Boston Tragedy Affects Exonians
When the first bomb in Boston went off on April 15, Katherine Fair was a quarter mile from the finish line. It was her 10th time running the Boston Marathon, and what had begun as a day of spirit and athletic competition quickly gave way to a whirlwind of sirens and panic-stricken faces.
“At first, we thought it was thunder,” Fair, a modern languages instructor, said. “Then we saw smoke in the distance, and we knew.”
Fair and other runners promptly followed police instructions to clear from the race path in the wake of the bombings, which killed three and injured dozens. When she returned to the bus hours later to pick up her belongings, she found everyone still shell-shocked. “Phone calls weren’t getting through because everyone was calling. The initial reaction was just total disbelief—no one knew for sure what had happened, including the police,” she said.
Meanwhile, Exeter track coach Brandon Newbould was on the fourth floor of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, at the media center, having finished the race prior to the attacks. Newbould was with his teammates when the sudden burst of noise reverberated through the room. He went down to the lounge to find that the hotel had been locked down. Injured athletes were strewn across the ground outside as bomb squads and military forces descended upon the streets.
“Outside there was complete chaos—I could see bloodied people being taken in in wheelchairs. It was hard because at first we were unable to help anyone. I was there for several hours, and all we could do was stand there, watching everyone in pain,” he said. Helpless, he placed a call to his wife and got through initially, only to be cut off for the next few hours. “After that, there was not much we could do except to hope for the victims,” Newbould said.
Newbould and Fair were among many members of the Exeter community who were impacted by the Boston bombings. In addition to faculty and alumni who ran, many alumni attending colleges in the Boston area volunteered at the event or took to the sidelines to watch the runners. Seniors who were in the Boston area visiting colleges found themselves stranded and unable to return to campus. After the incident, other students on campus waited nervously to hear news from family and friends who were in the area.
Harlin Lee ’12 was among those impacted by the attacks. A freshman at MIT, she had been in her dorm room across the river from the 25-mile mark when she heard the bombs explode. Minutes later, she heard several ambulances rush down Memorial Drive. Watching CBS news for updates, she was joined by friends who had left the marathon area only ten minutes before the explosions happened.
“Like everyone else, I was really shocked and upset that something like this could happen in Boston. You would think this would happen in a remote area of the Middle East, or even my home country of Korea, but not in Boston,” she said. “And it was Marathon Monday, which is supposed to be all hot dogs and sunlight and no school—not for something tragic like that.”
Lee said she felt a deep gratitude for the concern of her fellow Exonians. “It was really touching to see that so many Exonians went out of their way to make sure that everyone in the Boston area was safe,” she said.
The wake of the attack was met with an outpouring of support, empathy and generosity from the Exeter community as individuals sought to make sure their fellow Exonians were safe.
No injuries to individuals affiliated with the Academy had been confirmed at the time of printing.
Among those who worked to determine the status of fellow alumni in the area were Catherine Willett and Stephanie Lane, both from the class of ’12. As the disaster unfolded, the two placed calls and gathered information from Facebook and Twitter. “We were particularly concerned with contacting students from BC, Harvard, MIT and Tufts because many in the Boston area watch the race near the finish line,” Willett said.
Willett and Lane posted an updated list to the ‘12 group at around 5 p.m. that same day, and classmates quickly contacted one another. By around 7 p.m., all Exonians from the class of 2012 in the Boston area had been accounted for.
Russell Washington ’89, who manages alumni networking, was moved by the display of concern that followed. “I saw friends of alums checking on our alums. I saw alums checking on each other,“ Washington said. “In short, there was nothing Exeter-alum about it—we were all rendered to the same human perches as everyone else: spectators, people asking for information, people cross-checking each other, telling each other ‘I'm glad you're ok.’”
Many on campus had also heard of the attacks at around the same time, leaving many unable to determine the safety of family and friends until hours later.
Prep Bronwyn Shields, whose mom ran and whose cousins were present at the marathon, said she was grateful for the campus support. “During Assembly [on Tuesday], you could feel that people were more somber. I thought it was very nice of Principal Hassan to have a moment of silence,” she said. “The community has been so supportive—people have asked if my family is okay because I’m from Boston, and my teachers and coaches have been so sensitive too.”
Alumni also contributed to relief efforts in the wake of the attack. Peter Fagenholz ’92, a trauma surgeon at General Mass hospital, where many of the victims were treated, spoke to the media on behalf of the hospital on the status of the victims. Alongside countless medical professionals, he operated on several victims, saving many lives.
“To watch him [Fagenholz] speak is to engage in a bit of wonder. His focus and dedication alike were palpable,” Washington said.
Exeter Social Service Organization (ESSO) responded as well, making a card for students, faculty and staff to sign. The card will be in Agora from Thursday through Saturday and will be sent to Mayor Menino of Boston.
Others impacted in less visible ways. In the hours after the attacks, Jeremy Rubin’12 posted information to the 2,800-member all-Exonian Facebook group about how to offer shelter to stranded marathon participants, many of whom were international and unable to return home.
“PEA is in the thoughts of many," Washington said. “What happened was only an hour away from you, which is sobering. This is the sort of thing that we want nowhere near our old home, and certainly nowhere near the students who currently dwell there. Though there might be no practical reason to say this, we are glad that you are safe,” Washington said.
Although there is still no closure on the cause of the events, the process of reflecting and moving on has begun for many of those involved.
Alex Godfrey ’06, who ran in the marathon and was only a few blocks short of the finish line at the time of the explosion, said that the attack had generated fear in many. “It’s pretty scary to think that something like this could happen at any time, and it’s hard not to have the thought while walking past a garbage can or taking the subway.”
However, he remains hopeful. “I think people have been good about moving past their fear and trying to return to normalcy,” Godfrey said.
“It made me think about how fortunate that this is not something we have to live with all the time.” Godfrey said that what happened made him feel fortunate that events like it did not happen every day, and wished for sensitivity in the process of determining the attack’s cause.
For many, the pain continues to linger. Newbould said that the events continue to haunt him. “I normally don’t live in fear, so I don’t expect to be afraid, but I was disturbed by what happened, and continue to be disturbed especially by the killing of innocent people, since the Sandy Hook shooting was so recent,” he said.
“It’s going to be a rough week. The full impact has been taking a while to settle in, and it’s been a very emotional return home. Everyone involved has been traumatized in some way. It’s terribly sad, thinking about the families of all those people who were killed and injured. I just can’t imagine why anyone would do something like this,” Fair said.