Shortly after bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, North Kingsville resident Don Lee became involved in the hellish chaos that prevailed Monday.
Lee was handing out finishers’ medals shortly before 3 p.m., when he heard a huge explosion a block away.
“I looked to the left and saw smoke and thought it was a party, a celebration,” he said. “We were really busy ... then a second (explosion) went off and I thought, ‘Oh my God, something else is going on.’”
Lee didn’t know it at the time, but two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and injuring more than 113 people. Video from the scene showed two bombs about 20 seconds apart off the course at the finish.
“People started shouting, ‘Leave the street!’ Everyone started running in the opposite direction from the course,” Lee said. “I wanted to help but at the same time, I wanted to run.”
Lee, a marathon runner who has run in the Boston Marathon a dozen times in the past, knew how participants covet the medals he was handing out. He didn’t want to just leave them in the street. It seemed people were dropping everything and running away.
“I helped load the medals into a truck to get them off the street,” he said. “We cleaned the way for ambulances to get through.”
Then, Lee ran.
When he stopped to rest, he called his wife and son, Brian, (who were in Cambridge) to tell them what had happened and that he was safe. Lee and Brian ran the Marathon together in 1996.
“I looked for transportation, but there was none,” Lee said. “I walked and I ran but I wanted to help.”
Then there was a third explosion at the John F. Kennedy presidential library, so Lee had to run in another direction. Police later said that explosion appeared to be caused by a fire.
“I just kept moving,” Lee said. “I was worried about my wife and son until we hooked up. Thank goodness, my son now lives in Boston so he knew his way around and he could get out.”
Despite it all, Lee said this tragedy will not stop him or his family from going again next year.
“To see the human spirit, people helping people, it restored my faith in humankind,” he said. “We can’t let the terrorists win.”
The race has been run since 1897 on Patriots Day, the third Monday in April.
Lee, a retired Ashtabula County educator, said almost 27,000 runners competed this year, representing 96 countries.
“It’s what makes the Marathon great,” he said. “Seeing people from all over the world come together, running together and helping each other — that’s what it’s all about.”