Walpole BAA member witnesses carnage first hand - Gate House

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By Keith Ferguson

April 17. 2013 12:01AM

Walpole BAA member witnesses carnage first hand

Before he looked across a torn down fence onto what he could only describe as "carnage," Richard Laronde knew Boston was under attack.

As a member of the Boston Athletic Association Organizing Committee, the Walpole resident said race officials have previously anticipated every scenario –even terrorism.

As that worst case scenario played out, Laronde was at Copley Square making sure everything was running smoothly. His company, Capron Lighting and Sound, manages the Boston Marathon clock and finish line sound system.

At 2:50 p.m. – just before his race clock hit 4 hours and 10 minutes – Laronde stood by the finish line waiting to congratulate some of his son’s teachers at Johnson Middle School who he invited to run in the marathon.

He was just feet away from the first explosion.

"It’s the loudest thing that I’ve ever heard. It was staggering," Laronde said, explaining the feeling – the shock wave – of the bomb was most unnerving. By Tuesday, he was still recovering from right ear pain and some hearing loss.

From the finish line, he ran against the grain into the racecourse and began tearing down the scaffolding separating spectators from runners. The only thought that went through his mind was that he needed to help people.

While pulling down the fence he looked upon the dozens or victims and saw things that he said he’ll never be able to forget. He saw blood and severed limbs and carnage.

"I saw some pretty horrific things," Laronde said.

While he called the first blast disturbing, Laronde said he wasn’t scared. It wasn’t until the second explosion, when he had time to consider there could be more bombs, that he feared for his life.

"The whole feeling sent a chill through me," he said. "That thought in my mind that ‘someone is trying to kill you.’"

Laronde was part of a group of people being dubbed heroes who bucked instinct and ran toward the explosion.

"I didn’t do much," he said. "I just went in and pulled some things off and went away."

Laronde saw firsthand the worst in humanity, but he also saw the best – he saw lines of physicians, EMTs, police and military personnel saving lives.

"There were a bunch of people who knew exactly what they were doing," he said, describing the moments after the explosions as simultaneously chaotic and controlled.

Laronde gathered his Capron employees on Dartmouth Street and eventually found his wife, Barbara, who safely made her way to Tremont Street. He was still in shock – so much so that he experienced memory loss.

A day after the attack, Laronde said the horrendous reality of it all still hadn’t completely set in.

Unlike most, however, Laronde knew it was a terrorist attack the second the first bomb went off.

Following Sept. 11, 2001, the Boston Athletic Association essentially prepared for every security scenario and potential terrorist attack that could be thought up during extensive meetings.

"This was not something that was ignored," he said.

In what he could only speculate as an intentional act, Laronde said the first bomb was placed as close as possible to the secure race area.

"There’s only so much you can do," he said, about security measures during a very public event.

Like so many people in Massachusetts, Laronde has personal connections to Patriots Day and the marathon. He grew up in Newton where his mother took him down to Lake Street and Boston College to watch the runners. Before moving on to college, the two changed their viewing spot to Heartbreak Hill.

"It’s become part of the city," he said. "It’s Boston."

Recently, the Dover Drive resident began attending marathon dinners in an attempt to recruit people to donate to Dana Farber in memory of his son who he and his wife lost to cancer.

"It’s more than just a job," said Laronde, who joined the BAA 30 years ago. Since 1983, his has been the gun the starts the race at Hopkinton.

In those three decades, there were few races – from weather to technical minutiae – that went off as flawlessly up until the four hour mark as Monday’s running.

"This one was going perfectly," Laronde said. "All the little things that could go wrong hadn’t gone wrong."

Laronde, an adventurer who has found himself in the pages of the Times after trips to the North and South Poles and for training to go to space as part of the Virgin Galactic program, is no stranger to life threatening situations – he nearly froze to death near the summit of an Antarctican mountain – but this, he said, was much different and much worse than any situation he could get himself into.

"This is madness," he said. "Someone actually came there with the intent to destroy this event and kill everybody, including me and my wife."

The BAA has already announced the Boston Marathon will be run next year. While he sympathizes with people who say they’ll never be able to have fun at the race again, there’s really only one thing everyone can do in the face of the attacks – make next year’s running the best yet in the famous race’s 118-year history.



By Staff reports

July 26. 2013 12:01AM

Walpolians 100 days after the Boston Marathon bombings



Richard Laronde


Boston Athletic Association member; experienced hearing loss while standing on the finish line when the bombs went off

"I’ve talked to other people that are involved with the marathon…I’ve talked to runners. I think there’s a real sense of determination that were going to come back next year and make this a big race and complete what wasn’t completed this year. I’m sure there are some spectators who say maybe I wont come back next year but for every person that does that there will be maybe two more who say we wont let this affect us."

Sue Ledwith


First time marathoner – stopped at 25.5 miles into the race when the bomb went off

"Without a question [I’ll be participating next year]. I was running the next day. I have a new tattoo ‘run on Boston strong’"

Richard Stillman


Walpole Police Chief; MetroLEC SWAT commander in manhunt

"I’m certainly concerned about officer safety, I’m concerned about public safety. The good thing about this was it was the first time in my career that we’ve seen public support for the police. It was nice to see. Most people don’t deal with the police. They actually saw, most of them related it to the Boston police and the FBI. Some people that are paying attention are aware that local police were involved with that very heavily. We really do train hard – we work hard to keep people safe…I think its eye opening. I think people look at Boston as being ours. It was very personal, this attack, to most people even out here. For police officers it was particularly personal….Sean Colier was assassinated. Donahue was shot. There was heavy police involvement, and local police, so it really opened our eye that these things can happen and we need to be more vigilant."

