An insider's look on Marathon Monday from tranquil start to tragic finish

Tom Licciardello%%More Content Now News
A marathon official helps a runner as a police officer draws her weapon after an explosion at the Marathon finish line Monday afternoon.

At 5 a.m. on April 15, the early morning skies promised a near perfect marathon day as I drove along Route 495 to the town of Hopkinton to assume my new duties as race director Dave McGillivray’s shadow.

As a past competitor on this historic course, it would be a great honor to stand next to the maestro at the start line of the most prestigious marathon in the world.

In 2012, the Boston Marathon endured one of its most difficult challenges when race day temperatures soared into the upper 80s. Not so this year; optimism was high, but at each organizing committee meeting, Executive director Tom Grilk joined Dave in reminding us to remain vigilant, because he said: “you never know what challenge may arise.”

There is a lot of pressure being an understudy to Dave McGillivray in his start line duties. “Tom, I need you to know everything I do at the start, just in case I get hit by a bus.”

It was overwhelming, and I had hoped I would be worthy of the task.

In addition to the procedural duties, he wanted me to know about security, even though intelligence reports did not suggest specific known threats. It was just part of the standard operating procedure.

"Through the headset, I communicated with Central Command, local police, State Police, National Guard, the FBI and the bomb squad. We know this is a high value target with worldwide, live television coverage. No race is more prepared than us. Frankly, his words were giving me pause, and I began to wonder if standing next to the race director was a good idea."

When I arrived, Dave asked me to familiarize myself with the entire start area. With credentials giving me access to even the most secured locations, I inspected and photographed the mobility-impaired holding area, gave my best wishes to Team Hoyt — Rick and Dick, along with their group of runners — and then headed to the elite runners holding area, where I viewed the best in the world who were all relaxed before the race.

Everywhere I went I saw armed tactical police and the bomb sniffing canine team. There was aerial surveillance and strategically placed marksmen.

We had a security team that carefully assured that no one could enter a restricted area without proper credentials and photo ID. I began to feel that I was well protected.

At precisely 8:53 a.m., in what I believed would be the most emotional part of the day, 26 seconds of silence was observed in honor of the 26 children and staff murdered in Newtown, Conn. The silence was profound, the 26 seconds seemed so much longer, and there weren’t many dry eyes. Family members from Newtown would be sitting at a place of honor at the reviewing stands at the finish line.

Beginning at 9 a.m., the first wave — mobility-impaired participants — was started. At 9:17 a.m., it was the wheelchair start. At 9:22 a.m., the hand cyclists took off, followed by the elite women at 9:32 a.m. At exactly 10 a.m., the elite men and Wave 1 runners were sent off, and Dave McGillivray joined them on the lead motorcycle. Wave 2 and 3 followed, and by 11 a.m. Hopkinton was a sleepy suburban town again. My job was done, and the jubilant runners were well on their way to Boston.

It should have been a perfect day.

Though security along the course and especially at the finish was elaborate, security precautions can only discourage evil, not prevent it, as we would learned not so many hours later.

Four hours and nine minutes into the race, the unimaginable happened. The first bomb exploded across the street from the reviewing stand where so many family members awaited their runner to cross the finish line, and where the Newtown, Conn. guests would endure witnessing another tragedy.

The second bomb exploded 12.5 seconds later.

More than144 were critically injured and three deaths were soon reported.

As horrific as this was, if this tragedy had to happen, no other race could have been as prepared to respond as Boston. Immediately after the explosions, the course was shutdown and runners were detoured to safe locations.

Just past the finish line, an extraordinary staff of physicians and nurses were at the marathon medical tent prepared for any kind of emergency. Their efforts to stabilize the critically wounded as they were being transferred to area hospitals surely saved lives.

The first responders — police and fire — immediately tended to the victims and secured the area. We have come to expect heroism from these professionals, and that is exactly what occurred, but that’s just part of the story.

The BAA Boston Marathon has 8,500 dedicated volunteers. They can be easily identified by their bright yellow jackets. While commonsense might suggest fleeing the scene of a bombing, this group ran right into the fray to help. They guided bewildered runners to safety, directed traffic and maintained their posts. The BAA should be proud.

Whoever was responsible for this heinous act may have had the mistaken impression that these bombs would end a 117-year-old tradition. I suspect he didn’t understand the resilience and strength of Americans, Bostonians and runners in general. Finished? I think not.

We will grieve for a while, but this Marathon that brings so many of us together will be back — stronger, prouder and unbending to those who would dare to try to steal this away from us.

Our deepest respect goes to the first responders, medical personnel and the fabulous volunteers who didn’t run away from the tragedy. They ran to help those who were in need. Bravery and selflessness was the response to this coward who hurt so many.

Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in35 Boston’s and 88 marathons, and this was his first year as a start line coordinator. He has served on the BAA Boston Marathon organizing committee for the last 23 years.

A Boston firefighter carries an injured spectator from the scene following an explosion at the Boston Marathon finish line Monday afternoon.