By Rick Dandes
A Lewisburg runner and her family miraculously avoided injury in Monday’s Boston Marathon explosions.
Maria Bhangdia was running her second marathon and finished the race minutes before the explosions.
“I was in a staging area where runners meet their families,” she said by cell phone from Boston about 6 p.m. “I was waiting for my husband and daughter, who had been near the finish line. I started walking toward them as they were walking to meet me.”
Bhangdia soon found out that they had been standing exactly where the bombs exploded.
“That shook me up. It brought a chill to my spine when I found out how lucky we are to be safe,” she said.
Bhangdia said she did not hear the explosion and did not see the ensuing smoke.
“I was too far away,” she said. “But I started seeing people running away from the finish line area, some talking on their phones, panicked looks on their faces. I could hear them talking into their phones, saying, ‘I am fine.’ I immediately knew that something had happened. And it was bad.”
After meeting with her family, they tried to make their way back to their hotel.
“People in the streets, they looked alarmed,” she said. “Some were crying.”
Somehow, they were able to get to their car and leave Boston, despite roadblocks and traffic tie-ups. It was because they were already out of town that they were able to use their cell phones. Asked if she would run in next year’s Boston Marathon, Bhangdia laughed nervously.
“I can say that two of my friends were OK, Beatriz Benedit and Michael Starr,” she said.
Attempts to reach Starr by cell phone was unsuccessful due to the city lockdown of cell phone service. Cell phone service in Boston was shut down after the bombings.
But Starr was able to text message The Daily Item at 8:45 p.m. The message was short: “Wasn’t at finish when it happened. Folks from here understandably dismayed. Strong police presence everywhere tonight.”
At 9 p.m. calls to Benedit got through and she said she was “OK, thank goodness. I feel very fortunate that I finished the race about 15 minutes before the explosion.”
Benedit said she was at her hotel when news of the bombing broke.
“It was on TV all of a sudden,” she said. “People were on their cell phones, calling up loved ones and friends to say they were OK. This is all very sad. Very shocking. I’m so sorry to see what the city is going through.”
Mike Hannon, of Danville, finished the race in three hours and was in a restaurant at the time of the explosion.
“He didn’t realize at first what had happened,” said his brother Joseph, who contacted Mike via text message to see if he was OK.
“He was there with his girlfriend,” said Joseph. “He’s fine.” Shortly after exchanging text messages, cell phone activity in Boston ceased.
“That’s all I know,” Joseph said. “But at least we know he is not hurt.”
According to the Boston Athletic Association, the Marathon organizers, Valley runners listed as participants in the race were as follows: Lewisburg: Beatriz Bendit, Marcia Bhangdia, John Furia, Elisabeth Reitz, and Michael Starr; Danville: Mike Hannon, Ryan Norton, Bryan Cotner (Cotner’s sister, on Facebook, said that he and his wife, Andrea, are safe); Watsontown: Shannon Hoffman, Wendy Wood; Northumberland: Bethany Daku-Treas; Freeburg: Mark Sullivan; Selinsgrove: Bryan Rynearson; Newburyport, Mass.: Maddy Hribar, a Selinsgrove High graduate; Harrisburg: Katy Hribar, a Selinsgrove High graduate, Laura Rinck, New York, N.Y, of Selinsgrove.
Meanwhile, Runner’s Gazette publisher and editor Freddi Carlip, of Lewisburg, was astonished by the television footage of the bombings and worried about the photographer she’d sent to cover the event and the several friends she knew were participating in the marathon or attending as spectators.
“I’m just looking at this in shock, disbelief and fear,” she said. “You go to Boston with all this joy and all of a sudden it’s chaos. It’s very scary and should not be happening.”
n Reporters Marcia Moore, Francis Scarcella, and Ashley Wislock contributed to this report.