The two “booms,” the Ottawa native later learned, were in fact explosions near the race’s finish line that killed at least three and wounded more than 180 people.
“A man said he didn’t know there were cannons for [the Boston Marathon],” Laws, a former Ottawa High School track athlete who was about three blocks from the bombing, said. “I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a celebration.’”
Unaware of the bombings and exhausted from running more than 26 miles, Laws, 33, later concluded the clamor was from construction. She scoured the area for her mother, Kathy, who was watching Laws compete in her first Boston Marathon. The two were unable to find each other, Laws said, and each resorted to a contingency plan to meet at their hotel. When attempting to board the Boston subway, however, Laws discovered the 116-year-old marathon apparently was the target of terror.
“It was a mess and I couldn’t find [my mother], so I started walking toward the terminal and then I heard two very loud sounds. I wasn’t alarmed at first because I couldn’t see visible smoke so I was thinking it was construction,” Laws said. “It became apparent very quickly that it was going to be more than that when I got to the subway. The immediate thing they said was that there were two bombs, and that the green line [subway] was completely shut down. ... It pretty much shut down the town.”
Eventually, Laws reunited with her mother at the hotel, though not before encountering countless acts of kindness. While tragic, the attacks brought out the best of Bostonians and the people around the scene, Laws said.
“I had lots of people stop and ask me if I was OK,” Laws said, noting that her race bib was attached to her after the attacks. “People were really genuinely worried about your health and safety. They wanted to make sure you were OK and would offer anything they could to help you. Whether it was food or drink or help you get a taxi, just whatever you needed. ... I was very lucky.”
When scrambling for a ride to her hotel, Laws said she encountered another act of kindness from a stranger.
Laws, daughter of OHS track coach Mark Laws, remained in Boston Tuesday and described the city as weary but resilient. With a finishing time of 3:38:42, Laws urged runners to consider competing in the next race, which is a source of pride for the city.
“Most people are still cautious but they want to keep on going with life,” Laws said. “[Bostonians] are very proud of their marathon. ... I would encourage people to do it. It’s an experience of a lifetime.”
Boston police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Homeland Security and other law enforcement groups still are investigating the attack, which President Obama called a “heinous and cowardly act.” Pledging all available federal resources to the investigation, Obama canceled a Friday visit to Lawrence to attend an interfaith service today honoring the victims of the bombings.
“Given what we now know took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism,” Obama said to reporters after the bombings. “Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out that attack or why, whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization — foreign or domestic — or if it was the act of a malevolent individual. ... But make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this, we will find out who did this, we’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.”
Those plans remained Wednesday afternoon, despite many conflicting reports of authorities arresting a suspect related to the attack. The FBI and Boston police consistently have been tasked with discrediting such reports, as many news groups have used information via unnamed sources or forwarded inaccurate information. Social media also has helped to circulate misinformation, prompting the FBI to ask media groups to be more careful with their reporting.
“Contrary to widespread reporting, there have been no arrests made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack,” the FBI said in a release. “ ... There have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”
Not running scared
Roger Mendell, a 1978 OHS grad who previously ran in the Boston Marathon, said the events and images from Monday’s attack personally affected him.
“It really hits home,” Mendell, who ran the marathon in 1997, said. “It was pretty much like this year’s [marathon] — people lining the streets the whole way. ... It really hit home what happened on Monday, having been there and done that and being at the very spot where [the bombings] took place.”
Mendell concurred with Laws in the importance of the race to the city and Massachusetts as a whole. Mendell competed with about 15,000 athletes in 1997, adding the race was a highlight of his running career.
“On race weekend, it’s all about the marathon — it’s definitely a holiday,” Mendell said, referring to Massachusetts’ Patriots’ Day, during which the state commemorates the anniversary of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.
Asked if the bombings Monday would deter him from participating in the marathon again, Mendell said he wouldn’t let the person or persons responsible instill fear in his heart.
“I’m not going to let what they’re trying to accomplish stop me with what I want to do in my life,” Mendell said. “You can’t run in fear.”