‘Absolute chaos and terror’
Coach Carly Littlefield reflects on her experience in the Boston Bombing five years ago
April 16, 2018
Three people died. Two hundred sixty-four were injured. Sixteen lost their limbs. More than 23,000 runners and thousands of spectators mourned. It was April 15, 2013– a day of terror for the city of Boston.
Five years ago, two terrorists at the Boston Marathon detonated two bombs at the finish line of the race, leading to shock, confusion, and fear among participants. One block away from the first blast was cross country and track coach Carly Littlefield and her husband, Casey.
Before the blast
The Boston Marathon began in 1897, and has since become one of the world’s most well-known and prestigious running events. The race attracts thousands of runners as well as spectators and the family members of those participating.
In 2013, Carly ventured to Boston with her husband for the first time to run the marathon. On race day, the women took off around 9:30 a.m. with clear skies and a slight breeze–a seemingly perfect day for a run.
After sending her off to race, Casey walked to Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2. With a time of 3:46:49, Carly crossed the finish to end her 26.2 mile run, and then the couple walked to gather her belongings. Suddenly, a blast from the finish line shook the city.
‘A mixture of confusion and oblivion’
At 2:49 p.m., two bombs detonated approximately 12 seconds apart and 210 yards from each other, causing relentless chaos as others watched in horror.
“We were approximately one block away from the explosion,” Carly said. “I had just found my husband after picking up my belongings. We had literally just met up when the first explosion when off. At the race site, where we were in family area, it was a mixture of confusion and oblivion. No one where I was knew what was happening. Crazy, looking back, to know that we were only one block away from absolute chaos and terror.”
Immediately after the explosions, Carly doubted that bombs were actually detonated.
“My initial thought was that there were fireworks or some sort of cannon,” Carly said. “I looked up to the sky. Upon the second boom, I turned to a man next to me and asked, ‘Is this common?’ He replied, ‘No, not for Boston.’ After both booms, I looked at everyone around me to get a feel for what was happening. I argued that it was not [a bomb]. I looked around and half of the people looked concerned while others were smiling and cheerful, oblivious to what was happening.”
Casey, a former Dallas police officer, knew from the first explosion that there was a bomb despite Carly’s optimism.
“His first thought was 9/11, and he was worried about collapsing buildings,” Carly said. “He told me we needed to get away from all of the buildings immediately.”
Many racers and spectators did not comprehend what had happened or what to do, but Casey instantly knew to quickly get to a safe area.
”Because we couldn’t see the chaos, I would say most people didn’t even grasp what had happened,” Casey said. “My immediate thought was that we had to get away from high buildings and large gathering areas. I knew that Boston Commons Park was within walking distance, and I knew that it was as about an open area as we could get to quickly. I honestly thought we couldn’t move fast enough as we started to head that direction. It was a very eerie feeling not knowing if other explosions would happen around you. Because Carly had just run 26 miles, she was really struggling to even walk.”
As the Littlefields walked to and entered the park, panic, uncertainty, and terror sliced through Carly and others in the surrounding the area.
“As we were walking, me more hobbling, I was saying, ‘No, no, no,’ it could not be a bomb,” Carly said. “There seemed to be confusion all around us. Most people were talking on their phones trying to figure out what was happening. It was very surreal–like a dream. I remember praying I would see my daughter again. I remember wondering if this could really be what Casey thought.”
After getting in touch with family members, the pair was informed there indeed had been a bombing.
“At this point, you simply don’t know what will happen next,” Carly said. “Are there more? Will there be planes crashing in? What type of bomb? I remember the park, Boston Common, seeming kind of empty when we got there. We didn’t know what to do or what to think. Many were crying; most seemed in shock. I know I was.”
In the evening, the Littlefields walked to their hotel, where they remained for the rest of the night. The next day, the two were determined not to live in fear.
“We made the decision that we would not be thwarted by the bombers’ attempt to terrorize us,” Casey said. “Although the police had not yet identified the perpetrators, and the city was nearly desolate, we decided to tour the main attractions of Boston. As we were riding through Boston on a tour bus, Carly and I were the only people on it. I’ll never forget a police officer that was standing guard on a street corner. As he stood there with rifle in hand, he looked directly at us and gave us both a smile and thumbs up. As to say, ‘Way to not let this incident dictate how you live your life.’ We’ll never forget that moment.”
In the wake
Looking back on the day of terror approximately 1,826 days later, Carly said that, after a period of trauma, it reminded her of how valuable life is.
“I think I was just in shock for quite some time,” Carly said. “There are things that always remind me how precious life and loved ones are, and that was one of those times. I think, ‘What if I had run slower that day? What if we had met up at the finish line?’–which was our original plan the day before. I just know that we were fortunate.”
The surreal experience also showed the Littlefields the grace and love of others.
“One of my athletes texted me and said, ‘I’m sure glad you’re fast, Coach,’” Carly said. “That has always stuck in my mind. The outpour of texts and calls was unreal. You learn how many people really care about you when those things happen, and you learn how much you care about others. The experience was very eye opening. You just never know what’s around the corner, in this case quite literally, as those pressure cooker [bombs] were sitting just as you turn onto Boylston Street to get to the finish line. It’s just crazy.”
In the future, Carly looks forward to potentially racing the marathon again, this time with her daughter.
“I hope to qualify within the next five years, and I really hope to run it with my daughter, who is also a runner, once she finishes her athletic career someday and has time to train for the distance,” Carly said. “I think it would be so cool to experience that with her. The experience prior to the bombing was one that every runner should get to have at some point in their lifetime.”