SUMMIT, NJ - When Meaghan O'Neill was making her way toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, she had no idea what was going on.
The Oak Knoll student saw firsthand the aftermath of the bombings that killed at least three people and injured an estimated 150 people, including runners and spectators.
"I was far enough back to have neither seen nor heard the bombs go off...then again I may have heard some faint explosion but I was caught up in running," she said. "Plus my first thought definitely would not have been 'Oh that must've been a bomb!' I have a bit more faith in humanity than to step right to that conclusion, although in light of the tragedy, maybe I shouldn't."
O'Neill said she didn't find out what was going on until about 20 minutes after the bombs had gone off.
"I was running towards the finish, incredibly excited to soon be able to say I've run a full marathon, when I saw from about 200 meters away a big group of runners just stopped on the road," she said. "I was really quite confused at first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but sure enough, at a little over 25.5 miles, I joined the blockade of people wondering what on earth had just unfolded, both mentally and physically. The police (I think they were policeman, anyway, it's a but of a blur) were at the front of the blockade. My initial thought was 'Damn, this counts as stopping, even though it's not voluntary. Now I can't say I didn't stop!' I actually jogged from the back of the blockade to the front, adamant about truly running the entire race. I still didn't know what had happened at this point."
When she got to the front, O'Neill said she "accepted defeat" and proceeded to try to gather information from the conversations going on around her.
"And there were some really angry people, let me tell you," she said. "People were cursing the B.A.A. for what was going on, not knowing that in fact a bomb had just gone off, furious that their months and months of training and preparation were being compromised during the last half mile of such a long race. But then I heard someone say 'Oh my God there was a bomb' and then this news spread."
People were reading the news on their phones and relaying the message to others and O'Neill said the mood "just suddenly changed."
"It was really kind of crazy," she said. "There were lots of tears, mostly, I think, out of uncertainty of the situations of loved ones near the finish line. Not knowing exactly what had happened - there were all sorts of people throwing out all sorts of casualties and injuries and no one knew who was right - was the worst part of my experience yesterday. That uncertainty, that expectation of the worst in desperate hope reality will be better. People fear the unknown for good reason, I'll say that much."
After the initial shock had passed, O'Neill said, "people were so lovely."
"Everyone was working together, and people who had cell phones were so happy to let those without borrow them to call whomever they needed to reach," she said. "Like always, people came together in a time of tragedy. Why, then, can people not come together in the absence of tragedy? Why couldn't someone reach out to the person who planted the bomb and show him/her some love before he/she went over the edge?"
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