Editor’s note: Lisa Hickey is the CEO of The Good Men Project, the site where this piece was originally published. She was at the Boston Marathon when the two bombs exploded. Below is an account of what she saw. She is on Twitter.
My daughter Allie, 21, was running the Marathon -- her first. My younger daughter, Shannon, 17, went with my ex-husband Mark and me to cheer Allie at the halfway point in Wellesley. After seeing Allie and getting a sense of her timing, we dashed into Boston to watch her cross the finish line.
Shannon and I stood on the corner of Exeter and Boylston. We knew my son John and other daughter Kit were somewhere in the crowd but we hadn’t caught up with them. The crowds were three- or four-rows deep so Mark walked down a few blocks to see if he could get us a better spot. Shannon and I were peering over people’s heads, and we knew Allie was close to the finish because we started to see people finishing the marathon who we had seen at the halfway point. “Look, Shannon, the group of people with the yellow hats!” I exclaimed. “Allie was close behind them!”
The first explosion sounded like a gas explosion -- like a manhole cover had blown up. I looked to my left. White smoke was shooting straight up from the corner of the street across from us. Shannon said, “What was that?” and grabbed my arm. We started walking quickly away from the area -- I was torn between getting her to safety, and finding Allie.
Then the second explosion happened, louder, the ground shook. This time there were screams. I didn’t realize at the time, but this time the blast was coming from the direction we were walking toward. At that point, it was starting to get chaotic and people were running and shouting that it was a bomb.
My mind had been slow processing that it was a bomb before someone said the word “bomb” out loud, but as soon as they did, I thought, “Of course, it’s a bomb. We’re at the Boston Marathon. That’s where someone would set off a bomb if they wanted to terrify people.”
I had the most primal urge to protect my kids at all costs. Shannon started to run into a building, but I was worried not only about the glass, but that there might be another bomb inside. We ducked into an ATM for a moment. There wasn’t any place that seemed safe, but what I really wanted to do was run down the street to find Allie.
Shannon and I were both frantically trying to get in touch with the rest of our family who had phones, but the phones weren’t working. The worst feeling was the not knowing where people were. Still, despite the panic, almost all of the people around us were helpful, calm, doing whatever they could.
By the time I was able to catch my bearings, everyone who had been injured was being helped. We had to walk by the scene of the second explosion to get out of the area. I wanted to walk up the Marathon route to find Allie, but the police kept yelling, “Get out of here.”
We were finally able to meet up with my oldest daughter, my son, his girlfriend Kate and, a while later, my ex-husband a block away, on the Commonwealth Avenue mall. After what seemed like an eternity, Allie was able to borrow someone else’s phone to text us and tell us she was OK.
What struck me the most was how many people ran right toward the explosions to help, even though there was obviously still danger. The first responders are heroes.
They say you don’t know what you would do in a catastrophe until one happens. We did what we could, which wasn’t nearly as much as others. Being in the middle of that makes me want to learn first responder training, first aid and CPR. And it makes me realize that the conversation we are having here is more important than ever.
I am so very sorry for those who were injured, and the families of those who died. Love and sympathy to all.
NOTE: I just talked to Allie by phone. She had been running the marathon on the home stretch alone and was five blocks from the finish line when all of a sudden, runners started turning around and running toward her. She thought “Oh, those must be the people who finished it -- odd they are running back.” Then people started yelling “the marathon is canceled.” She had no cell phone to reach us, only heard people yelling that there were explosions at the finish line, which was where she knew we were waiting.
She told me she stopped mid-stride to start bawling. She was finally able to borrow a cell phone from a stranger and text to make sure we were ok. But she ended up walking around for over an hour, not stretching, not drinking, freezing. No buildings were open -- there was no place to go. Finally, she met up with the people she had been running with.
UPDATE, TUESDAY MORNING: I am still suffering the aftermath. My ears are still ringing and my leg hurts where I fell on it. It wasn’t until I looked at the maps after the attack that I realized Shannon and I were heading straight toward the second bomb when it went off. I now think I might have fallen because of the impact of the second explosion.
I have to say that I had no idea about the amount of devastation, deaths and injuries, even though I was right in the middle of the bombings. People were amazingly calm, given what had happened. It reminded me of the practice fire drills we used to do in grade school. Every victim had someone immediately helping them -- and there were 144 people injured at last count.
I feel guilty that I didn’t help more. My only thought was that I had to get my daughter to safety. I think that next time I could help more, having seen how it unfolded this time. It’s awful that you have to have “bombing experience” in order to know what to do, but that’s how I feel.