New Castle News

April 20, 2013

Marathon Terrorist Attack: County native recounts Boston horror

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

BOSTON — Timing was everything on Monday for Angela Taylor Lawrence.

The 31-year-old who grew up in Pulaski Township had trained for about four years before qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

This was her first time visiting a city bigger than Pittsburgh.

With 27,000 runners and more than a quarter-million spectators, the crowds were overwhelming and she was on a runner’s high.

Her husband, Matthew Lawrence, and three children were on the sidelines with thousands of others who were cheering on their loved ones.

But that contagious enthusiasm was marred by the events of the day that ended in tragedy, sadness and fear. Three people died and dozens were injured when bombs exploded near the finish line that afternoon.

Angela witnessed part of the terror, having finished her run two minutes before the explosions.



SOBER MOMENT

The Mercer resident recounted how the morning began with a grim reminder of the shootings in Newtown, Conn. The runners gathered before the race for a moment of silence for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“That was on people’s minds,” she said, “the fact that there are horrible people in the world and they’re looking for a crowd.”

Monday’s weather was sunny and cool, perfect for running, and Angela wore shorts, a special fluorescent yellow tank top that memorialized a deceased friend, and a pair of running shoes she had bought at a specialty sports store in Canfield, Ohio.

This was her third marathon and she was fired up. She started with the Pittsburgh race, which she ran in three hours and 47 minutes.

Boston Marathon rules say a runner must run a marathon in three hours and 35 minutes or less to qualify.

The Erie Marathon in September was her ticket to go. She completed it in three hours and 26 minutes.

“I never thought I’d get to do it,” the raven-haired athlete said as she sipped on a bottle of spring water in a New Wilmington coffee shop.

“You have to be in good shape, and mentally, your body sometimes tells you to quit but you emotionally have to tell yourself to keep going.”



COURSE OF EVENTS

Angela and her family stayed Sunday night at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, not far from the marathon’s finish line.

She stepped off at 10:20 a.m. Monday for the 26.2-mile run. She persevered for four hours and 20 minutes, she said, then 150 yards from the finish line, fought to keep from collapsing.

“I had a hard time getting through the race,” she said, “and it took me a lot longer to finish.”

She crossed at 2:40 p.m. feeling sick and dizzy. Paramedics with wheelchairs were lined up waiting for runners like her who would experience fainting, heat stroke or other problems.

She was given water and a heat blanket and helped into a wheelchair and just as she was steered toward a medical tent along the street, she heard and saw the explosion.

The woman pushing her wheelchair asked if that was supposed to happen.

There was smoke and someone screamed, “Bomb!”

“You could feel the shake,” she said. “Almost immediately after that, there were sirens and people were diving for the finish line.”

Some of the injured were being put into wheelchairs and wheeled, bleeding, into the medical tent where Angela was.

“It was pretty scary,” she said. “I got out of the wheelchair at that point and told them they needed to help the other people. I was fine by then.”

The area was being evacuated and anyone who wasn’t hurt was trying to get out of the way.



FINDING HER FAMILY

While thousands struggled to clear the street and sidewalks for the emergency vehicles, Angela’s fear for her family’s safety was mounting. She contacted Matthew on his cell phone to tell him she was OK, and was relieved to learn he and the children were safe.

They were at mile 24 when she passed them running, and she was concerned that as they followed along, they might have been close to the blasts.

“They heard it, but they weren’t close enough to see anything,” she said. Their challenge then became to reunite.

Angela left the finish line area and “there were just masses of people trying to run.”

She ducked into a Marshall’s department store and waited with two other runners and a few store employees.

“We were locked in there for an hour and a half,” she said. She could send text messages to her husband but couldn’t call him because of the heavy cell phone call volume.

Matthew knew she was in Marshall’s, but she didn’t know where he and the children were, and she grew increasingly worried because another bomb had gone off.

Her family ended up safely across the street from Marshall’s, but Matthew’s phone battery had died and he couldn’t text her.

Then the emergency officials evacuated Marshall’s to conduct a bomb sweep and Angela was back out on the street in the frenzied crowd.

Mass transportation was shut down — no buses or subways were available.

She walked along in the mob with another runner for awhile, then got into a taxi without having any money and the driver took her to her hotel. There, a desk clerk gave her money to pay the fare.

“Everybody I encountered was very helpful,” Angela said. “It seemed like the city really came together for everyone. There were so many out-of-town people who didn’t know where they were going. It was complete chaos.”



TOGETHER AGAIN

Angela’s husband and children ended up at the hotel after three hours. They had booked their room for Monday night and had looked forward to a relaxing night out to dinner in the city. But many restaurants had closed and there was a two-hour wait for pizza deliveries.

Matthew bought them the last two submarine sandwiches from a nearby convenience store and the family stayed in their hotel room that night, watching cartoons and purposely avoiding news channels.

“I never thought in a million years that my kids would ever be near anything like this,” Angela said.



CATCHING THE FEVER

A Wilmington graduate, Angela was not a runner in high school.

She was working part time milking cows when she met Matthew, whose family owned a dairy in Neshannock Township.

Her interest in running was sparked four years ago after their children were born and a friend encouraged her to run a 5-K with him.

“I got addicted to it.” She started with the 3.1-mile 5-K runs, then advanced into longer-distance training.

“The reason I run is to stay in shape and be a good example to my kids,” she said, adding that all three — Ian, 11, Wyatt, 7, and Audrey, 4, also are involved now.

The entire family ran in the Gobble Wobble 5-K race in Buhl Park at Thanksgiving.

Angela is training now for a reprise in the Pittsburgh Marathon, which is May 5.

And despite the adversity in Boston, her desire is to go back again for another try at that marathon.

“I don’t want that to be my last memory of that city,” she said. “They’re going to recover. And I don’t want my kids to see me live in fear.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)