SW Florida Boston Marathon bomb survivors describe chaos

rdymond@bradenton.comApril 16, 2013 

MANATEE -- Holly Johnson of Sarasota had finished the Boston Marathon Monday and was resting about a mile past the finish line when she heard the first of two explosions only seconds apart.

It was a blessing she had finished the race in 3:46:27, about 20 minutes before the two blasts went off near the finish line killing at least two and injuring dozens more.

"I was putting on warm clothes," Johnson said. "It was big. It was like a bomb."

Johnson was one of roughly 21 long-distance runners from Bradenton, Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch who were officially entered in the 2013 Boston Marathon, which will forever be remembered as a day of explosive chaos and confusion.

A sense of weirdness lingered in Boston on Monday night hours after the race, survivors said.

"I finally turned the TV off," Johnson said. "I did the same thing when 9-11 hit. It's a good reminder. We only have today. You don't know if you will have tomorrow so make today the best you can."

David Meier, a marketing consultant and distance runner who lives in downtown Bradenton, described a bizarre sight at 7:30 p.m.

"We are right now sitting in a restaurant called The Salty Pig, two or three blocks from the explosion site, and there are helicopters everywhere," said Meier, who finished the race in three hours and 20 minutes. "There are military people with AK-47s. It's really bizarre."

Meier, too, was a good distance from the finish line when the bombs went off.

"We heard something and everyone froze wherever they were, even in the street," Meier said. "Someone said, 'Oh, it's a truck.' But then, 10 seconds later, we heard another one. No one knew what was going on. It took about a half hour before news reports began filtering in. But we couldn't get information on our cell phones for awhile."

His wife, Mari Lyn Meier, a guest host on the QVC network, was standing about 150 yards from the bomb site watching her husband cross the finish line. Had he not finished so quickly, she may have been hurt when the bombs detonated 45 minutes later, Meier said.

"It's emotional to think about," David Meier said. "She was able to walk away. That was a blessing."

He said Facebook ended up being the bright spot of the day.

"We posted on Facebook that we were all OK," he said. "That was a saving factor."

Two runners from the Lakewood Ranch Runners Club also survived the bomb blasts, said a club official.

"We have heard that both Tara Homick and Fernanda Scalera are OK," said James Nelson, president of the Lakewood Ranch Runners Club.

Nelson received an e-mail from Homick.

"She said, 'I am OK. This is devastating. We are in lockdown.' " Nelson said. "I assume she is locked down in a nearby hotel."

Meier said runners staying in hotels near the finish line were unable to get back to their rooms.

"We have made reservations in another motel just in case," Meier said. "Right now we are sitting in this restaurant wondering where we are going to spend the night."

Later, safe in her motel room, it was hard for Johnson not to think of the dead, injured and those whose dreams were crushed when the marathon was cut short at about the 4:09 mark.

Johnson said she thought about two levels of victims: those killed and injured and those who had planned a lifetime to run the famed marathon only to have the experience stolen from them.

"For most people, running in Boston is a lifetime thing," Johnson said. "Unfortunately for people who were in the back of the field when the race was stopped, this was their one time. Anyone who was under four hours made it through. Four hours or over didn't make it, generally speaking."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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