'Everything changed in seconds' — An Islander in the marathon

COURTESY PHOTO | Dr. Frank Adipietro, president of the Shelter Island Lions Club and an organizer of this year’s 10K race, was half a mile from the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday when the bombs went off.

Dr. Frank Adipietro was closing in, half a mile away from finishing his fifth consecutive Boston Marathon.

Right on the pace he had planned, he was exhilarated by the perfect New England afternoon, remembering the 2012 Marathon when it had been 90 degrees, tough weather to run 26 miles. The massed crowds were celebrating, as always, many dancing to sidewalk musicians, the sounds of cheering and music spiraling louder as the finish line loomed.

Dr. Adipietro, a physician and president of the Shelter Island Lions Club, is also an organizer, along with his wife Mary Ellen, of the Island’s 10 K race scheduled for June 15.

Ms. Adipietro was waiting in a VIP area at the finish line, the guest of their friend, Massachusetts State Police Lt. Bill Coulter.  She and her husband had lived in Boston and it’s still one of their favorite places. Their routine for the past five Aprils was to stay at a hotel only six blocks from the finish. After the race they could walk to the hotel, relax and then have a night out in the city they loved.

In the VIP section Ms. Adipietro had noticed there were many children. She didn’t know it at the time, but most of them were school kids from Newtown, Connecticut, brought up for a day in the sunshine to watch one the most prestigious sporting events in the world.

Coming out of a short tunnel and making a sharp right on to Boylston Street, half a mile to the end, Dr. Adipietro and the runners he was with were blocked by a phalanx of Boston police officers.

The cops were saying the runners couldn’t continue, the race was over, a bomb had gone off ahead. In the confusion, with athletes eager to finish, no one could quite understand what was going on. Runners, so close to breaking the tape, were arguing.

“But you don’t argue too long with a Boston cop,” Dr. Adipietro said.

They hadn’t heard the sound of the explosions because of the tunnel and the crowd noise. Dr. Adipietro said later he understood some runner’s thoughts that the sounds of the bombs were part of a celebration.

Soon everyone understood what was going on, with ambulances wailing and more police filling the streets by the second.

Dr. Adipietro begged to be let through, telling the officers his wife was ahead, but was refused in no uncertain terms. He implored one officer to  borrow his cellphone and the cop agreed. He dialed his wife, but got no signal.

Knowing the city, he ran down a side street and then cut up a narrow street through the chaos of fleeing people, running parallel to Boylston Street toward the finish line.

All streets going toward the finish were blocked but Dr. Adipietro finally found a way to cut over a few blocks beyond the VIP and press areas. The drill before  runners start the marathon is to put all their belongings in bags that are then shuttled by bus to the finish where they claim them after the race has been run.

In the confusion of noise and and sights of carnage, Dr. Adipietro fought his way through and found his bus, but the police officers tried to turn him away. “They told me it was a crime scene and no one was being given bags,” he said. “I was desperate. I begged one officer, begged him to let me have my phone, they could keep everything else.”

The officer took pity. “At the top of the screen, where the most recent texts are listed was one from a friend who said he’d spoken to Mary Ellen and she was all right,” he said.

She had been in the front row of the section when the first bomb went off. Directly in front of her, less than 20 feet away, a woman was lying with both legs blown off.  She wasn’t the only double amputee or other victims of horrific injuries that Ms. Adipietro witnessed.

Trained as a nurse, she organized some of the children, comforted them and shepherded them away, urging people not to panic, which for some in the first few minutes after the blasts was impossible.

Her thoughts were for her husband. She didn’t know if he was safe, or injured, or worse.

It took nearly half an hour for Dr. Adipietro to walk the short blocks to the hotel through crowds of EMT’s, police, other security officers and shell-shocked pedestrians.

But Ms. Adipetro was in their room, a bit shook up, and they were reunited.

Reached by phone Tuesday morning in Boston, Dr. Adipeitro was packing up and preparing for the drive home.

He counted his blessings that both he and Ms. Adipietro had come through and especially that their 11-year-old son, Liam, didn’t make the trip with them this year.

Shock had turned to sadness. “Boston is so proud of this race,” he said. “It’s one of the most important athletic events of the year, but it’s always had a small town feel, even with the huge crowds. It’s tainted now, but I hope it won’t always be.”

Dr. Adipetro paused. “To be there and see what happened is tough. To see my wife shaken up … people hurt. Everything changed in seconds.”