UI, Iowa City community members in Boston react to Marathon bombing

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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Justin Hattan

Justin Hattan stood a few hundred yards from the finish line surrounded by family members as he watched his father complete his first Boston Marathon.

Right when it seemed his dad was poised to cross the finish line, they heard the deafening blast.

He said the scene was immediately chaotic. Those around him thought it was some sort of riot.

“We saw people scrambling out of the area and police exiting people out of the area,” said Hattan, a 35-year-old 2003 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law. “My dad was almost at the finish line, so he was right there when it happened.”

The runners were diverted from the finish line, so Hattan said he and his family spent a “chaotic” and “nerve-racking” two hours walking around the city trying to gather information and locate his father.

They made it to an area where a large group of family members were sitting together and waiting for the runners return.

Finally, the runners started to trickle in — his father was with them.

Cold and sore, Hattan’s father told them he had been right at the finish line for the first explosion and had witnessed some of the aftermath.

“[We were] happy and relieved to find him,” Hattan said. “There were high-fives all around.”

Katie Monson & Kyle Siefers

The 2013 Boston Marathon was far from a typical race for UI graduate student Kyle Siefers.

The 24-year-old Iowa City native continually trains for endurance events, and he spent around 2½ months preparing for Monday’s test.

But Siefers said he felt sick as the Marathon approached and received medical attention for approximately 20 minutes after he crossed the finish line. When he finally began to recover, Siefers started toward the spot where he was supposed to meet his friend and fellow Iowa City native Katie Monson.

“I was waiting there, on a street corner, when the first explosion went off,” Siefers said. “It was silent for 10 seconds … there was no immediate response in the area.”

Twenty seconds later, the second explosion rattled the streets.

“People started getting freaked out, but nothing was visible from my location,” Siefers said. “You could feel the streets rumble. It was like a small earthquake.”

Monson — who studies international security at Tufts University in Boston — became worried after she knew Siefers crossed the finish line but couldn’t seen him. She walked to the medical tent, where she stood a block from the first explosion.

“There were debris in the air — smoke, dust, and dirt,” said Monson, 22. “When that happened, a lot of people who weren’t familiar with the Marathon thought it was a traditional cannon.”

When the second bomb went off, Monson said, she knew it was an attack. Based on experience as an intern for the Pentagon, Monson was afraid the bomb took place in the subway. She texted her mother and tried to calm those around her.

Monson finally reunited with Siefers and the pair immediately left the city, fearful of another attack. The drive back to Monson’s house usually lasts 10 minutes, she said. On Monday, the journey took three hours.

“Everyone, all of the volunteers, Bostonians love the Marathon,” Monson said. “The people I saw were extremely professional. No one could have seen this coming. None of them were trained for this.

“Iowans pride themselves on being friendly and helpful. I was proud of my adopted city of Boston for adopting that today.”

Danielle Berndt

Twenty minutes after Danielle Berndt crossed the finish line of her first Boston Marathon, she heard the booming explosion.

“Everybody stopped and got quiet for a second. ‘Whoa. What was that?’ ” said Berndt, a 2012 UI graduate. “We thought it was an explosion, but then we thought maybe some construction equipment had fallen. We didn’t want to think that it was [an explosion.]”

Berndt was walking toward the subway at that point with her friend who had ran with her, her boyfriend, and her friend’s husband.

The 22-year-old Minnesota native and former Iowa track runner said they were unsure about what the noise was until they saw a Boston police officer get a call on his radio, pause, then sprint back toward the finish line.

“We knew it was something bad,” she said.

At their hotel, watching news footage, the group realized that Berndt’s boyfriend and her friend’s husband had been watching them run from the area of the first explosion only 20 minutes before it detonated.

Berndt said that realization made her “feel lucky we weren’t affected.”

“It’s still sort of I can’t believe we were there,” she said. “Right when it happened … the first thought on my mind is terrorism, but I didn’t want to go there. And then, ‘Well, what else could it be?’”

Mark Hanson

Mark Hanson finished the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon roughly 40 minutes before he heard the first blast.

“As I was exiting [after getting through the crowd], I heard this blast and a couple of us runners looked at each other,” he said. “We thought it must be a blast from a construction site.”

Hanson attended the University of Iowa and received a doctorate from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1979. He is one of the founding partners of Eye Care of Iowa.

After arriving at his hotel, he noticed his phone had more than 60 text messages plus missed calls and emails; however, he said, he didn’t think much of it.

“Then my son called me up and said, ‘Are you OK, Dad,’ and I said, ‘Why is everyone asking me?’ ” he said. “I had no idea [what had happened] but there were tons of sirens going off and helicopters going off over head … even right now.”

Melanie Holman

Iowa City native Melanie Holman was back in her hotel room when she heard what she thought was a dump truck making noise outside.

