NATICK, Mass. -- About five minutes earlier, Shivaun Pacitto had crossed the finish line in the 117th Boston Marathon. She was milling about with hundreds of other runners who were waiting to receive their medals and space blankets to ward off the spring chill.
Pacitto, a research psychologist with the Consumer Research Team at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, was a bit disappointed with her time of 4 hours 3 minutes, 37 seconds, but she otherwise was enjoying the atmosphere before that instant when everything changed. "All of a sudden, I heard a loud boom, and it shook through my body," Pacitto recalled. "And I turned back and I said, 'Oh, my God.' And then I heard a second one, and I fell to my knees. A runner picked me up and he said, 'You have to run. There might be another (bomb) at the finish line.'" Her husband, Gary Pacitto, chief of the engineering division of the Directorate of Public Works for U.S. Army Garrison Natick, also heard the explosions but couldn't see them from where he was standing. As others ran in the other direction, Gary jumped a fence and sprinted toward the finish line on Boylston Street. "All I could think of was Shivaun," Gary said. "When I got there, there was just mayhem. There (were) people coming in wheelchairs without legs. It was devastating to see how many people were injured and how injured they were."
Gary finally reached the finish line but couldn't find his wife. "I walked to the side of the road, and I prayed that she was OK, because I didn't know where she was," Gary said. "And then the phone rang, and it was her." Pacitto had borrowed a cell phone from another runner and called her husband. They, their young sons and other family members made it to Boston Common but still didn't feel safe. "We got stuck in Boston for hours," Pacitto said. "We were afraid to take the train home. We didn't know what was going on with other bombings. My brother came into the city and picked us up and we got home safely." The Pacittos said the day after the marathon was worse for them. "Families that have lost lives and have injured, you know, how do you pray for them in a way that can reach their families to give them comfort?" Gary said. "That's the hardest part about today, is realizing that there's so many people affect by this and so many families that will never be the same. Today, it was hard realizing there was an 8-year-old boy who died, and others (who) died." Lt. Col. Tim Haley, a physician assigned to the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, knows exactly how Gary Pacitto feels. He was helping elite runners who needed medical treatment earlier in the race and was eating at a nearby restaurant when the explosions took place. In the confusion, first responders wouldn't allow him back into the medical area. "I know that an 8-year-old died," said Haley, a pediatrician by training. "It was sort of frustrating for me." At the same time, running between miles 23 and 24 of the race, Mike Nixon came upon spectators on the course and runners walking the opposite way. The former Marine wondered what was happening. "So I was a couple miles away (from the finish line) at that point," Nixon said. "I had my headphones in. Nobody knew what was going on." It soon became all too apparent to Nixon, a program analyst with the Expeditionary Basing and Collective Protection Directorate at NSRDEC. "I ran into some of my running club friends," said Nixon, who has run three marathons. "They flagged me down. They were shouting at me because I had my headphones in, and I stopped. They were like, 'It's over. A bomb went off at the finish.' It was kind of like September 11th in the way you're getting information from other people but you're not sure what's really going on." Nixon's thoughts immediately went to his wife, daughter and other family members, who were planning to meet him after the race. "And I said, 'Oh, my God, my family's at the finish,'" Nixon said. "And then, of course, I started texting and trying to call, frantically, to make sure everybody was OK. And everybody was OK, thankfully. They hadn't made it down yet to that point. "The phones weren't working very well for obvious reasons, but the text messages were pretty quick, so thankfully, it wasn't as bad as 9/11, because I remember being in South Carolina and trying to call home. I was in the Marines at the time." Behind Nixon on the marathon course in Framingham was Wes Long, an equipment specialist at Natick's Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate. Long was on hand in his capacity as an auxiliary police officer. "We were able to ensure that marathon ran smoothly and safely through the Framingham section," Long said. "I am truly saddened by the events that unfolded at the finish line. My thoughts, prayers and support go out to the victims and their families. "Also, thank you to all the police officers, firemen, EMTs, first responders, military and anyone else who helped and continues to help during these difficult times. We stand together." Earlier in the day, Jenna Scisco, a research psychologist for the Military Nutrition Division of USARIEM, had served as one of the volunteers who guided buses from Boston and greeted runners as they arrived at the starting line in Hopkinton. Fortunately, she wasn't near the finish line, but she shared some thoughts about the events of the day. "I am praying for those who lost their lives and were injured, and for their families and friends," Scisco said. "It is so difficult to understand what happened yesterday, and so hard to imagine the pain and suffering that those directly affected by this tragedy are experiencing." Scisco pointed out that more than 20,000 athletes had taken part in the race and raised millions for charity, and that more than 8,000 volunteers had turned out to help them achieve their goals. Then, when tragedy struck, they went the extra mile for each other. "Race organizers, first responders, spectators, volunteers, and runners risked their own safety and came to the aid of the injured," Scisco said. "In the midst of this terrible tragedy, we saw the strength and inherent goodness of humanity shine through." After enduring minutes that seemed like hours, Mike Nixon used the GPS in his cell phone and was reunited with his family. His third marathon attempt had been cut short, but it became apparent it wouldn't be his last. "My reaction to this kind of stuff is, I'm not going to let them control me via fear, you know?" Nixon said. "You gotta stay strong. You gotta think of the good things. This could have been so much worse." Shivaun Pacitto was just as unflinching as Nixon. "The Boston Marathon means too much to our city or even to our nation," Pacitto said. "It's an international event that we're so proud of, and I just don't want it to be tarnished like this. You know, I've thought about it, and I would (run again) because I don't want to live in fear. I will not let whoever did this win."