Tarrant County runners describe 'surreal' bombing scene

Posted Monday, Apr. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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On Sunday, three marathon runners from Tarrant County posed for a keepsake photo at the finish line for the Boston Marathon.

Jennifer McAlister of Fort Worth posted it on her Facebook page with the caption: "This will be our happy place on Monday after the race."

It was anything but that for McAlister and friends Toni Biggerstaff of Keller and Chimene Fikkert of Mansfield.

Fikkert completed the race several minutes before the first of two bombs exploded shortly before 2:50 p.m. on Boylston Street, near the finish line of the 26.2-mile race. McAlister was about a tenth of a mile back, and Biggerstaff was behind her.

McAlister at first wondered if she heard celebratory fireworks, in the spirit of the festive mood that filled the city before and during the race.

"I was shuffling along," she recalled, "but when the second one went off, I just stood there."

She saw smoke and runners ahead racing back toward her, not toward the finish line.

"It was surreal," said McAlister, a graphic/web designer. "Then there was the police yelling 'Go back! Go back! Run back the other way!' "

They also screamed not to go near any trash cans.

But McAlister was worried about her husband, Jason, who usually meets her at the end of a race. Also, she thought Fikkert might be in the blast zone.

"I couldn't go down there to check on them if I wanted to," McAlister said. "I grabbed a bystander and asked to use his phone."

When Jason McAlister finally answered, he said he wasn't near the finish line because he was delayed in traffic, and he later found Fikkert, who was OK and had headed back to her hotel. Later they all caught up with Biggerstaff, who also was unhurt.

"When he picked up the phone, and I heard his voice, and that Chimene was OK, it was just relief," McAlister said. "I'm pretty much convinced the greatest emotion in the world is relief. Just relief."

Fikkert said she thought the explosion came from the sky.

"Like it was a helicopter," said Fikkert, a pediatrician who has a practice in Arlington. "I turned around when I heard it and we were just all so stunned. The volunteers kept saying, 'Keep moving. Don't stop.' "

At least 28 Fort Worth residents and 17 from other Tarrant County cities were listed on the 2013 Boston Marathon entry list. It was unclear Monday evening if any were among the hurt or killed.

The official Boston Marathon website, baa.org, allows for the tracking of individuals who registered for the race. Based on the organization's information, 911 Texans were running in this year's race. Of that group, 105 said they were from Dallas. Ten people from Arlington registered, too.

By text, tweets and phone calls and word of mouth, North Texans in Boston reported Monday afternoon they were unscathed but shaken by the back-to-back blasts.

Megan Forrest, 18, of Keller, reported her experience by Twitter: "Two bombs just went off about 10 minutes after I finished ... Had I finished 5 minutes sooner or later, my family would have been affected by a terrorist attack. We are OK at our hotel, prayers please."

Fort Worth residents, now living in Boston for career or college, also shared stories.

Julia Hoffman, who is studying songwriting at the Berklee College of Music, said she was in her room on Newbury Street, parallel to Boylston, when she heard the first boom.

At first, she and her roommate thought it might be a thunderstorm, but they knew there wasn't one in the forecast. Then there was a second boom.

"All day long, we were hearing people cheering for the marathon," said Hoffman, a graduate of Paschal High School. "But the cheers turned to screams and that's when I knew something was wrong.

"We leaned out our window and people were running and screaming through our alley."

Hoffman said she learned later that a friend was in a Starbucks on Boylston where the front window shattered, forcing everyone to the floor. The friend was cut, but was otherwise OK.

"Seeing other people in pain, running and crying down the street, was terrifying," Hoffman said. "Right now I've been trying to keep up good spirits. It's definitely not a happy time."

Avery Miller of Fort Worth, another student at Berklee, was on Commonwealth Avenue, about 2 1/2 miles west of the blast site, when he saw emergency vehicles heading east toward downtown. He said pedestrians were busily trying to summon information on their smart phones beneath the rattling of helicopters overhead.

Miller, who graduated from Southwest Christian School, encountered crowds heading west on Commonwealth away from the explosions. A lot of them wore running gear or "Marathon Monday" T-shirts.

"I just saw some girls crying," he said. "One looked like a runner because of what she was wearing. She was sitting with a guy and another girl and she was asking rhetorical questions, like 'Why would there be a bomb at the finish line?' And 'Why would this happen?'"

Former TCU soccer standout Lizzy Karoly was about 1.5 miles away from the finish line. She moved to Boston just a week and a half ago for a job. She stood along the marathon path to support several co-workers who were running.

From her vantage point, people remained confused but calm as Boston police moved in to disperse the crowd, she said.

She said she was safe, but felt "creeped out."

"You could just sense a lot of anxiety in the area," Karoly said.

Back in Fort Worth, Laura Gresenes, marketing director of the Fort Worth Running Company, learned of the blasts about 2:30 p.m. Monday.

"We're just in shock and we're trying to find out if everyone's safe through texting and social media," she said. "These aren't just our customers. These are our friends."

Staff writers Nick Dean, Mac Engel, Deanna Boyd, Sandra Engelland and correspondent Travis Brown contributed to this report.

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684

Twitter: @Bill_MillerST

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