When two bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, the elite runners had already left the course, leaving hundreds of hardy competitors still plugging along in Boston's Back Bay.
They turned onto Hereford Street and then onto Boylston Street for the final straightaway, with the spectators who packed the sidewalks cheering boisterously.
Barbara Cronin-Stagnari, 51, a personal trainer from Mineola, was 4 hours, 9 minutes into her race and nearing the 26-mile mark when the first blast came. It sounded to her like a crack of thunder. "Then, when the second one came, you knew it wasn't thunder," she said. "Everyone kept looking at each other. Everyone slowed down."
Cronin-Stagnari's husband, Jack Stagnari, 55, a retired FDNY firefighter, stood at Hereford and Boylston, hoping for a glimpse of his wife as she passed. From where he stood he could also see their daughter, Jackie, a freshman at Northeastern University, standing across the street with her boyfriend.
They'd planned a family weekend around the race, which coincided with Jackie's birthday, and so far it had been wonderful: The night before, the parents took Jackie and her friends out for dinner. They'd visited Fenway Park and walked around the city.
'You can't go any farther'
Bernie Cunningham, 50, of Port Washington, a project manager for a medical technology company, was 25.4 miles in, on Commonwealth Avenue when the runners in front of her stopped.
"There's been an incident at the finish line," she heard a policeman say. "You can't go any farther."
None of the runners around her knew what was going on so they didn't leave the course. But their exhausted bodies began to cramp in the cold. They huddled, she said, "like emperor penguins," keeping the coldest among them near the center of the flock.
But details about what was happening spread. "Bombs," said one of the spectators.
Cunningham's friend Linda Ottaviano, 57, an administrator for the Greater Long Island Running Club who lives in Cold Spring Harbor, spotted her at the 22-mile mark and was moving down Newbury Street, parallel to Boylston but less crowded, to watch her cross the finish line.
Ottaviano made it to the corner of Exeter Street, about a block from the finish, when the first bomb detonated.
People started running down Exeter Street toward her, away from the marathon course, she said. "Move away!" shouted a policeman, running, too.
By then the sirens were wailing. Ottaviano began to see the wounded -- somebody bleeding from the head, somebody who looked like his leg was hurt.
Earlier that day she'd seen about 20 runners she knew from Long Island. Some she knew only slightly, she said. Others were training partners, friends.
Cunningham was both. "I was worried about her," Ottaviano said. "She was due to finish at that time."
Getting back to the finish line now seemed impossible. Ottaviano said she thought it best to get back to her hotel, on the other side of the finish line, and made her way in that direction down unfamiliar side streets.
The streets were quiet
Walking back to her hotel, Cunningham kept wondering: What if she'd been a few minutes faster? What if her husband and daughter had been waiting by the finish line for her?
Cunningham said she couldn't get over how quiet the streets were.
When at last she met Ottaviano, she got a hug. She remembers crying.
In the days since, she's felt anger and bewilderment, she said. "For what? What was your point?" she asked.
One thing she's certain about: she'll be back to run the Boston Marathon next year. "You're damn right I'm going to do it next year," she said.