‘We Cannot Live In Fear’: Year After Bombing, Jersey Shore Military Race Comes Back Stronger

SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Organizers of a Marine Corps charity race in New Jersey marred by terrorism a year ago say they were forced to move Saturday’s event to a neighboring town because of a sharp increase in registrants.

A bomb went off inside a plastic garbage can in Seaside Park on the morning of Sept. 17, 2016, minutes before hundreds of runners were about to take off.

The bomb was planted by Ahmad Khan Rahimi as the start of a two-day reign of terror in the region, authorities say.

In a show of resiliency, pride and patriotism, organizers are expecting a very large turnout at this year’s Seaside Semper Five, which is being held Saturday, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.

“It was a jolt at first, but then it got me angry thinking that lots of people could have been hurt,” said Tommy Leopold, 46, of Old Bridge, who was lined up to run in last year’s event before it was canceled. “We had a good crowd of runners and their families out there that day, and we will again this year. It’ll be a show of strength. We’re ready to rock.”

“We were on the starting line and told to go across the street, and so we went across the street. We thought it was just over someone had a duffel bag that was unclaimed,” Dianne DeOliveria told CBS2’s Meg Baker. “So that’s all we thought it was. And then they asked us to move farther away.”

In the end, she was thankful the start of the race happened to be delayed, or she and other runners could have been severely injured.

“I’m sure it will be a little bit emotional to be back on the starting line,” she said.

Organizer Frank Costello said 1,400 people have registered for the race. He told Baker her expects more than 2,000 runners. The increase in runners comes as both a response to the bombing and shows people’s support for the military.

“Part of it is also the response of the American people to the bombing that took place last year, and they want to show that they can’t deter us from doing what we want to do,” Costello said.

Security planning started five month ago.

“After last year, we decided there might be a few screwballs out there that think they want to get their name in the paper, so we wanted to be extra prepared,” Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said.

Seaside Heights Police Chief Tommy Boyd says federal state and county law enforcement have their backs.

“It’s such a huge undertaking for a small town, but I thought that it was worth it,” Boyd told Diamond. “It’s amazing. We’re going to be using drones, eye in the skies and then we have numerous, numerous, numerous undercovers.”

“We have surveillance going on right now. We’ve already started our surveillance now. We’re trying not to take any chances,” he told Baker. “We’re going to have surveillance before, during and after.”

This year’s race — which begins at the Beachcomber — will also have increased security, with trash cans removed along the race route in Seaside Heights and manhole covers sealed. As an extra precaution, details of the course map will not be given to runners until Saturday morning.

The decision to hold this year’s race was made almost immediately after the bombing.

“The first reaction was we want to come back next year bigger and stronger, we can’t let them stop us from doing what we want to do,” Costello said.

“We weren’t going to let these terrorists think that they are going to stop us and they are not,” Boyd added.

“We cannot live in fear,” Vaz said.

Several hours after the blast, another bomb exploded in Chelsea, wounding 29 people. The next night, a homeless man and his friend alerted authorities after they found a backpack full of explosives in a trash can near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Five devices were in the bag, including one that exploded while a bomb squad robot attempted to disarm it.

Rahimi, an Afghanistan-born man living in Elizabeth, was arrested the next morning after he was seriously injured in a shootout with police in Linden. He has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the bombings and is being held without bail while awaiting his trial , which is scheduled to start Oct. 2.

No one was injured in the Seaside Park explosion, mostly because the start of the race had been delayed because of a large number of late entrants, or by the devices found in Elizabeth.

But the situation frightened many in a region where the Sept. 11 attacks still reverberate strongly.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said there’s “definitely a heightened sense of awareness,” even though no similar incidents have occurred in the past year.

“Garbage cans, autos can now be used for very dangerous missions, where in the past no one would have given a second thought about them,” he said. “It’s scary for many people, but it’s made them more vigilant.”

This year’s Seaside Semper Five will again benefit the MARSOC Foundation, supporting Marines and sailors who have been seriously injured.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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