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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston’s day of fun turned into chaos and panic for those near marathon finish line

Monday was supposed to be a day of fun for Ashley Smith.

It was Patriots Day in Massachusetts and the weather was beautiful. Smith and four friends took the day off from work to cheer on their friend, Boston Marathon runner Kim Burke. ...

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Monday was supposed to be a day of fun for Ashley Smith.

It was Patriots Day in Massachusetts and the weather was beautiful. Smith and four friends took the day off from work to cheer on their friend, Boston Marathon runner Kim Burke.

As runners made their way onto Boylston Street near the marathon finish line, Smith and her friends clapped and cheered.

“You’re almost there,” they shouted. “You got this!”

Then there was a loud bang. Then a second one.

A police officer ran into the middle of the street and bellowed to the crowd, “Run. Run! Run, toward Comm Ave.”

“It was one of those heart-stopping moments,” said Smith, a former reporter and editor at The Telegraph. “We could see smoke. We could see people running.”

A woman nearby started crying, saying there had been an explosion.

A young mother pulled her baby out of a stroller and darted away.

“We all grabbed each other’s hands and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “Some people were running, but it was hard to run. There were so many people.”

News reports flashed through Smith’s mind from The Station nightclub fire when hundreds of people were injured or killed as they tried to flee from the flames 10-years ago.

“I’ve never been in a situation with mass panic in a crowd,” Smith said. “The feeling of trying to move and not be able to get out of there, it was scary.”

Nearby, the people closest to the blasts were gravely injured. Emergency crews carried away people who were missing limbs. Hundreds were wounded. Three died, including an 8-year-old boy waiting to watch his father cross the finish line.

None of these details were clear to Smith and her four friends as they tried to get out of danger’s way as quickly as possible. Information on the street was hard to come by. Some people said there was a bomb; one person said it was an electrical fire.

One of the women in Smith’s group, Danica Billado, started to get really worried. Smith, fellow Bostonian Denise Huskins and New Hampshire residents Billado, Alesha Meuse and Melissa Perrin, buckled down to get out of there.

They received information via text from friends in Portsmouth who were getting the news from the Internet or TV. Then cell phone service went dead. They made their way across town to the Fenway area and gathered at Huskins’ apartment.

In the chaos, Smith dropped her new cell phone, which shattered on the sidewalk.

They never saw or talked to their friend Burke, who safely finished the marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes, about 40 minutes before the blast.

When the first explosion happened, Smith and her friends were at the corner of Newbury and Hereford streets, about two blocks away from the mayhem. The blast was loud enough to catch their attention.

“We were like ‘What is that? One of my friends said it must be a cannon and that seemed reasonable at the time,” she said. “We all accepted that.”

A year before, Smith and her friends had gotten closer to the finish line, near the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth streets. They stood then just feet from where the first blast occurred Mon day, on the same side of the street.

“I kept thinking yesterday that I’m so glad we didn’t go to the same spot,” she said.

Jonathan Van Fleet can be reached at 594-6465 or jvanfleet@nashuatelegraph.com.