Valdosta Daily Times

April 17, 2013

Lowndes runners share stories from Boston Marathon

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Yvette Moore could see the finish line. She wasn’t far from finishing the Boston Marathon for a third time. April Scruggs had just completed her third Boston Marathon and was standing near the finish line, watching fellow runners finish and waiting for her friends. Sean McConnell was reunited with his girlfriend, walking down the street about a block away.

Then two large, loud explosions ripped apart the fun, upbeat environment and turned it into a scene better suited for a horror movie.

“I was feeling like, ‘OK, I’m this close and I am going to make it and re-qualify,’” Moore said. “And then a blast went off and it took me back. I was thinking, ‘What was that?’ Then the other blast went off that was closer to me and everyone was running back towards me.

“You have the finish line right there and all of the sudden you’re running from it. You get this sense where you see what New York went through with 9/11; you don’t get the feeling until you were there. I was crying. I was devastated. I knew there were people that were hurt and had gotten killed.... There was a guy that started screaming, ‘My dad is right there. My dad is right there.’ Then everyone started pushing everyone out of the way and I lost him. I just lost him and started crying.”  

Moore, Scruggs and McConnell are all area runners who participated in Monday’s Boston Marathon that ended with devastation when a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line, injuring over 180 and killing three, including an 8-year-old boy.  

Moore, who plans on traveling back to Valdosta from Boston today, was about to finish the race when the explosions happened. A moment of self accomplishment after completing one of the world’s most premier races turned into a moment of fear, grief and confusion.

“You were confused and people didn’t know where to go,” she said.

That feeling was experienced by the thousands of people that crowded along the sidewalk to watch the race and for those that were about to finish.

For Scruggs, she completed the marathon roughly eight minutes before the first explosion. After grabbing a water, she made her way back to the finish line to wait for friends to finish the race.

 “I was just waiting for my friends to cross and watching other runners cross the finish line,” she said. “A woman had just crossed and was like ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ And I told her to go get a water and then we were talking and the first explosion went off. She was like, ‘Oh, they did fireworks.’ I said, ‘No, that was a bomb.’ That is when it hit me that I needed to get out of there.”

McConnell had finished the marathon about 30 minutes before the bombs went off. He was walking down a nearby Boston street, heading back to his rental car when he and his girlfriend heard the noise and felt the ground shake.

“It sounded like a transformer blew up,” he said. “You could feel the vibrations of the explosions. But I thought it was a transformer. The I saw a crane and my girlfriend asked me what was that and I told her the crane must’ve dropped something. Then we heard the second explosion and she said, ‘No, something is wrong.’”

While McConnell and his girlfriend were safe, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t scared about what had happened.

“The scary thing was my girlfriend was waiting for me where the second explosion happened; she was about 49 feet away and she was there for 4 1/2 hours waiting for me,” McConnell said. “Once I passed the finish line, she walked past where the first explosion was and joined me about 30 minutes before it all happened. If I would have been in a second wave (of runners), she would have been right there.”

In the minutes immediately following the explosions, all three local runners were faced with the daunting tasks of finding out what happened and getting back to their cars and hotel rooms.

With the city going into a lockdown mode, Moore was left stranded with nowhere to go and with little money.

“I finally ran into someone I knew from Atlanta. We stood out on the corner for I don’t even know how long. You are so cold when you finish running that far. I was freezing and shaking. Some people from the hotel nearby, they came out and put jackets around us,” Moore said. “About 6:30, we were still sitting outside and we began walking and we finally found a restaurant far enough away that would let us inside. We were pooling our money and we sat down and then someone gave us $100 and told us to get something to eat. We had to sit in the restaurant.”

Following her stay in the restaurant, Moore was able to get back into her hotel room around 10 p.m., where she was finally able to watch the coverage plastered all over the local and national news.

“I did meet up with some friends at about 10 in their room and watched the news,” Moore said. “That is when we learned the scale of this thing, when I realized how hurt everyone was and people were killed.”

For Scruggs, who finished the race in just over four hours, she immediately turned and walked away from the explosions, moving quickly to collect her belongings and make her way to her hotel, which was locked down just minutes after she arrived.

“I had not even turned my phone on, and I was like I have to get my phone on and call my family,” Scruggs said. “I started walking away from all of it and collect my bag. So I went to get my bag checked and the pandemonium starts to settle in a bit and you could start hearing sirens and I get to the bus and they didn’t really know what happened because they were far away from it. I was trying to get to my hotel, which is in the middle of all of that. But I got into the hotel before they locked it down. I got in there and started watching the news. Once I started hearing the coverage, what I was seeing, it was just like that.”

McConnell said he and his girlfriend were never directly near the chaos that ensued following the explosions and that they were able to get to a restaurant that had a television which is when they learned what was going on.

“With all the emergency vehicles going on the road, at 1:20 my phone said, ‘Explosion near finish line’, so we went to the car and we went into the restaurant and they had TVs. Then we realized what happened, even though it didn’t really say too much.”

Scruggs and Moore both said it will likely take time and reflection for the ultimate reality of the day’s events to sink it.

And will they ever participate in the Boston Marathon again?

“There, I can’t answer that right now,” Scruggs said. “It is my favorite marathon. It makes you feel like a rockstar. Boston knows how to do it. They are class acts. But it is sort of... I’m kind of in shock. It is going to take a while to sink in. I know what I saw and I know a block away other stuff is going on. It was really surreal. My plans were to go take a shower and meet up with friends and go eat and celebrate. I mean, it is Boston.”

“I’m not going to let someone keep me from doing what I enjoy,” Moore said. “It is a wonderful place to come. If they let me re-qualify, I will come again.”

McConnell shares Moore’s thoughts on returning.

“That hasn’t even crossed my mind,” McConnell said when asked if he has thought of not returning. “It was my second time running the Boston Marathon, and at first I didn’t think I would do it again. But this actually makes me want to go back and do it again even more now.”