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Chicago area runners describe explosions at Boston Marathon

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:29AM



Jocelyn Hirschman, a doctor from Bolingbrook, was volunteering in the medical tent at the Boston Marathon when the bombs exploded Monday. She sent a text to a Chicago friend detailing the horror of the aftermath:

“Stepping in pools of blood, past body parts and guts . . . people with no legs,” Hirschman, a medical resident at a Boston area hospital, texted to Jennifer Mitol. “Boston EMT was brilliant, I just tried to help in small ways.”

Kirk Taylor, of Morton Grove, was walking away after running his first Boston Marathon when he heard the first explosion. “I had just finished about five minutes before it happened,” Taylor said in a phone interview from Boston. His daughter was waiting for him near the finish line. But she had walked away before the explosions occurred. “Fortunately she left to meet me,” he said.

The 2013 Boston Marathon site listed 253 runners from Chicago who had finished the race by the time of the explosion.

Taylor said he and some other runners were walking away when they heard the blast.

“We heard a big explosion. We thought they were firing off a cannon,” he said. “We turned around and saw lots of smoke.”

Taylor called his daughter to make sure she wasn’t injured. “I’m just glad my daughter wasn’t too close and that she is OK. Everybody we know is OK,” he said.

Brandon Gittleman, 23, of Naperville, finished the race in 2 hours and 44 minutes. He was a few blocks away during the explosions.

Gittleman and a friend who also ran the marathon tried to go to the blast site to see if they could help, but the route was blocked by police.

The recent Augustana College graduate called his parents, Jeff and Nanci Gittleman, in Naperville to tell them he was OK. He told them he received more than 40 emails making sure he was safe.

“What’s our world coming to?” his mother said.

After finishing the race in 2 hours and 47 minutes, Shaun Burke, 26, of Chicago, hung out at the finish line to watch other runners, then left to go to a rooftop party about half a block away. “But I was freezing cold, so I decided to hop on the subway instead and go shower and clean up,” said Burke, who grew up in west suburban Glen Ellyn. The bombs exploded while Burke was on the train — about two hours after he finished the race. He said he feels “extremely lucky” that he wasn’t near the blast.

Tamera Munch, 36, of Joliet, finished the marathon about an hour before the explosion, said her mother, Rose Gilbert.

Cellphone service was sporadic, she said, but Gilbert was able to reach Munch at her hotel, where Munch and her friends are planning to camp out for a while.

“It’s chaos there,” Gilbert said Munch told her. “They’re just hanging at the hotel, they’re not going to leave. The streets are just horrible.”

Wendy Jaehn, executive director of the Chicago Area Runners Association said she was shocked after learning of the explosions.

Jaehn ran Monday’s race and was on her way to the airport when a Chicago news station called.

“I’m just devastated by it,” Jaehn told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just such a pure sport, and to have something like this happen is crazy to me.”

CARA staffers have been trying to track down local runners to make sure they weren’t injured, Jaehn said. And so far, everyone she has been able to reach is OK.

Chicago runner Robert Wiegand Jr. crossed the finish line thinking he made great time — 2 hours, 38 minutes — on a beautiful day in the “most famous race in the world.’’

He had already taken the subway to Cambridge and was waiting for a ride when he heard two explosions about a mile away.

“It sounded like something blew up,’’ Wiegand, 35, a hedge-fund portfolio manager who lives in Old Town, said from Cambridge on Monday. “I heard two blasts. They were probably 20 seconds apart.’’

Minutes later, his cellphone was bombarded with up to 100 text messages over 20 minutes from fellow runners at first asking if he was OK, then explaining there was an explosion, and then giving their emotional take of the situation:

“This is f - - - - - - scary,’’ one runner texted. “People are f - - - - - - dead,’’ another runner wrote.

Wiegand said he felt like the day the World Trade Center was hit: “Shock, awe, confusion.”

He worried about friends, couldn’t help but wonder about the source of the explosions and felt fortunate to have been well past the finish line when the blasts occurred.

Some points about the blasts seemed eerily symbolic, Wiegand said. It occurred on Patriot’s Day in Boston, part of “New England, the birthplace of the United States.”

The blast occurred at 4 hours and 9 minutes into the race — “about where the average person finishes” and therefore when the biggest crowd would be at the finish line, Wiegand said. “If someone knows something about the sport and they wanted to do some damage, that’s when they would do it.’’

Wiegand said he was “spent’’ just thinking about the day’s events. “I will forever remember today,’’ he said.

His mother, Mary Ellen Wiegand, 70, was relieved he was safe but angry about the attack. “I’m shaken and angry right now,’’ the mom said by phone from Buffalo., N.Y. “I’m upset because these are very innocent athletes that are being attacked. . . . I don’t care if they are football players, runners or synchronized swimmers. They are athletes. They are not politically involved. They are doing their sport.”

Mark Colpoys of Chicago’s Fleet Feet Sports Chicago running stores, said all of 80 runners the retailer brought to the marathon by bus Monday were accounted for and no one was injured. Early Monday evening he was still waiting for word on six others who were part of the Fleet Feet party but had found their own way to the starting line.

Colpoys said he first heard about the blast when he was helping host a Fleet Feet post-race hospitality suite and suddenly, a Chicago runner entered the suite “with a horrible look on her face.”

“She said, ‘I can’t believe it. There’s been two bombs that went off at the finish line,’ ‘’ recalled Colpoys, Fleet Feet’s vice president of event marketing.

Colpoys said he was lucky enough to get a VIP pass to the grandstand area at the finish line, but also lucky enough to have left the grandstand about an hour before the explosion left it “basically mangled.’’

He had posted a picture of his VIP grandstand pass on his Facebook page before the marathon. After the blasts hit, friends who had seen the pass flooded him with about 200 messages.

“People saw my Facebook page and thought I was sitting in those seats,’’ he said.



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