SHORT HILLS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — As authorities continue to probe the bombings that hit the Boston Marathon a day earlier, some runners from the Tri-State Area who took part in the race told their stories of survival on Tuesday.
Among them was Richard Helmer, of Short Hills, N.J., who had been running in his 13th Boston Marathon.
Helmer had just crossed the finish line. He was cold, exhausted and hobbling when the first blast shook the ground beneath him.
“Much more than a cannon and then I heard a second explosion and that was even more worrisome. I was afraid it would be in the VIP stands,” he told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.
That is where his family had been sitting and cheering him on.
“The officials were saying ‘Leave, leave. Clear the area!'” he said.
Cellphones were down in the area following the blasts and 25 excruciating minutes went by before Helmer got a text from his wife indicating that everyone was ok.
Helmer said he is shaken, but not deterred.
“I’m running next year. I’m going next year,” he said.
Boonton resident Will DeRoberts said when he closes his eyes, he can still see the towering plume of smoke.
“Looked like a mushroom cloud to me, immediately followed by another blast and I said ‘Oh my God, these are bombs going off,'” he said.
DeRoberts had just finished his seventh Boston Marathon. His wife Susan was not far behind.
“Kept yelling her name, yelling her name. I did find her and I grabbed her, I said ‘Let’s get out of here,'” DeRoberts said.
Chaos then ensued as first responders rushed toward the blast.
“Like the opening scene from MASH, where the nurses run toward the [helicopter] as it’s landing. That’s what I remember, people rushing towards the victims,” DeRoberts said.
He said he is lucky to be alive.
“If we had ran just a little bit slower, we could have been right there,” DeRoberts said.
Runner Jill Spiegel, of Norwood, N.J., was at the finish line, waiting for her husband Robert to cross when she found herself caught between two blasts.
“I really just ran, when the second one went off, everyone was running in that direction. I felt like no place to run, no place to hide — thinking that this is how my life is gonna end — in a bomb,” she said.
Spiegel told Sandberg she was convinced her husband “was definitely not alive.”
“Because his time, it was exactly when he was supposed to be there,” she said.
But her husband cramped up in the 25th mile and had to stop.
It saved his life.
It took three hours for them to reunite, but Spiegel said she is still terrified.
“I have like a freeze frame in my head that I can’t get out,” she said.
A couple from Boise, Idaho arrived at Penn Station on Tuesday afternoon still shaken by their experience at the Boston Marathon.
Elisha Knudsen had crossed the finish line and just met up with her husband when they heard the blast.
“They sounded like cannons going off. In the back of your mind you thought, ‘Man, I hope that’s not a bomb,” Erik Knudsen told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
“Everything went really quiet. Everybody, you could tell, had a look of concern on their face. But then when nothing immediately happened around us it kind of went back to business as usual,” Elisha Knudsen added.
Elisha Knudsen said what had been a thrilling, joyful day is now forever marred.
“It’s really sad and it’s really scary and it’s really disappointing,” she told Haskell.
Knudsen said hasn’t even thought about her run. She said she can’t stop thinking about the victims and their loved ones.
Other runners streaming into Penn Station from Boston recalled their own brush with mortality.
“I ran a little faster than expected. If I hadn’t, I would’ve been right at that spot. My daughter, who was going to come with me couldn’t come. She would’ve been right in that spot,” marathoner John Legere told Haskell.
“A day of great excitement, the weather was beautiful. And it just changed in a second,” Legere added. “Very frightening. I think it’s still settling in on a lot of people.”
Like many avid runners, the events in Boston is on the minds of those in New York City.
“You know, running is supposed to be peaceful…and to see something like that, someone take peace away from it, out of the sport, out of the love, it really hurt me and it hurt my heart. So my heart goes out to the people in Boston. I hope people are not afraid to continue to run,” one man told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“I was getting ready while watching it on the news. It’s definitely something that’s gonna be on everyone’s mind all day. I think now, ever since 9/11, everybody just constantly has that fear in their mind,” said one woman.
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