The 20-year-old Iowa State University junior finished the Boston Marathon around 30 minutes beforehand, and a friend came upstairs to tell her about the explosions.

Holman said the hotel was only a mile from the finish line, so they could see police and rescue workers blocking off the roads.

“I honestly cannot believe this happened,” she wrote in an email. “I’m kind of just in shock.”

She ran with 11 people, one who crossed the finish line just five minutes before the first bomb detonated. Holman said she is grateful everyone was safe, but that her proximity to the attack has altered her perception of terrorism.

“I am scared that there could be other bombs throughout the city,” she said. “It definitely affects my outlook on terrorist attacks, because it can happen near anyone.”

Kristi Schuette

Kristi Schuette, an Iowa City native, was walking with her boyfriend two blocks from the finish line of the Boston Marathon when they heard the explosions.

Someone standing near her said it sounded like falling concrete. Schuette thought it was something happening in the subway.

The 23-year-old West High alumna had finished her first Boston Marathon approximately 40 minutes before. They continued toward their hotel, and it wasn’t until her New York Times phone app updated that she learned about the explosions.

“It was really eerie,” she said. “Because as a runner, to participate in the Boston Marathon is kind of the top. It’s on a lot of people’s goal lists, so running down Boylston Street and seeing the finish line is pretty incredibly emotionally and to have it end like that with the bombs … I couldn’t imagine what it was like for the people who were held up and couldn’t finish.”

Schuette said being so close to something so traumatic changed her outlook.

“It puts it in perspective that it can happen anywhere,” she said. “Being from the Midwest, you think it’s not going to happen in my city. It’s not going to happen anywhere I am. To be that close to it puts it into perspective, and it’s really sad it can happen anywhere like that. It’s really tragic.”

Anna Egeland

Anna Egeland was watching the Boston Marathon from Wellesley College on Monday morning. Downtown Wellesley marks the halfway point of the route, approximately 12 miles from the finish line in Boston.

The college freshman and Iowa City native only heard about the bombings that occurred near the finish line after she received a worried call from her mother. Egeland, a former Daily Iowan staffer, wasn’t at the scene, but said Monday’s events were on everyone’s minds regardless of their distance from Boston.

“Everyone’s asking, ‘Is your family OK, are your friends OK?’ ” she said. “Everyone’s affected indirectly. There’s close ties here [at Wellesley] with MIT, Harvard … everyone’s worried about their loved ones.”

Evelyn Lau

On her day off from working as web editor for The Boston Herald, 2010 UI graduate Evelyn Lau said she was toying with the idea of watching the Boston Marathon. At the last minute, she decided not to. It wasn’t long before she heard the “shocking news.”

“It just felt really surreal something like this could happen to Boston,” the former Daily Iowan staffer said in a Facebook message. “Not to say that Boston is an invincible place, but Marathon Monday is such a huge deal around here.”

She brought her younger sister to a pizza place around 5 p.m. Lau said the restaurant was filled with people, barely talking, eyes glued to the TV sets, blaring the news on high volume.

“I was afraid, to be honest,” the 25-year-old said. “There was a lot of news floating around on social media and the idea that someone could have planted more bombs around the city was a frightening thought. But I do know Boston is a tough city and will bounce back from this.”

Lau said she passed by a bookstore in Brookline just outside Boston. A sign outside on the sidewalk read in big green letters: “Boston, we love you. Stay strong, stay safe.”

Tori Dahlen

UI junior Tori Dahlen said the atmosphere was positive and exciting as she watched her older sister run in the Boston Marathon on Monday. After her sister finished, the family was walking toward the subway when they heard a loud booming noise.

Not thinking much of it, they entered the subway, and information began circulating. As more of the story came together and they learned the downtown subway stop was closed, Dahlen said a mother with two children began panicking and wanting to get off the subway immediately.

When they finally emerged from the subway, 20-year-old Dahlen said the atmosphere in Boston had completely “taken a turn.”

“People were just in a panic I guess,” she said. “Everyone didn't seem excited anymore. They just seemed very emotionless, just scared.”

She responded to the growing number of texts and calls from concerned family and friends and called her boyfriend back, who gave her more information on what had happened. She said the family felt lucky her sister had finished before the first explosion, but that they talked about the bombing for the duration of  their six-hour drive to the hotel.

“I don't imagine I’ll ever be as close to something like that,” she said. “It definitely really hit home.”
Despite their proximity to the bombings, Dahlen said her sister had an interesting take on the situation.

“Like my sister was saying, there's always a chance of something like that happening, but if she could go to Boston and run again today, she would. Just because there's always a chance of that happening, you should still just be doing what your passion in life is. …You should be doing what you love.

“I can't imagine the type of people who would want to do something like this, especially to marathon runners. They're such positive people and hardworking people. It's definitely a day I'll never forget.”

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