A Runner Describes The Scene

Apr 15, 2013
Originally published on April 15, 2013 9:02 pm
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Peter Sagal, the host of the NPR news quiz program WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME, ran in the Boston Marathon today, and he joins us now. Peter, how close were you to the explosions?

PETER SAGAL, BYLINE: Robert, I was about a hundred yards beyond the point of the explosion, in what we call the finishing chute. It's a long area that runners walk through after finishing a marathon. We had just finished at about - I think it was 2:45, around there, Boston time; heard a huge explosion. I had been guiding a blind runner today, so both he and I were shocked. I turned around and saw a big, white plume of smoke that appeared on the other side of the finishing line from us; that is, on the course side. Then another, second large explosion happened just a moment later, with another plume of smoke.

SIEGEL: And did the second explosion come from the same side as the first?

SAGAL: It seemed to. It seemed to come in the same place, from my perspective. At that point, the officials in the marathon asked all of us in the chute to keep moving forward away from it. I've now returned - it's, I guess, 20 minutes, half-hour later - to Boylston Street. The chute is completely closed. They're moving people off Boylston Street, and there are no people finishing the race. They seem to have stopped the race. There were many people behind us. Normally, there'd be people flowing through this area by the hundreds, at this point. There's nobody, except for emergency vehicles and police personnel.

SIEGEL: Peter, you sound admirably calm right now. I assume the situation was chaotic and panicky, when it happened.

SAGAL: Well, it was hard. I mean, we were done. We had finished a marathon - we were sort in the middle of that misery when the explosion happened behind us. We just kept walking the direction we were supposed to walk; perhaps a little quicker than we wanted to, given the fact that we had run a marathon. I imagine it was the people who were gathered around the finish line, including the people in the grandstands there - back there, who were really in a state of agitation because they must have seen what happened. Because speaking to you now, and looking down the course at the emergency vehicles, I still don't know what happened; and I have no personal knowledge of any injuries, or anything else like that.

SIEGEL: Can you see if there is a building that has been blown out by an explosion, or where the explosion might have originated?

SAGAL: I'm standing a good 3- to 400 yards away. I can see the place where I believe the explosion was. But I cannot, from this distance, see any damage to anything. It's just too far, with too many things in the way.

SIEGEL: And ambulances arrived promptly, to...

SAGAL: Yeah. I personally saw about four or five ambulances pour into the area along with police motorcycles, lots of personnel. I can see, there must be 30 uniformed police officers just on my side of the finishing line sort of - well, in the middle of the street, presumably securing the scene. Where I'm standing - about, like I said, a good, long block away - there are officials trying to keep civilians and runners, like myself, just away from the area.

SIEGEL: And so far, any official description of what happened, or announcement that they're making?

SAGAL: No. I've heard, in just talking to people, I've heard four different rumors, all of which would be irresponsible to share with you because they weren't at all clarified. No official person has made any announcement. Even if they had one, given the chaos and large scale of a post-marathon area, I don't know how we'd hear it. There's no general p - area. But no, I've been reading my Twitter feed and trying to see the news, just like everybody else has, to find out what happened a hundred yards behind me.

SIEGEL: And Peter, just before you go, once again, the time difference between the two explosions - how quick was that?

SAGAL: Basically, just remembering the moment, heard an explosion, turned around; second explosion. So within...

SIEGEL: That quickly.

SAGAL: ...seconds, yeah.

SIEGEL: Well, Peter Sagal, thank you very much. You're well, I hope. I mean, you didn't get injured...

SAGAL: I'm perfectly fine, and I'm very proud to say that I escorted a blind runner, named William Greer, to his first Boston Marathon finish. I'm very proud of that.

SIEGEL: Thank you for talking with us about...

SAGAL: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: ...today's events. That's NPR's Peter Sagal.

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