While thousands of people throughout Statesboro huddled around televisions watching the aftermath of Monday’s bombings at the 117th Boston Marathon, a few members of the Statesboro and Georgia Southern community found themselves in the middle of the tragedy.
Former GSU students Robert and Callie Wigington were in town to cheer on a friend running in the race while sport management professor Brian Menaker was competing in the marathon.
Thankfully, none of them found themselves in harm’s way, but all were in the immediate vicinity of the bombs that killed three and injured more than 170 slightly more than four hours into the race.
“We were right down the street at the (Colonnade) hotel when it happened,” Callie Wigington said. “At first, we looked for clouds because it sounded like thunder. I said that it might be construction just as the second explosion went off.”
The Wigingtons were in town with three others to watch their friend Whitney Swanson compete in the race. Swanson had qualified in past years, but Monday was the first time she had been able to make the trip to Boston.
Swanson completed the race with a time of 3 hours, 22 minutes, 47 seconds — putting her at the finish line just over an hour before the bombs detonated. While final times and finishing orders will quickly be forgotten in light of the tragedy, Swanson’s swift pace might have kept her friends out of danger.
The Wigingtons had initially planed to stand near the finish line — where both bombs exploded within 100 yards of each other — to cheer their friend, but moved up the course about a mile because of the swelling crowd at the end of the course.
When Swanson passed, her five-person cheering section once again began walking toward the ill-fated finish line, but returned to their hotel when they were unable to navigate the traffic.
By the time the explosions occurred, all six were well out of harm’s way.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” Callie Wigington said. “We were told that we couldn’t leave the hotel. We’re watching all of the news on the TV about other possible bombs and there were SWAT teams and FBI squads all over the place for hours.”
Even closer to the blasts was Menaker.
Like Swanson, Menaker’s time of 2:39:39 — good for 277th in the field of 27,000 — saw him cross the finish line and leave what became the blast zone well ahead of the impending danger.
Menaker didn’t wander far and was eating lunch with his father at a restaurant inside the Prudential Center when the explosions occurred just outside.
“We felt the explosion, but it was hard to tell what had happened,” Menaker said. “When we got outside, everyone was kind of hurrying away. We walked to our hotel a few miles away without knowing exactly what had happened. I really didn’t have any sense of how bad things were until I saw everything on the news.”
Despite the tragedy and the thousands scheduled to leave the city, Boston was operating relatively smoothly — save for the still-closed area of downtown immediately surrounding the bombing sites — throughout Tuesday. Menaker was able to catch his flight back to Georgia and the Wigingtons expect no issues in doing the same today.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.