Mary Abplanalp


Ran a leg in One Run For Boston – a cross nation relay run fundraiser

"A friend of mine sent me the link for the relay and I knew right away I would do it. Aside from donating money it was hard to find a way to do something in support of the Marathon victims. For me, running in support of them felt like the right thing to do. Also, connecting with so many people outside of Massachusetts that felt compelled to show their support for our city was overwhelming. Runners run for all different, personal reasons at all different levels and paces, but coming together for this cause gave me a feeling a pride and a sense of action that was otherwise hard to show."





By Brittney McNamara

April 24. 2014 2:36PM

Strength on display: Walpole marathoners join 32,000 runners and countless viewers in taking back historic race

Boston Athletics Association member Richard Laronde called this year?s marathon boring, something he and many participants and spectators rejoiced in.
Along with other Walpole runners, the B.A.A. organizing committee member said nerves on Boylston Street quickly dissipated as marathoners flooded across the finish line in triumph. After witnessing last year?s carnage firsthand, Laronde echoed other Walpole participants? sentiments when he said, "everything went perfectly."
As a record number of runners, about 32,000 strong, flocked from Hopkinton to Boston on Monday, spanning 26.2 miles, Laronde said the crowds reclaimed the race that was marred last year with two bomb blasts near the Boylston Street finish.
This year?s joyous spirit during the Patriot?s Day tradition, Laronde said, got away from the tragedy of last year and established a new norm.
"I think we came and we created the same thing and we did it again as we had for so many years before. We took back the race, took back Boston, took back the finish line," Laronde said.
At first an eerie sight, the familiar finish line served as a reminder of the bombings and the lives and limbs lost last year, Laronde said. However, it quickly transformed to what it has always been: a sign of victory. Walpole runner Joe Mulligan said he felt emotional as he approached the end.
"It really hit me when I came around Hereford onto Boylston. I was going down that straight-away trying to imagine what it must have been like [last year]," Mulligan said, who did not run in 2013 because of an injury. "It was really, I?d say touching, but it was a little scary."
Nearing the end of the race, 21-time marathoner Fiona Murphy said memories of the bombs that went off just 20 minutes after she finished last year?s race held strong, but were overcome by the joys of the iconic Boston event.
"It was nice to have happy thoughts about the day. [The Boston Marathon] has been here for 117 years before bad things happened," Murphy said. "Everyone had that spirit of bringing it back to what it should be, but still with so many thoughts [of last year]."
Sue Ledwith finished her first marathon this year, after being stopped at mile 25.5 last year when the bombs went off. After she passed the area near the Charlesgate Bridge where her race ended last year, Ledwith said she felt relief.
"I listened to music," Ledwith said. "As I was coming up onto Hereford Street [near the finish line] that song "Happy" by Pharell came on. That?s exactly how I felt, happy."
Running his 18th marathon, his sixth in Boston, Mulligan initially broke down the day in terms of his performance, as runners do. What he called a little slower than usual, Mulligan finished in just over four hours. A great experience overall, he said, the race just felt like a race, save for the crowded start and the emotional finish.
"I am sure it will hit me more tomorrow in terms of what it meant," Mulligan said. "When you?re running, you?re kind of more focused on finishing the run."
Murphy, who finished in time to qualify her for next year?s race in just under four hours, said the race felt fairly normal, particularly near the start. Aside from the unexpected 70 degree heat, Murphy said her run felt much like the 20 others she had completed before.
"When the race started it felt like somewhat of a normal day. When you got closer to the city you saw more police and more barricades up," Murphy said. "The crowds were out saying, ?nope you?re not scaring us.?"
Like any marathon, Mulligan said he had some favorite parts of the course, and dreaded others. Perhaps unusual, Mulligan named the Newton hills-one aptly named Heartbreak Hill- his favorite part of the course.
Ledwith?s favorite part wasn?t geographical. The crowds cheering her on, Ledwith said, got her to the finish line.
"There were parts that it was just a race, but the crowds were so amazing. I did end up walking, but people were like ?come on, Sue, you can do it!? Then as soon as you started running they cheered three times as loud," Ledwith said. "It was a race, but it was like they were running with me."
The enthusiastic crowds helped Murphy along, she said, out in incredible numbers nearing the finish line.
"Thinking of others who had not such great days last year kept me inspired.
As I think we got closer to the city, around the Boston College mark all the way in, it was just packed," Murphy said. "Probably more people than I had ever seen, loud and happy and cheering."
Like Ledwith and Murphy, the crowds cheered on 99 percent of the races? 32,408 runners all the way across the finish line.
Last year, runners stopped before the finish line by the blasts vowed, "the race will go on." This year, on it went. In some ways, the race stayed the same, some runners said, with one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. In other ways, they agreed, it is forever changed.
"This is something that will never go completely back to the innocence of before. This is our new reality, our new normal, dealing with it and making sure [a tragedy] doesn?t happen again," Laronde said.
"There were some unusual things. The energy of the crowds and the energy of the runners, that felt normal to me," Murphy said. "As I hit Heartbreak Hill, there was a tent for Krystle Campbell [who died in the attacks]. That gets the lump in your throat, gets you emotional again. As I hit Kenmore Square, I ran by the three army veterans, all amputees who were running together, that was inspirational."
Despite the changes, the race continued with some degree of normalcy, runners running and spectators cheering, traditions being carried out and bucket lists having one more check.
"[After the race] I came out and got a drink and got a cheeseburger," Ledwith said, something she had been looking forward to. "Then I went home, it was a wonderful day."
As he does every time he runs, Mulligan crossed the finish line on Boylston Street like he was the winner.
"I have a stupid thing I do, I bring my hands down like I?m breaking the tape, even though I?m not," he said, laughing. "I walked right through the medal line, I must have been in the zone."