NEWBURYPORT — Jennifer Shevlin crossed the finish line eight minutes before the first bomb exploded during Monday’s Boston Marathon.
The Newburyport resident said she had just received a space blanket from one of the myriad of volunteers, whose goal was to make sure each runner was funneled from the finish line to the medal tent and reunited with family or friends, when she heard the first of two blasts.
“I was so emotionally and physically drained, so I didn’t know what to think,” Shevlin said. She was about 150 yards from the finish line at the time of the attack.
As columns of smoke rose in the crisp afternoon sky, all she heard were people crying, screaming and an unsettling combination of disturbing sounds. But what struck the three-time Boston Marathon finisher was what race volunteers were doing.
“The volunteers were running toward the bombs, they weren’t running away,” Shevlin said. “They tried to make sure all the runners were OK; that was their focus.”
One volunteer stayed by Shevlin’s side, holding her tightly and offering comfort as the runner sobbed and tried to reach her husband on her cellphone. Service was poor as airwaves were flooded beyond capacity. Eventually, cellphone service to the area was shut off entirely for fear that the phones could be used to detonate additional bombs. Shevlin was one of about 40 runners from the Greater Newburyport area who had boarded a bus, chartered by The Winner’s Circle Running Club, outside the Salisbury restaurant that boasts the same name. Hours after the attack, many of those who boarded the bus that morning were unaccounted for. Many, like Shevlin, decided not to wait for the bus and found other ways to get home. The bus arrived in Salisbury around 10 p.m. Monday.
Shevlin said she was able to connect with a family friend who drove her to her parents’ car at the Riverside MBTA stop in Newton.