By John Spataro
Special to the Tribune
Editor’s note: Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Spataro and longtime runner finished this year’s Boston Marathon minutes before the deadly terrorist attack. He was recently asked by the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts to reflect on his experience by writing a column to be included in an upcoming newsletter that will be distributed statewide. That column appears below.
I was fortunate to have completed the 117th running of the Boston Marathon race approximately 11 minutes before the first of two bombs exploded that we later have come to find killed three spectators and wounded 264 others, 17 of whom were in critical condition with at least 14 requiring amputations. I was approximately 150 yards from the finish line and had just gathered my stored clothing and related items and was about to reunite with my family when the bombs went off.
All of us were shocked by the explosions. In the distance were two ominous plumes of gray smoke rising above the crowd. One of the runners near me mentioned that he thought it was a bomb. In the instant following the explosions, there was a ripple of recognition that something terrible had happened, proof that one can communicate without words.
I immediately endeavored to contact my family, texting “call me.” No call was forthcoming as my concern deepened. The noise of the crowd was such that I endeavored to find a location where I could try and reach my family by phone. Finally, after several anxious minutes, I spoke with my wife and learned that she, my two daughters and their friends were safe. We reunited and then walked through the streets of Boston to a friend’s apartment in the town of Brookline where we remained until everything settled down.
The streets and intersections were filled with bewildered, sometimes tearful pedestrians, most of whom were participants in the race, family members and friends. Many were conversing on cell phones, learning from others what the news media was reporting of the incident.
Traffic was snarled. The Boston police took total command, aggressively directing motorists and pedestrians to make way for the seemingly endless stream of ambulances and emergency vehicles. The air was a cacophony of sirens.
Throughout the remainder of the day and into the evening we were fixated on the television news, learning in spurts of the extent of personal loss and tragedy suffered by the victims and their families. Much time was spent speaking with loved ones concerned for my well being.
I was contacted by several news outlets from my home area and was asked about my experience. I asked that they publish my request that everyone take a moment to reflect and pray for the victims and their families because it seemed to me then, and now, that the focus should remain on what they suffered. The 8-year-old child who was killed while waiting to see his father cross the finish line is perhaps the saddest of the many sad and painful stories to come from this tragedy.
Reporters asked me whether this event would dissuade me from running in future races. My response was quick and sure — absolutely not. We must never give in to those who would try to undermine that which makes this country so great. The expression “Boston Strong” applies not only to the good people of Boston who endured the brunt of this assault, but to all of us who treasure the rights and freedom we enjoy as citizens of the United States.
The Boston Marathon will endure and continue as the iconic and preeminent event for marathon athletes around the world. The tragic events of April 15, 2013, will strengthen our nation’s resolve to prevail in the face of adversity, while always mindful of those who suffered personal tragedy on that fateful day.