heading back toward him.

"I was annoyed. I was saying 'Get out of the way. We're trying to finish the race.' I was in a zone. I just wanted to finish," said Fagin by cell phone as he stood in a changing tent near the finish.

Fagin, who writes a blog on the outdoors for The Day, said he did not hear the blast and could not see the finish, which was around two more corners. He was in the street for about 45 minutes before someone directed the runners down Massachusetts Avenue to the line of buses that held their gear.

While they waited, residents and college students came out to give the runners drinks, snacks and plastic garbage bags to put on to stay warm. "I'm still shivering two hours later," he said.

Fagin said the scene was chaotic with fire trucks and emergency vehicles. "There was no communication. It was all word of mouth," he said.

"Something like this is so far from your mind when you're running a race. My heart goes out to the people who were hurt," he said.

Monday's race was the first time that Phil Plouffe of Mystic had run in the Boston Marathon. He had it on his bucket list.

Several years ago, Plouffe attempted to climb Mount Everest, but exhaustion forced him to turn back just a short distance from the summit. Monday's explosion stopped him from reaching the finish as well.

"I was so close," he said.

Jim Roy of Mystic was in front of Fagin and Plouffe and was among the first runners stopped by police from getting to the finish. He said he heard two booms but did not think much of it.

"We all hoped it was a generator or transformer blowing up. When you hear now it was terrorist act, it's devastating," he said from the lobby of downtown Boston hotel where he was meeting other local runners.

He said a police officer came out on the course and told him the race was canceled.

"It was a blessing that I wasn't running much quicker," said Roy.

Laura Brustolon of Mystic finished well before the explosions and was the top Connecticut female finisher.

"I like to call my family and tell them how I did after the race, and I did. Then, all of a sudden, they are worried that somehow I was part of the horrible explosion. I didn't even know that it had happened," she said.

Stan Mickus of Mystic, who finished the race in under three hours, said he had returned to his hotel and was getting into the shower when he checked his Twitter account and saw reports of the explosion.

When he looked outside his hotel, about a mile from the finish, he saw runners streaming away from the finish line and emergency vehicles heading toward it.

Fagin's wife, Lisa Brownell, said their son, Thomas Fagin, had finished in 2 hours, 42 minutes and 20 seconds and was already at a friend's house near Copley Square. He was planning to meet his father after the race but the two were having a hard time making contact as cell phone service was overloaded. Both father and son managed to get through to Brownell, who was able to tell each of them that the other was safe.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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