"I'm not sure I've ever felt so helpless," said Sonny Lowe of Williamsburg, recounting Monday's horror at the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 140 others.
Nearly 20 people from the Peninsula were listed as entered in the marathon, among them eight from Williamsburg and five from York County.
Lowe and his wife Suzan were running the race together, both for the first time.
"I had qualified many times I waited until Suzan was able to go. We went together and ran together. It was her injury that put us at the five-hour hour mark in lieu of four hours. [That's] where we would had been if she was healthy."
Like thousands of other runners, the Lowes were stopped at the 25.5 mile mark. "The race is canceled, go home," Lowe said, recounting the words of race officials.
Williamsburg's George Neil crossed the finish line 13 minutes before the two blasts.
“I’m OK,” he said in a Facebook message. “It must have been terrible, because I when I was there, it was packed with people to the point you couldn’t walk.”
“This is my sixth Boston (marathon) and 78th overall,” Neil said. “People here are in shock. We can’t imagine why anyone would want to do this."
Lowe described the mood as "simply chaotic."
"So many people with no place to go, just wondering around. As we ran to the finish we saw people (runners and spectators) walking towards us crying, shaking, scared. Runners were cold, lost, and had no place to go or means of getting warm. As you can imagine, most of us had very little clothing on while running, and were soaking wet. There were spectators giving up their own clothing to help the runners try to warm up.
It was Williamsburg resident Matt Boothe’s first marathon. He never got to finish. He ran together with Lynn Howard of York County, pastor of Wave Church in Williamsburg.
“We were 0.2 miles from the finish line,” Boothe said Monday afternoon. That's when runners were stopped by Boston police. Boothe and Howard ran back to the hotel to get to their cell phones and contact family members and friends who were at the finish line, near where the explosions occurred.
“I ran a little faster,” Boothe said, despite having finished nearly 26 miles.
Boothe’s father, Brian Christiansen, was at the finish line about 20 feet away from one of the devices when it exploded.
“It’s not good,” Christiansen said briefly. “I still can’t hear very well.”
Howard would have been closer, but had doubled back to finish with Boothe.
“We heard one or two explosions, then two others,” Howard said. “They stopped us. The race was over right there.”
Boothe said he was still shaken from the event, glued to the television in the hotel for news. He said he heard the explosions, but it was hard to tell what it was because there was so much noise on the course.
“It’s a pretty ominous feeling,” he said.
Dawn LoBosco of Providence Forge, who teaches at Wes Point Elementary School, said Monday's race was bittersweet.
"As a runner, there a are a few things you can aspire to do - win a race, set a PR (she cut her best time by 15 minutes) and run the Boston Marathon. I ran alongside 'real' runners today."
After finishing in three hours and 23 minutes, LoBosco was walking to meet family. She heard the explosion a block away at the family meeting area.
"We were quickly asked to leave the Boston downtown area. As we walked approximately two-three miles back toward MIT, we saw heard the cries and encounters of those who were front-row to the bombings."
Tom Keefe, 63, of York County, finished the marathon a minute before the blast occurred. He was getting a bottle of water when he heard the first explosion. “At first I thought a transformer blew,” Keefe said. This is the fourth time he’s completed the Boston Marathon. He turned around to see the smoke rising in the air.
Seconds later Keefe heard another blast.
“Obviously then I thought that this could be a terrorist event,” Keefe said. He said people within his vicinity remained calm as did the police officers near him. “There wasn’t any panic,” he said. Keefe tried to call his wife, Dawn, who decided before the race instead of meeting him at the finish line that she’d tour Harvard. But his cell phone wouldn’t work.
His wife was on her way back to the hotel on the subway, which was stopped shortly after the blast. The conductor announced they were stopped for a “medical emergency.” It wasn’t until nearly three hours later when she unlocked the door of her hotel room that he knew she was okay.
"I will always rememeber this event," LoBosco said. "Little for my success, but for the tragedy that occurred.
John Harvey and Rusty Carter of The Virginia Gazette, Amy Jo Martin of the Tidewater Review, and Daily Press staff writers Austin Bogues, Andi Petrini and David Teel contributed to this story.