UC Merced Sports

Local participants recount moments of confusion after blasts

Spencer Castro had crossed the finish line a little more than an hour before a pair of bombs rocked the Boston Marathon.

The 24-year-old UC Merced cross-country coach said he was about a block away, getting his legs rubbed down at a building set up for that purpose by race organizers.

"Everybody's reaction was 'What was that?' " Castro said. "At first we thought something had collapsed, but then word came in that there had been an explosion.

"It was a pretty good-sized explosion. The concussive blast blew out all the nearby windows," he said.

Fellow Mercedian James Bond, 35, crossed the finish line roughly 16 minutes after Castro.

He was at a nearby restaurant with his family when he found out about the bombings.

"We were two blocks away," Bond said. "We were having a good time, high-fiving everyone else as they came in after finishing. There was background music and sports on TV.

"I didn't hear anything when the bombs went off, but I did hear quite a bit of sirens. I didn't know what was going on until I got a phone call from my mom. She was frantic, asking if I was OK. I told her I was fine, that I finished the race.

"She said, 'No, something happened.'

"That's when I saw the TV switch from sports to breaking news," Bond said. "I looked around and saw a lot of people running."

Bond's wife, Melina, and his two children, James, 18, and Maya, 14, were there to cheer him on. Bond had trained 16 months for the race since qualifying in Sacramento in December of 2011.

His time of 3 hours, 3 minutes and 24 seconds was his personal best of the six marathons he's run.

Tragic turn of events

However, the excitement of his achievement quickly disappeared after he received the phone call from his mother.

Soon Bond and everyone else in the restaurant watched its televisions in horror as scenes of what was taking place just two blocks away unfolded.

"The vibe quickly changed," Bond said. "Nobody knew what to do. We heard that two bombs went off and that they found two more and detonated them. I was dumbfounded watching it on the TV. It was like, 'Oh my God, we were just there.'

"A lot of people were crying," he said.

Bond and his wife felt it was best to stay where they were. It was a small restaurant and they felt safe there.

Thirty minutes later, the Bond family decided to walk back to their hotel.

"There was a lot of distraught looking people running around," Bond said. "The police had closed a couple streets. We only had to walk a couple blocks, but there's big buildings ... simply walking past garbage cans was strange. A lot of things go through your mind.

"I've never been put in that situation," Bond said. "It was pretty intense."

Castro said he made his way back to the hostel where he had been staying and started checking in with the people with whom he had been rooming.

Taking inventory

"We all just started doing inventory as to who was there and who had been heard from," Castro said. "There's three guys from Hong Kong, a guy from Argentina, a guy from Japan. Everyone's saying it's an attack on America, but this is really an international event.

"The worst part is, from everything we've heard, the bulk of the people injured were spectators."

Castro said all of his bunk mates were accounted for, but contacting people outside Boston proved a little trickier.

"By the time I got to the train, my phone had like 2 percent on its battery," Castro said. "I think I was able to return one text before my phone died. I contacted my parents and some other people using Facebook.

"They've shut down cell service around the city because they were concerned that's how the bombers were setting them off. I've heard there's a Google Document that's been set up that allows people to either request information on missing people or post information about people in the race."

Castro said he's still trying to sort through his feeling about the day.

"I heard from a lot of my runners at the UC and they were all happy I was OK," Castro said. "I'm grateful I wasn't around when it happened, but the whole thing just doesn't seem real still."

This story was originally published April 16, 2013 12:05 AM.

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