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Wendy Reuer, Published April 16 2013

Fargo native was working in medical tent at marathon

BOSTON – Fargo native and Boston University senior Catherine Conlin spent most of Monday’s Boston Marathon standing in the middle of Boylston Street, near the finish line.

A volunteer for the Boston University Red Cross, Conlin was in charge of fetching belongings for injured runners and returning the items to their owners in the medical tents along the route.

Conlin said the scene was somewhat chaotic throughout the day, as runners passed by her, yards from completing the 26.2 mile race.

But around 3 p.m. local time, the scene and tone abruptly changed when two bombs went off on the north side of Boylston Street, near the finish line.

“I heard what sounded like a cannon go off behind me. It wasn’t very loud from where I was. By the time I turned around, I saw another explosion go off about

two blocks behind me,” Conlin, a graduate of Fargo South High School, said in an email to The Forum.

The bomb killed 8-year-old Martin Richard of Boston and 29-year-old Krystal Campbell of Medford, Mass. A third fatality’s identity was not released as of press time. More than 170 were injured in the blasts and about 17 are in critical condition.

“The strange thing is, nobody right away reacted to it, probably because I was surrounded by a huge crowd of runners who just ran over 26 miles,” Conlin said. “People were saying it was a bomb or a cannon and I wasn’t really sure. I just needed to get my group of fellow volunteers together. Nobody around me was really reacting until an ambulance tried to clear the road and then everyone started running and I was worried I was going to get stampeded.”

Conlin said in the following 20 minutes or so, she was able to find two other members of her volunteer group. They then headed back to Tent A, the medical tent they had been assigned throughout the race and the one located closest to where the bomb went off, she said.

Earlier in the day, Conlin had seen the tent full of triumphant finishers and volunteers who applauded runners and assisted with small injuries such as scraped knees and twisted muscles.

But the scene had become horribly different.

“Volunteers I had worked with that morning were crying and there was blood all over the floor,” Conlin said. “The room was mostly cleared of triaged patients by this time and a few bloodied patients were still left. Most of the people were visibly shaken.”

Conlin said she had trouble grasping the magnitude of what happened.

“I really couldn’t believe everything that was happening; this wonderful experience had turned into something horrible and traumatizing,” Conlin said. “I just wanted to get out of there.”

Conlin and other volunteers were asked to stay in the tents until they were evacuated by officials. She and a group of about eight other students walked back to the university.

Hours after the incident, Conlin struggled to comprehend the events of Monday afternoon.

“I’m still not sure what just happened and I’m still trying to make sense of this,” Conlin said. “I really don’t understand why a person would do a thing like this, it’s so horrifying.”

Fifteen men and women from the Fargo-Moorhead area were registered for the Boston Marathon on Monday, which was Patriots Day, a state holiday.

The Forum has received no reports of any local runners being injured in the explosion.

A Wahpeton woman who had a son running in the marathon said that she, like Conlin, is still working through her feelings.

Meri Jac Christopherson said her son, Tobin Johnson of Plymouth, Minn., narrowly avoided being a victim, along with his wife and his sister, Christopherson’s daughter.

Johnson ran the marathon in 3 hours, 28 minutes, she said. While he ran, his wife and sister watched near the finish line, in the precise spot the bomb would later detonate, Christopherson said. Johnson happened to be cold after the race, so the three quickly headed back to the hotel.

“Had he run a little slower, I could have lost three children,” she said.

Christopherson said her family grapples with how close they came to loss.

“It is hard for all of us to take it all in. Our hearts and prayers are with those who are suffering,” Christopherson said. “Man’s inhumanity to man never ceases to amaze me. Man’s heroism to help each other when the going gets tough does not amaze me. It is what makes us human.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530