The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 18, 2013

Greenbrier residents experience Boston terror

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

LEWISBURG — Wearing headphones and nearing the end of a grueling 26.2-mile race, Dr. Zainab Shamma-Othman was focused on a single goal — the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The course that was blocked off for runners in the famed race features a turn that veers right and then left before straightening out barely a half-mile short of the final stretch, where carnage and destruction loomed Monday as two incendiary devices exploded in the midst of the race’s spectators.

With her headphones muffling the sounds of the explosions and her view obscured by the turns in the roadway, Shamma-Othman ran on, discounting the emergency vehicles speeding by as simply a part of the usual frenetic pace of the city.

“I saw ambulances pass by on the other side of the road,” the Lewisburg physician told The Register-Herald. “I thought maybe there was a medical emergency at the finish line. There are often emergencies — people having heart attacks — after such a long race.

“The next thing I knew, from behind us came more sirens and motorcycles with flashing lights and sirens. There were lots of police (along the race route), but I didn’t know what had happened, and I just kept running.

“I saw cars stopping, and I saw the barricade, and that’s when I stopped running.”

Shamma-Othman said a nearby race spectator told her there had been two explosions, one right after the other, at the finish line, and that people might have been caught in the blasts.

“I couldn’t imagine such a thing happening,” Shamma-Othman said.

She said her headphones had not only kept her from hearing the explosions and turmoil that immediately followed, but also prevented her from realizing her cell phone had been ringing.

“I knew I was getting text messages while I ran, but I didn’t want to answer them while I was running,” Shamma-Othman said. “When I stopped and realized what had happened, I had a long line of texts — from my daughter, my husband, family, friends. They all knew I was in Boston and wanted to know what was happening.”

While many of her fellow runners boarded buses that arrived to carry them to their hotels in the wake of what is now being referred to officially as an act of terror, Shamma-Othman said, “I kept right on walking. I asked an officer for directions to the Prudential Building, because I knew my hotel was very near to it. I just kept on walking to the hotel.”

After a short delay while identities were confirmed and keys authenticated, Shamma-Othman and other shaken guests returning from the race venue were allowed to go to their rooms.

“As soon as I got to my room, I turned on the TV and saw what had happened,” Shamma-Othman said. “I was starving, but we weren’t allowed to leave to get something to eat because the FBI had the hotel on lock-down. I spent all night talking on the phone.”

Her Tuesday morning flight left Boston on schedule, although security at the airport was “stepped up,” she said.

A veteran runner with 22 marathons under her belt, she said this was her second time participating in the Boston Marathon.

Shamma-Othman said that she was relieved that she had no loved ones waiting for her at the marathon’s finish line, but if not for the death of a friend’s beloved dog, that situation could have been quite different.

“I had plans for a friend from Maine to come to the race, and I have a cousin who lives in Boston who planned to attend, too,” Shamma-Othman said. “But my friend’s dog got killed, and she canceled. My cousin said she didn’t want to stand there (at the finish line) alone, so she didn’t come to watch the race either.”

A pulmonologist, Shamma-Othman was back at work Wednesday, treating patients at Greenbrier Physicians in Fairlea.

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A future physician whose parents, Jon and Rhonda Stout, live in Greenbrier County was also caught up in the aftermath of Monday’s tragedy in Boston.

Caroline Brady, 24, who is a medical student at Marshall University, ran in this year’s Boston Marathon with two friends. Her husband and her father, who is a Raleigh General Hospital emergency room doctor, were among the spectators.

“I had finished the race about 15 minutes before the bombs went off,” Brady told The Register-Herald.

“We did not see it. We were about two blocks away when it happened, and there were buildings in the way. We heard the bombs and felt the vibrations; it felt like something was wrong, but you don’t want to speculate in a situation like that.”

Brady said she and the other two runners in her party tried to get on the subway to return to the rental home where they stayed during their time in Boston, but found the metro was shut down.

Likewise, the buses were all filled and “taxis wouldn’t stop.”

Hiking the 4 miles to their rental was simply not an option, coming off the arduous race, so the three women took shelter overnight in a borrowed hotel room.

“The phones were shut down, but we were able to get a couple of text messages out and put something on Facebook pretty quickly to let everyone know we were OK,” Brady said. “No one had to worry about us for very long.”

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com