Minutes after Oakdale distance runner Tom Burchell crossed the Boston Marathon finish line and was greeting his wife Julie at the family waiting area, the couple felt a blast that shook the ground and caused chaos in the area.
Oakdale resident Vanessa Walton was even closer – 200 feet away from the blast – just leaving the medical tent where she had been examined after finishing the 26.2-mile signature event. Riverbank resident and Teachers Pension and Insurance Services of Oakdale employee Jesse Santana also competed in the marathon. Efforts to reach Santana via cell phone were unsuccessful, but a Teachers’ Pension Insurance spokesperson reported that Santana is all right and had returned to his hotel before the blast.
With runners still crossing the finish line, two bombs detonated on Boylston Street in Boston shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, April 15, killing three people and injuring nearly 150, turning the city’s notable event into a horrific scene of maimed individuals, blown out glass, yelling, and bloodied sidewalks.
“I had just walked out of the tent and saw a huge explosion, then saw smoke bellowing out of a building,” said Vanessa Walton. “People had fallen to the ground or were running away. I was kind of stunned, then the second blast happened.”
Walton, 33, described panic in the area with people at the scene as very emotional with some crying, some shouting, and others running to assist.
“I caught myself being hysterical when I was on the phone and being told to calm down,” Walton said. “I could even see that some of the police and emergency workers were crying too as they were bring people to the tent.”
Tom Burchell, 45, said he was at the family waiting area about a block away gathering items after finishing the race when he heard the explosion.
“My first thought is it was a cannon being shot off for Patriot’s Day,” Burchell said. “We later heard it was bombs.”
Both runners said they were lucky that they had completed the run about 20 minutes before the detonations occurred.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t let up those last five miles,” Burchell said. “Can you imagine?”
Walton had asked her husband Bill to wait for her by the finish line. By a stroke of luck he could not get close due to the crowds and chose to wait at the family meeting area while she was examined in the medical tent.
Walton and Burchell’s spouses also were close enough to experience the blast.
“My gut instinct was it was a bomb and we needed to leave right away,” Bill Walton said about hearing the blast from the family meeting area a block away. “When I saw emergency vehicles rushing to the area, my suspicions were confirmed.”
“We’re just trying to take a deep breath and be thankful we’re all okay,” added Julie Burchell. “It was odd and eerie at the same time.”
She described a sight of emergency personnel responding on Boylston Street, sirens throughout the area, and a general “chaos” on the streets.
While Bill and Vanessa Walton were able to take a bus back to their hotel, the Burchells had to walk over two miles due to the subway system being shut down as a precaution.
The families said they were staying in their hotel rooms. Both Oakdale couples are scheduled to leave this week and, at press time, were waiting for Boston Airport flights to be opened back up. Santana is also expected to return this week.
The Boston Marathon is a signature event that has been run since 1897 on Patriot’s Day, the third Monday in April. This year there were over 27,000 runners. Tens of thousands of spectators turn out each year to watch.