Wichitans at Boston Marathon describe scene, reaction to bomb blasts

04/16/2013 3:28 PM

04/16/2013 3:28 PM

A barricade in place to provide crowd control at the Boston Marathon may have saved the lives of a retired Inman couple trying to shop near the finish line, where two deadly blasts occurred.

Richard and Diane Goering, in Boston to support their son Jonathon Goering, a Wichita marathon runner, were en route to the finish line to buy commemorative T-shirts for their grandchildren when a barricade impeded their path to the souvenir shops across the street.

“Ah rats, I sure wish we could cross here,” Richard Goering recalled saying. But what seemed like a misfortune soon turned into a blessing when Richard and Diane Goering – who had turned around when stopped by the barricade and were three blocks away – heard the bombs detonate.

“Sometimes things happen that irritate you, but then sometimes things happen for a better reason,” Richard Goering said on the phone over sirens outside of his Boston hotel. “If it wasn’t for that barricade that held us back, I don’t know what would have happened ... ”

The Goerings were among many Wichita-area residents and Kansans in Boston for the race. All who witnessed the scene were shaken by Monday’s events. That included running enthusiasts in Wichita who had friends in the race.

“It’s just a tragedy because this is an event where people come together and really relish it together,” said Kevin Swinicki, co-owner of GoRun Wichita. He said four of his staff members and several friends were running in Boston. He said he was relieved to hear they had all finished the race and were uninjured.

“It’s a goal, kind of a lifetime achievement, something you have to work toward and plan around and shoot for,” he said.

“You shouldn’t expect to see something like that.”

According to the Boston Marathon web site, 13 runners from Wichita checked in at the halfway mark and 12 checked in at the finish line – all at least 10 minutes ahead of the bomb that reportedly detonated around the 4-hour, 9-minute mark in the race.

All of the Goerings, including Jonathon’s wife, Betsey, the cross country coach at Wichita South High School, confirmed they were unharmed. They said all of the Wichita runners they knew, around half a dozen, were also safe. That included the four GoRun Wichita employees – Stephanie Cline, Tom Howard, Trevor Darmstetter and Jennifer Schmidt.

After finishing 11 minutes ahead of the blast, Jonathon Goering said he met up with Betsey and went back to their hotel. He said his parents split up to go shop.

Richard Goering estimated they left the epicenter five minutes before the blasts, which reportedly occurred around 1:50 p.m. CDT.

“It sounded like dynamite,” Richard Goering said. “It was a deep, ‘Caboom!’ We couldn’t see anything, so we thought maybe a crane or something collapsed. You just don’t anticipate something like this.”

Meanwhile, Jonathon and Betsey Goering were celebrating with other runners in their hotel’s lobby. Jonathon Goering said no one in the lobby heard the blast because of the crowd noise, but soon word reached them.

“We heard all these sirens, and I didn’t think much of it because dehydration or injury isn’t uncommon,” he said. “Then I got a phone call from Betsey’s dad, and he said there was an explosion. We didn’t hear anything.”

Caught in the frenzy outside were Richard and Diane Goering, desperate to return to their hotel.

“There were so many people there, you could hardly move,” Richard Goering said. “It was shoulder to shoulder. Everybody started panicking and running.”

When they arrived at their hotel, the staff had roped off the elevators. They were still unsure of what exactly happened and it wasn’t until they climbed the 10 flights of stairs to their room that they were able to watch television coverage.

When reached a few hours after the tragedy, the events had begun to sink in for Jonathon Goering and other runners. Many were devastated, he said.

“I’m just heartsick for those that were injured, for those that lost their lives and for those still out there on the course,” he said. “You would never imagine something like this would happen at the Boston Marathon."

And if not for a fateful barricade, the tragedy may reached closer to home.

“We feel very fortunate,” Richard Goering said. “Very, very fortunate.”

‘Like cannons going off’

Christal Pauls of Wichita had just finished her first Boston Marathon and had met a friend to get something to eat.

“I was paying for food, and we heard two loud explosions, like cannons going off,” she said. “We just sat down and saw policemen running.”

Pauls, 45, said she was not injured in the blasts near the finish line. She had finished about 15 minutes before the bombs detonated.

“We’re a little freaked out, but we’re back in our room,” she said late Monday afternoon, a couple of hours after the explosions.

After hitting the finish line, Pauls said, there is a chute, maybe a mile long, that funnels the runners out of the finish area. She said she had made her way through that chute, met her friend and ducked into a restaurant when the explosions occurred.

She said she and her friend had trouble getting out of downtown because the subway system was shut down. They finally found a cab to take them to their hotel at the airport. She is scheduled to fly out Tuesday morning.

Pauls said she had run Wichita’s Prairie Fire Marathon the past three years. Her time was good enough to qualify for her first Boston Marathon.

“Probably my last one,” she said.

“I think I might stay in Wichita.”

Race planning

Clark Ensz, a local race director, was in a planning meeting Monday for June’s Fido 5K when he got a text asking whether he had heard what happened in Boston.

He spent the next several hours watching news coverage and trying to get word about Wichita-area runners in Boston.

“To watch those photos they have of the first bomb going off and runners being blown off the course,” Ensz said. “That’s just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’

“It’s a nightmare that you have that you hope you’ll never have to actually see.”

Ensz, who directs the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita, said the tragedy in Boston is likely to bring security concerns “to a much higher focus” before and during running events. This year’s Prairie Fire Marathon is set for Oct. 13; the half-marathon and 5K is scheduled for May 5.

“This is the kind of thing where you worry about it, but it’s also the kind of thing where you say, ‘How much can you do?’ ” he said. “There’s 26 miles, of course. What can we do, with that much ground to cover?

“I’m not sure you can ever say, ‘Yes, it’s going to be 100 percent secure.’ ”

Security has been a major concern ever since 9/11, he added. But in the Wichita area during the spring and early summer, there are an average of four major running events every weekend.

“I think about all these conversations that I’ve had over the past 12 years, and now it’s like those conversations are obviously going to be taken to a much higher level,” Ensz said.

Contributing: Tom Shine of The Eagle

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