Minnesotans recount Boston Marathon experience

Explosions at Boston Marathon
Runners react near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston.
Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Hundreds of Minnesotans were registered for the Boston Marathon Monday. Some were just minutes past the finish line when the bombs went off.

Hennepin County Judge Jay Quam was among thousands who narrowly escaped the deadly explosions.

Quam crossed the finish line at Boston's Copley Square at 2:05 p.m. EST. He made his way through the crowd and walked a block or two to meet up with his family. Just after finding his wife and daughter, he heard an explosion, and then another followed. Quam says he knew what it was immediately.

"I thought that somebody must've planted some bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, honestly," Quam said. "There really wasn't any other explanation for those distinctive sounds."

From his vantage point, Quam said there was palpable concern in the crowd, but not panic. People dispersed from the scene in an orderly way.

"There wasn't any panic," Quam said.

Judge Jay Quam
Judge Jay Quam, Hennepin County Mental Health Court, is shown in a photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 at the State Office Building in St. Paul. Quam was running in the Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013, and had just crossed the finish line and walked about a block or two away to meet up with family when the bombs exploded behind him.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"It's kind of like, what do you do?" he said. "You hope that there's not other bombs planted in the place that you're going to go."

Quam said he and other runners just walked away quickly. Many people were too tired to run. Quam says after running the entire marathon, he is unsure he would have been able to run, even if he had to.

"If I had to run away, I'm not sure I could've done it," Quam said.

Quam was one of more than 500 Minnesotans registered to run the popular race. The explosions, which left two dead and more than 130 injured, some critically, took place as spectators cheered runners crossing the finish line, authorities in Boston said.

Runner Maggie Tacheny of Minneapolis heard the blasts from several hundred feet away.

"It sounded like a cannon. It wasn't ear-piercing or anything, but something seemed wrong. It was pretty loud," Tacheny said.

"At first, I wasn't sure if it was a planned thing," she said. "And I realized there was something very wrong after I saw about a dozen police officers racing back toward the finish line."

State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, had finished the Boston Marathon and was away from the finish line by the time two explosions hit Monday, according to a staffer in his office.

Dibble was fine and didn't hear or see anything, the staff member said.

Authorities stopped the race and evacuated the area. Runner Ellen Gans of Minnesota was about two miles from the finish line when the race stopped.

"Everyone's asking each other what's going on," Gans said. "And someone had said something about a bomb earlier, maybe 20 minutes before, but I think it was that everyone thought that it was just that someone had placed a bomb threat."

Police officers told Gans that "they were in the process of evacuating the finish, and we would not be able to continue the race."

Authorities have not said whether Minnesotans are among the dead or injured.

Heather Walseth of Inver Grove Heights was with a group of about 100 Minnesota runners organized by Lifetime Fitness. The company reports that all in its group are accounted for and no one was hurt. Walseth crossed the finish line 10 minutes before the bombs went off.

"I was about, maybe I would say, a quarter of a mile away, and I heard the explosion, and initially my thought was maybe that was thunder, then I looked up and said that's not possible," Walseth said. "Then I looked toward the sound, which was at the finish and I saw that there was smoke.

"When I looked I heard the second explosion and then I realized that something was wrong."

Tobin Johnson of Plymouth said he is lucky he ran fast.

"My wife and sister were standing right at that spot 45 minutes before," Johnson said. "If I hadn't run the race that I did, they could have been right there."

A statement from Scott Keenan, executive director of Duluth, Minn,-based Grandma's Marathon, said We want to pass along our thoughts and prayers to everyone impacted by today's events, and we will continue to keep all of those people close to our hearts."

The statement continued, "The safety of our runners, volunteers and spectators has always been our main priority, and rest assured we will be reviewing and examining our security measures and protocols with the appropriate agencies in the coming weeks."

MPR News reporters Tim Nelson, Brandt Williams and editor Laura McCallum contributed to the reporting of this story.

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