By Dave Rogers
---- — 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.
“I just wanted to get the heck out of Boston,” Shevlin said.
Shevlin said she wouldn’t let what is being investigated as a terrorist attack dissuade her from running another Boston Marathon. But she conceded that the air surrounding the hallowed event will always be filled with concern.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of that sense of concern,” Shevlin said.
As Shevlin was being comforted, fellow Winner’s Circle member, Newburyport resident Michael McCormack, was watching events unfold from the nearby Lenox Hotel. McCormack had finished the race 45 minutes earlier and took a shower before hearing the bombs go off.
Walking downstairs to get a better idea what was happening, McCormack saw people being taken away on stretchers.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” said McCormack, who has completed 31 Boston Marathons. “It was crazy, it’s only sinking in today.”
Meanwhile, Mike Jones, the CEO of the Newburyport Institution for Savings, was in the car headed home after finishing the race when the two explosions went off.
“It became a very rough day after that,” said Jones, the father of four small children. “Honestly, my participation (in the marathon) became irrelevant, became meaningless. I was just so saddened by the events that took place, and then you have the ‘what ifs’ that run through your mind. If we had done something differently, a little differently, we could have been caught up in the whole thing. My heart breaks for those involved.”
What struck him, Jones said, was the way people in his hometown of Ipswich rallied together. His phone was ringing constantly Monday afternoon and evening.
“We had such an outpouring of people calling the house — that’s what’s so great about living in Ipswich,” said Jones. “ ... As of (Monday) night, I was so down, I said I’d never run (the marathon) again, but that certainly changed. I’m qualified to run for next year and I’ll absolutely run, for support more than anything else. By bowing out now, you’re letting the perpetrators know they’ve won.”
Reporter Bethany Bray contributed to this story.