Monday, April 21, 2014 3:26 AM
Published on: Thursday, April 18, 2013
By Holden Wilen
BOSTON – Giovanna Tosato, a 64-year-woman from Bethesda and a member of the Montgomery County Road Runners club, had just picked up her medal for completing her fifth Boston Marathon when the first of two deadly explosions took place Monday afternoon.
City officials confirm three dead and 176 people sent to area hospitals after the explosions, which multiple media outlets reported could have been caused by a pressure cooker bomb.
“The explosion was 50-100 yards from where I was standing,” Tosato said. “I thought it was fireworks or cannons for a celebration. It never came into my mind this could be a bomb. And then less than a minute later the second explosion went off and this time I turned around and saw this trail of smoke.”
The scene quickly turned into pandemonium, said Tosata, who is a senior investigator for the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Cancer Research. Spectators started running away while marathoners who were exhausted from having just completed the race had to gather enough energy to get moving again. Tosato said she was supposed to meet her husband after the race, but cell phones stopped working. She wanted to leave the area on a side street, but the authorities told everyone to keep moving straight.
Confused and scared, Tosato said she figured her only option was to go back to her hotel and hope her husband was there, which he was.
“Boy was he happy to see me,” Tosato said.
Though she was not far from the explosions, Tosato said she did not realize the extent of the tragedy until she turned on the television at her hotel.
“I consider myself lucky because looking at the television now, some people were killed and others are severely injured,” Tosato said. “I could not see much. All I saw was tremendous amounts of smoke. It was not a good scene.”
Tosato was one of about 50 runners from Montgomery County participating in the race. She said all of the runners have been accounted for and no one was injured in the blasts.
Another runner from the club, Dan DiFonzo, a lifelong resident of Montgomery County, has run in the Boston Marathon for the past nine years straight and, until Monday afternoon, he had never seen tragedy on such a large scale.
DiFonzo didn't believe the news at first. He was in a restaurant a half-block away from the finish line, having already finished his marathon run, and was enjoying a bite to eat when someone first told him.
“I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't,” he said. Then he turned on a television, and he had to believe it.
DiFonzo took it upon himself to try and contact all of the other runners from the club and said most were accounted for by late afternoon.
Meanwhile, back home, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority tightened security following the blast, while officials in Louisville, Ky., facing the annual onslaught of tourists for the annual Kentucky Derby, held a news conference late Monday afternoon to detail how that city will deal with security in the wake of the explosions in Boston.
DiFonzo, 49, a Rockville native, said he finished the race a half hour before the explosions and was meeting some friends from the Montgomery County Road Runners club. People started to come in and ask if anyone had heard explosions, but DiFonzo said he had not heard the blasts. He did not believe the explosions took place until he saw it on the television.
“It is bedlam here. It is a lot like 911,” DiFonzo said. “There are ambulances and cars with flashing lights everywhere. There are people that are very nervous about wherever they are.”
DiFonzo said his friends wanted to leave the restaurant, but he said he felt it was a safer place to be, rather than walking around on the streets. After hanging around for another half hour or so, he headed back to his hotel.
A marathon runner for nearly 20 years, DiFonzo, who works for the Food and Drug Administration at the Center for Tobacco, said that along with fear, participants are developing feelings of anger.
“This is the pinnacle event in our sport as marathoners,” DiFonzo said. “You strive your whole life to run on this day, and to have something like this happen is just unspeakable. You can’t even imagine something like this happening, but to have this happen on what is basically our Super Bowl of all athletic events is very, very upsetting.”
Tosato described similar feelings, saying the situation was “shocking.”
“This is a big thing, especially with it being at the Boston Marathon,” Tosato said. “People work hard to get here, and the dedication is very high. It is a huge day with a great tradition. A lot of people were affected by this. We [from Montgomery County] are all in good shape, we got lucky. Let’s hope these things do not repeat themselves.”