Bennington runner witnessed Marathon devastation
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Senior Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- Danielle Fogarty had turned left onto Boylston Street and was taking in the boisterous crowd, reveling in the fact that the finish line of the Boston Marathon was in sight, just a handful of blocks away.
Flashes and booms, waves of panicked spectators and, ultimately, a police officer, prevented her from crossing it.
Fogarty, 46, an attorney with the law firm of Donovan & O'Connor in Bennington, was running the famed race on Monday to raise funds for the New England Patriots' charitable foundation. She was beginning to feel the swelling emotions that come with completing the grueling 26.2-mile course when the day took a sudden, tragic and deadly turn.
"It's beautiful and it was sunny and you could see the finish line. And then you saw the first explosion. That was weird. That didn't make any sense," Fogarty said during in an interview at her office Wednesday. "You could see something. It didn't make sense. And then, very quickly after that, closer to us, the second explosion happened.
"Immediately, it was just panic and chaos."
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Federal authorities continued Wednesday to investigate who detonated the pair of bombs that killed three and wounded more than 170 people. The devices were apparently made out of pressure cookers packed with nails, ball bearings and BBs, and were intended to maim and kill, officials said.
There was confusion after the first explosion, but no immediate concern or fear where Fogarty was. Men running behind her joked that it was probably a celebratory cannon to mark the fourth hour of the race.
"I saw it and then I heard it and it was like that kind of delayed boom of a cannon," she said. "You figure, ‘Wow, it's got to be something.' But I think nobody thought, at first, bomb."
The second blast occurred just in front of her. Spectators, packed several-deep behind the metal barricades that line the route, quickly flattened the fencing as they attempted to escape the area.
"They just rushed up Boylston and were just all really panicked and scared," Fogarty said.
The throng surged toward her, many with arms locked together so as not to be separated in the mad dash. Fogarty ran on, pushing forward toward the finish.
"I knew people were hurt and I just was doing what I was doing and kept going forward. I didn't know where else to go," she said.
Her partner, Charles Waters, was expecting her to cross the finish line any moment, having followed her progress based on the chip that timed her throughout the race. He was seated in the bleachers near the finish when the bombs went off.
Fogarty kept running to get there, carried by the deep focus she had maintained for 26 miles and "a determination to connect."
"It was like nobody wanted you to go in that direction because they were all coming toward you. So I just went through them and just kept going toward the finish line and past the bomb, the second one. It was surreal because there were runners who were flat on the ground. I didn't know if they were blown to the ground or being saved somehow," Fogarty said. "And then I saw a woman and all the flesh in her leg. Then there was a man and his pants were just in shreds. And this other woman who had lost the clothing on the bottom of her body and she was just standing there and someone was helping her. But, you can't process it."
A police officer finally brought Fogarty to a stop about a block shy of the finish line, which just moments before she had anticipated crossing with joy. The finish was "right there," Fogarty said, but the bleachers were empty.
"I looked to my right and Charles was right there on the corner. He was looking across the street. I went up to him and he was white as a ghost," she said. "It was relief, and he saw me, and he held my arms and he was something like, ‘Sweetheart, oh my God.'"
They broke their embrace and began fleeing the area with the masses.
"All of that happened in 90 seconds or two minutes," Fogarty said. "In a way it made perfect sense that Charles was right there. And then looking back on it, it was like, ‘Thank God he was right there."
Two blocks from the bomb site "people didn't know what had just happened because it was just so quick," she said. "We just got to our car and left. So bizarre."
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Two days removed, Fogarty said she still feels like a witness to a horrific event, rather than a part of it. She saw and heard the explosions but never felt them. She suffered no injuries, even as so many around her were so gravely wounded.
"The moment of that panic, it was like a domino wave. I really felt like I was just witnessing it. Like I was witnessing them panic and run away but it didn't occur to me. I just kept going," she said. "Maybe I was numb or something, but as I went through it the experience to me really felt like I was just witnessing it, but that I didn't experience what they experienced."
There was a "disconnect between the explosion and the injuries," Fogarty said.
"The blood was weird to see. You're not identifying it as blood. It's red stuff, because you can't imagine that that's what you're seeing, I think. That made no sense. So, I think that maybe that's a protective mode or something," Fogarty said.
There is healing that must happen, however. Fogarty, measured and self-possessed for most of the interview, did allow for moments of sadness and tears. Letting her emotions escape freely escape will happen, she said.
