Life is normal. And then it’s not

This is a picture that Leah Janz of North St. Paul took yesterday.

leah_marathon.jpg

If you compare it to the photos we’ve seen since yesterday’s bombing, and make note of the flags, you can probably tell that Leah, a graphics designer, was only feet away from where the first bomb exploded.

I’m mesmerized by these sorts of images, I told her this morning — the ones of people taken just a few minutes before the worst moment of their life. What became of the smiling woman in the yellow scarf? What was the woman in the sunglasses looking at? Is the person who did this in the picture somewhere? How is it that things can be so utterly normal, and then not be?

The FBI is asking for everyone’s images and video and Janz has informed them she’s got this one and a couple of others. They’ll be in touch later, she said via Twitter this morning.

This afternoon, she arrived back in Minnesota. During the flight, she was kind enough to write her story:

My friend Emily and I were in Boston to watch two of our friends run the marathon. We wanted to watch them finish so we got near the finish line around 2:15. We were standing on Boylston near Exeter on the north side of the street. We were right in front of Uno Chicago Grill. We saw the second friend run by at 2:28. After we saw her, we started walking towards the finish line. We stopped near the flags and I took three photos of the flags with my phone.

I vividly remember seeing the race clock at 4:01. We kept on walking to try and find our friends. There was a family area set up that we were trying to locate. We crossed Boylston on Arlington and went south. Took right on St. James Avenue. Halfway on the block, we heard a large boom. My first thought was if the bleachers collapsed.

Emily and I looked at each other. She thought it could be fireworks for Patriots Day. No one near us seemed fazed. Then the second boom went and still no reaction from those around us, so we kept walking. I thought it could just be construction going on. Emily thought maybe a cannon , again for the holiday.

We didn’t hear any screams because there was constant cheering for the marathoners anyway. From our location, nothing seemed different or unusual. We got to the corner of Berkeley and St. James, but the area was blocked off for the marathon. We couldn’t find our friends, and none of the workers had any sense of panic or urgency. I think they had no idea what happened and were just working as usual.

We couldn’t find our friends, and because of all the marathon blockades, we had to turn around. As we walked towards Arlington, an influx of sirens coming our way started. Ambulances, police cars, etc raced past us. We realized something must be going on for that many emergency vehicles to have just passed us.

We walked south to Stuart Street on Arlington, then took a right on Stuart and proceeded towards Berkley. At the corner of Stuart and Berkley, we waited for our friends. I checked Twitter to see what was going on and saw someone said something about a bomb. It was hard to believe, but immediately I went on Facebook and posted we were okay and alerted my husband.

Our two runner friends found us. We stood in disbelief and tried to figure out how to get out. The original plan was to meet a few others for a celebratory drink. One of the runner’s husband was at a bar two miles down on Beacon Street. The only way to get there was to walk so we went north on Arlington and west on Commonwealth. We saw many people walking around dazed and trying to find family.

When we were trying to find our friends, I mentioned how surreal this was and a runner who was walking near us agreed. She mentioned how she couldn’t find her family and they weren’t answering their phone as the lines were jamming. We saw another runner on his phone crying hysterically. Emily asked if he needed help and he said “no.”

We past an area that had a yellow tent set up and had four men dressed in hazmat suits. We kept walking west, but then we heard a third boom. Everyone stopped and it was silent. We kept walking but then a cop yelled at us that we couldn’t go any farther, to turn around.

A sense of panic set in. We just figured it was another bomb, but learned much later that it was a controlled explosion. So we went north to Beacon and then continued west to try to get as far away as we could. We were still passing many runners who didn’t get to finish and had no idea where to go to retrieve their belongings. One runner asked where the finish line was. Many had no phone or cash.

Our phones were dying so we had to use them sparingly. We walked over a mile and were too tired to keep walking. We were able to reach our other friend and he was able to pick us up by 5:30 at our location on Commonwealth and St. Mary’s. He dropped us off at the place we were staying in Cambridge. I called my husband and he informed us where the bombs went off. We learned from watching the news that we were at the exact spot of the bombs eight minutes before the explosion because a video clip showed the race clock at 4:09. This morning we realized we were standing in the area of the second explosion when our friend ran by, which was 20 minutes before the explosion.

During the whole situation, I felt strangely calm and relatively safe. When I heard the booms, I thought there could have been an accident but the thought of bombs never crossed my mind. In fact, when I saw a tweet about the bomb, I wasn’t positive it was accurate. I was afraid to mention the possible bomb on Facebook because I didn’t want to create hysteria if it was false information. It didn’t seem it was even possible for a bomb would actually explode at a marathon. It was incomprehensible to me. So my Facebook status update just stated that my friend Emily and I were safe and that there may have been a bomb. Even when it was confirmed it was a bomb a few minutes later, I didn’t really believe there could be more, even though there certainly could have been. The extreme chaos and panic was three blocks away but far enough that I didn’t sense it. The flocks of people around us all just seemed to be in state of confusion and were just trying to find a safe route out of the area.

When my husband responded to my text about the bomb, he told me to get away fast, but we actually stayed in the relative area for at least 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get out. I knew he had concern for my safety, but I didn’t feel immediately threatened. I think because I wasn’t sure exactly where the bombs were and didn’t relate it to where we were standing before. I had no idea how close we were to the timing of the event until we got back to our room, and that so many factors could have changed our timing. Eight minutes is a thin distance. The only time real panic set in for me was when the third boom went and the cop shortly after yelling at us to go the other way. That made it feel like an attack could happen anywhere or anytime, and that we just needed to get out as quickly as possible.

Reflecting on this has been very strange. I still have difficulty believing this really happened and that I was there amidst it all.

  • BJ

    Thanks.

  • Cara

    My young friend Rose’s mom was running in the marathon yesterday; there was a brief period when Rose was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I think Theresa had finished already much like Leah’s friend. But my goodness the worry!

  • Leah Janz

    I also want to add a congrats to my friends Laura and Dana for finishing the marathon, and thanks for being such fast runners! They were very excited to be running in this marathon, and now this great accomplishment will forever be marred by this tragedy.

  • Kevin Watterson

    I am also mesmerized by such photos. There was a potential set of photos circulating last night that may have shown a before-after view of the second bomb. It is thoroughly haunting to see people so unknowingly in the hands of fate.

  • Kevin Watterson

    By the way, I wonder if the flags near the detonations have any significance to the perpetrators.