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Boston explosions kill at least 3, injure scores at marathon finish

  • Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Medical workers wheel the injured across the finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    Medical workers wheel the injured across the finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
  • Medical workers wheel the injured across the finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Two bombs exploded at the venerable Boston Marathon yesterday, killing at least three people, injuring about 140 others and rattling nerves around the nation, authorities said.

The blasts occurred in rapid succession as thousands of runners were nearing the finish line and sent scores of them scrambling for cover. Video footage showed an explosion off to the side, with some runners toppling over from the concussion. Smoke billowed into the air, and photos of the chaotic scene showed a sidewalk slicked with blood.

The explosions, occurring on the Patriots Day holiday that commemorates the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord, were as shocking in their symbolism as in their force. The Boston Marathon is a highly prestigious race and is as much a symbol of Boston as Fenway Park.

Two federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the blasts were caused by explosive devices. One of the dead, according to one official, was an 8-year-old.

The repercussions extended from Massachusetts to Washington, where President Obama was briefed by top officials, the White House increased security, and the Justice Department and FBI mobilized to fully investigate what had happened.

In a brief appearance at the White House shortly after 6 p.m., Obama expressed sympathy for the victims of the blasts and said all the necessary resources of the federal government would be assigned to assist Boston officials in determining the cause of the explosions.

“We still do not know who did this or why, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts,” Obama said. “But make no mistake – we will get to the bottom of this.”

A White House official called the explosions an “act of terror,” saying authorities have much to learn about who was behind it.

“Any event with multiple explosive devices – as this appears to be – is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “However, we don’t yet know who carried out this attack, and a thorough investigation will have to determine whether it was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic.”

Initial reports of another explosion at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston turned out to be an unrelated fire. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick urged people to “stay out of crowds” as they made their way home.

‘All of a sudden,
people were screaming’

The explosions ripped into an idyllic afternoon finish for the marathon. The first men had passed the finish line 2 hours and 10 minutes after the staggered start, and the first women crossed just 16 minutes later. But a bulge of slower runners grappling with a four-hour run time were converging on the race’s end at 2:50 p.m.

The first blast sent a quick plume of smoke two stories high. Runners nearby stopped in their tracks, confused and unsure. A few seconds later, a second explosion happened a half-block away, with a deep boom caught on television cameras.

Emergency personnel rushed to the area, and the street was quickly sealed off.

“I saw it go off and smoke billowed up. Everyone just stopped and hunched down,” said Pam Ledtke, 51, from Indianapolis, who was about 75 yards from the finish line when the explosions went off. “They didn’t know what to do,” she said.

“All of a sudden, people were screaming,” Ledtke added.

Nickilynn Estologa, a nursing student who was volunteering in a block-long medical tent designed to treat fatigued runners, said five to six victims immediately staggered inside. Several were children; one was in his 60s.

“Some were bleeding from the head, they had glass shards in their skin,” she said. “One person had the flesh gone from his leg; it was just hanging there.” Another woman, she added, was lying on a gurney as emergency personnel raced through the tent, giving her CPR.

“I just can’t believe anyone would do something like this,” Estologa said.

The explosions occurred shortly before 3 p.m. near the intersection of Boylston and Exeter streets. Local media reports said store fronts were blown out.

Many of the injured appeared to be spectators who were watching the race. About half of the nearly 27,000 participants had reportedly finished the race when the blasts occurred. The racers came from at least 56 countries and territories.

“I saw two explosions,” reported Boston Herald journalist Chris Cassidy, who was running in the marathon. “The first one was beyond the finish line. I heard a loud bang and I saw smoke rising.” The blast “looked like it was in a trash can or something,” he said. “There are at least a dozen that seem to be injured in some way.”

The police established a crime scene around the Prudential Center, which is near the finish line. The blast apparently occurred about 300 yards from the finish line.

Authorities in New York and Washington tightened security precautions in the wake of the blasts. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent all of its bomb technicians, explosives officers, explosives specialists and canine officers from their Boston and New York field divisions to the scene, as well as some investigators from Washington.

Shortly after being notified around 3 p.m., Obama received a briefing from homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and other members of his senior White House staff in the Oval Office. The president called Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Patrick to express his concern for those who were injured and to make clear that his administration is ready to provide support.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene in the immediate aftermath of the blasts.

‘It sounded like a bomb’

Paul Cummings, a 44-year-old runner from Portland, Ore., was in the medical tent near the finish line getting a leg massage when the explosions occurred.

“It didn’t sound like a water main blowing or anything else – it sounded like a bomb,” Cummings said. “Maybe I watch too much TV or something, but as soon as I heard it, I knew it was a bomb. It was just a loud explosion, and then another. You can’t hear a noise like that and think anything good happened.”

As the police started bringing wounded people into the tent, Cummings quickly got up and left. “I just thought, ‘I’m out of here.’ ”

He stepped out into Copley Square to wailing sirens, people shouting and crying and the police imploring the crowds to leave the area.

Jay Hartford, 46, a nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital, was about 800 yards from the finish when he heard the explosions. He thought they were electrical and kept running. Then he saw smoke billowing across Boylston Street. Runners started to panic, he said.

“Some people hit the ground, in shock,” he said. “A woman (runner) was on her knees screaming” in fear, not injury.

The police along the route started pushing barriers across Boylston to keep runners from approaching the finish line, he said.

“Stop, turn back!” the police shouted to oncoming runners, Hartford said.

Hartford called his wife and four boys, whom he had just seen along the route, and told them to go straight home.

Hartford became choked up at the enormity of this calamity befalling one of Boston’s most beloved traditions.

“It was going to be my best marathon, but I feel I’ve got to get to work” at the hospital, Hartford said.

Boston.com sports producer Steve Silva also was near the finish line when the explosions occurred.

“It was just immediately (evident) there were injuries, right in the middle of the spectator crowds,” Silva said. “There was blood everywhere, there were victims being carried out on stretchers. I saw someone lose their leg. People are crying. People are confused.”

Medical workers from a nearby medical tent dashed to help the victims, the eyewitnesses said. Volunteers jumped over tables piled with Gatorade bottles to attend to the wounded.

John Hampson, 19, a photographer for the Tufts University student newspaper, said race officials yelled at the bystanders to flee, saying there was a third bomb that had not exploded.

“There was a huge cloud of smoke, like a giant ball” when the bombs went off, he said.

One explosive seemed to go off in a building and another in a crowd of onlookers about six people deep, he said.

“It was horrifying. I felt it, and I saw the cloud . . . It was awful. Then people were coming by on stretchers,” he said.

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