Local Runners React to Boston Bombings

Among the nearly 29,000 participants from 90 countries, 21 runners from the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys competed Monday in the Boston Marathon, most of whom finished the race before any explosions were seen, heard or felt.

But there was one couple still out on the course when the first blast went off.

“It was just so loud. I mean you could actually feel the ground shake a little bit,” said Michele Benedict, 51.

Benedict, an occupational therapist from Canfield, was running the last eight miles of the Boston Marathon with her husband when they turned  the corner for the finish line and saw the smoke. Police were still trying to figure out what happened.

“So they stopped us and they said, you can run any other way, but you are not running through the finish,” Benedict said. “You train for so long for this and the day was so wonderful. And you get to the last half mile and they stopped me and said ‘you can’t finish.’  Just a really sad ending to a great day.”

She said everyone was running after the blasts, but she was having a hard time.

“I could hardly walk, let alone run. I had just ran 25 miles, ” she said. “Then there was quite a few policemen around us, and the one policeman said I have no idea what that was. So, we all kind of went into a bit of a panic mode.”

Michael Maillis, 44, of Campbell, was part of a group of local runners who finished the race around the three-and-a-half hour mark. He was already at the airport when he heard the news, and rushed to reach fellow runners.

“I was at the airport checking my bag when somebody in front of me told me there was an explosion at the Boston Marathon. And then people started calling me and sending me text messages asking me if I was okay. So I responded to about 15 messages,” Maillis said in a phone interview.

Maillis said he finished the race about 1:25 p.m. and left about a half hour later. He said he has two friends at the marathon that finished after him that he has not yet heard from.

“Some people finish and they hang around to watch other people finish,” Maillis said. “I have two friends out there and I haven’t talked to them yet. I’m a little worried.”

Also leaving town on a train was Ralph Barnhart, 61, of Leetonia, who had just finished his seventh consecutive Boston Marathon dating back to 2007.

“He said on the train he heard a loud bang, and he didn’t know what happened, he just shook it off and didn’t think twice about it, and then the people that was on the train were explaining what was happening,” said his wife, Joyce.

She said she is thankful her husband is on his way home, but said her heart goes out to all the families of the dead and injured.

“It’s unfair that this has happened, and hopefully the people will be caught for what’s happened to them,” Barnhart said.

Another small group of runners from the area is staying in Boston until Wednesday. They said streets and subways are shut down, and some flights in and out of Boston are grounded. Cell phone usage was also spotty in the hours after the blasts since so many people were trying to reach their loved ones to make sure they were okay.

A text message from Amanda Fire, 30, of Canfield, who finished the race, said everyone around her in the area was unable to make outgoing calls or take calls. She said she was four blocks away from the explosion when the devices detonated.

“We didn’t hear anything but saw three fire trucks fly up the road,” Fire texted. ” The first explosion happened right at the finish, the second probably less than a half a mile away.”

Cory McCusker, 37, of New Springfield, said he and a large group of people were heading away from the family meeting area about a block away from the finish line when they heard a loud explosion.

“We were walking in a large mass of people. I mean the place just overrun with family memebers and spectators and participants, and everybody all at once stopped in their tracks and looked around at each other and just like, what was that?” McCusker said. “Initially, I was hoping it wasn’t what I thought it was, but the second explosion confirmed it was a couple of bombs that went off.”

He said what struck him most about the ordeal was how everyone was walking in unison and after the first explosion, everybody just stopped in their tracks and looked at each other with a face that said “was that an act of terrorism?”

McCusker said the sirens started almost immediately and there was a very quick response from police and rescue personnel.

He said the mood just prior to the explosions was the typical Boston Marathon experience, noting it was filled with excitement. But he said it changed in a split second to a feeling of dread as everyone around him started wondering if a terrorist attack similar to Sept. 11 had occurred.

“The police had barricades up and they told us to keep moving, but we didn’t know what areas were safe. It was a crapshoot,” McCusker said.

He said he and the large group of people he was with did not see any victims, but they saw many ambulances going in and out, so they knew there were lots of injuries.

Runners who had not finished the race were diverted straight down Commonwealth Avenue and into a family meeting area, according to an emergency plan that had been in place.

“I am an emergency room nurse at Salem Hospital and I thought I could help, but the area was secured and I was not allowed in. So I had no idea what to do next,” McCusker said.

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