"I know inside that there is this well of upset that's still contained. There are times when that sort of bubbles up and surfaces. We were so spared, and it's freaky to be close and spared. So, there's something in there that will just come out in a big, fat cry," Fogarty said. "Some time there will be this big, healing cry, I'm sure. It's just so sad, but we were very spared."
She and Waters have been able to lean on each other, sharing and sorting their thoughts and feelings together.
"Charles and I have had our times together and it's been very helpful to each other to just share, for him to be able to tell me what he's experienced," Fogarty said.
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Fogarty said she was a physically active youth. She found solace in running.
"As a young person, I felt like through junior high and high school, that the spirit of running saved me, or being able to be in the spirit through running, saved me through junior high and high school. It was my saving grace," she said.
But an injury, suffered in a fall, brought her running to an end for many years -- "Any time I tried to go back to it it was painful," she said.
When the Shires of Vermont Marathon came to the area, with a course that passed by her home, she tried again. "I thought, ‘Oh gosh, if I don't do this I'll just die in a spiral of depression.'"
After joining the Manchester-based women's running group, Training for More, Fogarty ran the race in May 2011, again in 2012. She tacked on a half marathon, and then Boston this year. Running was working again, and the group, led by Lynn Grieger, helped.
"It's just transforming to be able to connect with others that way," Fogarty said. "I'm a Grieger gal."
For Fogarty, running is spiritual. She enters a place only accessible through running.
"When I'm running I'm in spirit, if you will. People use the word inspired or inspiration, but for those whose lives include any kind of spiritual practice, they'll know what it means to be in spirit. For me, that's what running has always been," she said.
That's where she was on Monday as she made her way along the Boston course.
"It's just a really long parade and it's just a party," Fogarty said. "That's what Boston was right up until the end, just a nice long party."
And then the bombs blew on Boylston. Still, Fogarty doesn't feel cheated.
"The events of the day made the act of running a marathon unimportant. It can be fun and it can be inspiring and it can be an achievement, but it really pales," she said. "I think the moment the officer stopped me, it was really just a surrender. It just was. It doesn't feel like I was denied anything or anything was taken away from me. That's just what happened."
* * *
Authorities appeared to be closing in Wednesday on whoever was behind the bombing. Fogarty, though, said it doesn't matter to her who detonated the bombs, or why. Instead, she expressed sorrow, and compassion for anyone who felt compelled to execute such an atrocity.
"It's a shame. It just a shame. It's sad, unnecessary, stupid, cowardly," she said.
"It's senseless violence against absolutely innocent spectators. That anybody would intend to hurt and think that that was an effective way of achieving anything, my heart goes out to a person who thinks that their only alternative is violence. It is senseless and for a person to be in that place where that act makes sense is tragic," Fogarty said.
She said her compassion is "toward anybody whose experience is such that resorting to this kind of violence would make sense."
"I don't know whether that comes from a spiritual place, but I think if ever we imagined being a person who's experiencing this life in a way that made resorting to violence an option, none of us would want to be in that life," Fogarty said. "Anger feels like poison and it's toxic, so to imagine a human experiencing this life and to be so disconnected from other humans that they could intend pain -- that person is so disconnected and I just imagine that that's not how we're supposed to experience this life."
Fogarty wasn't able to cross the finish line. She will still receive a medal presented to those that do, though. Her bags remain in Boston, which a friend will retrieve for her. That same friend will also secure her medal, Fogarty said.
Fogarty said she initially had mixed feelings about receiving the medal. She is comfortable with it now.
"Finisher medals, which is what they are, they symbolize something, and the medals of that day will symbolize it, and be a symbol of that day and I think that that's OK. I think that something about you realizes a medal isn't always a celebration, but it can just be a remembrance," she said.
Whether Fogarty will return in 2014 to complete the Boston Marathon remains undecided.
"I have no idea," she said with a laugh. "It's a difficult course."
But after taking a moment to reflect, Fogarty revised her answer.
"As I'm running it, I'm thinking to myself, ‘Well, this OK, but I don't need to do this again.' And then of course these horrific events happen," she said. "Whereas I would not have done it before, now I might, just to say no matter the risk we have to continue, and we have to take care that there aren't poor souls among us whose lives are such that they resort to that."
Contact Neal P. Goswami at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami
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