Fort Mill family recovers after witnessing Boston Marathon bombing

adouglas@heraldonline.comApril 16, 2013 

— Raising the most money for a charity that helps low-income and homeless girls participate in sports might have saved a Fort Mill family from injury or worse during the Boston Marathon bombings.

From VIP seats in the bleachers along Boston’s Boylston Street, runner Demi Clark’s family watched her cross the finish line Monday, within seconds of a bomb exploding nearby, unleashing chaos near the end of one of the city’s largest sporting events.

A second blast, 10 seconds later and about 100 yards away, shook the street again.

Three people were killed during the attack and more than 170 people were injured. Police have made no arrests.

The explosive devices were made from pressure cookers and loaded with pieces of metal, nails and ball bearings that went flying into the crowded Boylston Street, authorities said Tuesday.

“It was just glass and shrapnel and blood and limbs and people with bodies up against the fence that were blown forward up against the barriers,” Demi Clark said. “And smoke and dust and just burning smell. Just horrific.”

Hear a phone interview with Clark here.

Less than 20 feet from the site of the first bomb, Clark, 36, found her husband Brian with 6-year-old daughter Willow under one arm and 9-year-old Maizie under the other.

He was holding them “like a loaf of bread,” Clark said.

“My husband’s 6-4 and a big guy, and he’s kind of easy to spot when he stands up in a crowd,” she said.

Engulfed in a crowd of confused runners, panicked spectators and dozens of injured people, Clark reunited with her family within minutes after the explosions.

The special seats probably saved Brian, Willow and Maizie from injuries, or worse, she said.

The Clark family sat in bleachers on Boylston Street to the right of runners as they ended the marathon.

The bomb blasts originated from the left side of Boylston Street where spectators without tickets watched the final stretch of the 26.2-mile run.

“I was running along the blast-side of the road for about three miles prior to the finish,” Clark said. “But I knew they would be on the right-hand side in the bleachers.

“So I had bee-lined over to the right-hand side to see them and wave at them so that my daughters could see me finish.”

Her family was holding VIP tickets for bleacher seats because Clark had raised the most money for her team Dream Big – a Boston-based charity that partners with schools and social services organizations to help low-income and homeless girls get involved in various sports.

Dream Big invited Clark to help raise money and run in the marathon.

In Fort Mill, Clark works with the Girls on the Run program, which encourages girls 8 to 13 to form a healthy self-image and stay physically active. The organization offers sponsorships for families who can’t afford to enroll their child.

At the Boston Marathon, 12 runners participated with “Dream Big,” which raised about $80,000 for its cause this year.

Clark finished the race in 4 hours, 9 minutes and 46 seconds – about two hours after Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia crossed the finish line to win the marathon.

Desisa’s finish was shrouded in cheers and happiness for the winner.

Clark and several other people behind her were confronted with devastation at the finish line.

Her feelings went from “euphoria” to a state of shock, Clark said.

“It was really this kind of this perfect storm of craziness going on internally in the body,” she said, “because (the body) wants to go into recovery mode. You’ve really pushed (your body) too far, actually.

“I had the euphoric, ‘I’ve had a great race’...and to have that – the first blast go off – and then you think, ‘What the heck was that?’ You try to process that.”

Like many others at the marathon, the Clark family worried a third bomb would detonate, she said.

“Everyone there thought this is a chain reaction – something else is going to blow,” she said. “You go from euphoria to terror and disbelief and panic. Just a real weird chain of emotions.”

Clark’s emotions started with confusion, she said, when she crossed the finish line, ready to gather her belongs and meet her family.

“I happened to look at the official who was just past the finish line,” she said. He “was there to usher and escort finishers into the shoot for your medal and your recovery items and back to the baggage claim.

“He had a look of just absolute sheer horror and terror on his face. I’ll never forget that look on his face. And I immediately turned to my left and just saw the carnage. And it was horrific. Horrific.”

Although Clark’s hearing was temporarily muffled, she could still hear the panic and hysteria unfolding around her and her family.

“Screaming. Screaming all the way around,” she said, describing the bomb’s aftermath.

“Screaming from the bleachers because people were panicked and trying to rush the stands to get out. Screaming from the victims. Screaming from runners who were going down.”

With much of the Boston area effectively on “lock down,” Clark said, her family plowed through a throng of police and emergency responders and vehicles to make it back to their hotel late Monday afternoon.

While in Boston, Demi Clark was interviewed by several news outlets, including CNN and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Her family has experienced an outpouring of support from the Baxter Village neighborhood where they live, she said. The family expected to be back in Fort Mill Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Clarks just wanted Willow and Maizie to have a normal day, so they took them to a Boston aquarium.

The family spoke with counselors about how to help the girls deal with potential trauma after Monday’s attack.

“They’re surprisingly resilient,” Clark said. “We’ve talked to some great counselors online, thankfully. And they said to just really talk about how they’re safe and they’re loved. And get them to have a special day and make it normal.”

Unlike many runners, the Boston Marathon wasn’t on Clark’s “bucket list,” she said. But she accepted Dream Big’s invitation because she’s passionate about helping girls become athletes, she said.

She was meant to be in Boston on Monday, Clark said, because now she can help spread the message that runners – and the nation – should pull together and overcome the terror experienced on Boylston Street.

“Runners are resilient,” she said. “We’ll come back from this, and Boston will be that much stronger because it’s such a community of runners – and then also, the Boston community has been so amazing and so supportive.

“They, as a community, don’t deserve this because it’s such their day.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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