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Craig Oberg stopped before he crossed the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on Monday to take pictures with his wife, sister and mother. He
then ran ahead, finished the race, and was walking to get his bag when he saw one bomb go off, then another.
“I felt that concussion, and I could feel the force of it a little bit,” Oberg said. “This huge plume of smoke went up, and at first I couldn’t believe it . . . Then I was really worried, because my family was walking right down that part of the road.”
Several minutes passed before the Weber State University NCAA representative and microbiology professor learned his family was all right from his friend, WSU athletic trainer Joel Bass.
“I didn’t know what had happened to them, and all I could do was go down and get my stuff and my clothes in the drop bag,” Oberg said. “. . . Then I made my way over to the family tent thing, and Joel was there. He’d finished quite a bit ahead of me and had a text from my wife that they’d made it past that area.”
Bass said he had called his wife as soon as he finished the race and she had been tracking Oberg’s progress online, and when he was getting close to the finish line, Bass began to walk back to it.
After feeling the bombs go off, Bass said, he didn’t know if there would be another one, so while others around him stood paralyzed in shock, he ran and got inside a Radio Shack.
“I started making phone calls because I knew the cell phones would have trouble, because everybody would be calling, so I called on their phone to see if (Craig’s wife) was OK,” Bass said. “From what I could see, it was really close to where they were standing.”
Oberg said that when the bombs went off, volunteers from the medical tent poured out onto the streets and rushed toward the site with supplies and wheelchairs kept after the finish line.
Bass said that if it hadn’t been for that medical tent and the volunteer team, even more lives probably would have been lost.
“There were no roads available to get in for ambulances to respond to that,” he said. “All the roads were full in that whole area with either spectators or runners . . . They all had their supplies there, and they just ran out and responded to those guys right away, and I’m sure it saved a lot of lives.”
Toby Nishikawa, a WSU nursing program graduate student, ran in the Boston Marathon and finished at 349. Nishikawa’s account of the explosions began after she finished the race. She said she was picking up her bags and was headed around the corner to meet up with her family when a member of the bomb squad told her to turn around.
“A lady on the bomb squad actually said, ‘Turn around. There’s been two devices, they located two devices that have gone off, you need to turn around,’” she said. “And that’s when I was like, ‘Where’s my family and friends? Where’s my other friend that I was running with?’”
Nishiwaka’s phone was dead, and she could only make one phone call to her mom.
“So we just immediately made one phone call to say, ‘Contact. We need to hook up. Where are you? Are you OK?’”
Nishiwaka, who sustained serious injuries in a cycling accident in a collegiate national cycling championship nearly a year ago, has been training for the Boston Marathon since she qualified in 2011. The Signpost recently published an article on her accident and recovery.
“For me, it was like, I had that accident, and I’ve gone through recovery and so excited for the marathon,” Nishikawa said. “It was emotional for me to run down that finish line on Boylston. The finish line was very emotional. I was crying, and I was grateful for the people that are in my life, but now that this has happened, it just puts a new perspective on how precious this is. I just want to hug my kids that are at home, and this really just puts a new perspective on what is important.”
Oberg said his family members were close enough to where the bomb went off that they saw injured people with limbs blown off. When they finally made it to the family tent, they all hugged.
“There were a lot of people in the relative area crying,” Oberg said. “You could see a lot of traumatized runners . . . there were hundreds of us who were down the road that saw it.”
Bass and Oberg both said they had noticed a high amount of military personnel around before the race began.
“There was a small high school in Hopkinson, and we were laying there and looked up on the roof, and there were military guys, I don’t know what kind, and some of them were looking through binoculars, and they had rifles on top of that building,” Oberg said. “We were talking about how this would be quite a place to do something dastardly, because there were 25,000 people essentially on a football field, waiting in line for two hours to go to the bathroom. In retrospect, it could have been a truly devastating experience.”
Bass said this incident was particularly horrible because after finishing a marathon, runners are exhausted and can barely hold it together with all the emotions they are feeling.
“You’re just so fatigued and you’re really surviving off the joy of finishing,” he said. “Then something happens like that and you’re just so tired and stressed and it really knocks it out of you. Now you’re just thinking about scrambling.”
Nishikawa said her friend Marty Smith, whom she runs and trains with, was supposed to start with the group 10 minutes after Nishikawa started. According to Nishikawa, Smith could have been right at the finish line during the explosions. The explosions and high emotions have put life into perspective, Nishikawa said.
“To me, it was such a huge accomplishment, and I feel so grateful that I’m able to have my body back and run such a great marathon, because a 349 is a great time for me,” she said. “But in the big picture, what matters to me is my family and friends. Really, your loved ones are what matter. No marathon will ever compare to your family and the support that they give you.”
The Boston Police Department has confirmed that there were three fatalities and that 176 people visited area hospitals. The department has also confirmed that an explosion or fire at the John F. Kennedy Library a couple of hours afterward is not related to the bombings.
This story has been updated from its original version.