Runner 22756 — Chongris Circle resident Dennis Johnson — was less than a half-mile from finishing his second Boston Marathon Monday when all the runners around him slowly stopped in motion, under police orders.
As confusion swept Johnson, a scene of “pandemonium” was unfolding at the finish line where his wife, Cheryl Johnson, and their 15-year-old daughter, Lizzie, were awaiting his arrival.
Exploding bombs shot plumes of smoke into the sky on either side of Cheryl and Lizzie Johnson, rocketing the cheering crowds surrounding them into a state of chaos.
In the thick of it all, Andover father Paul Kelley, who has worked security for the marathon for 25 years, was running through the sea of people in search of his 18-year-old daughter, Samantha, and her friend, who only moments earlier were volunteer guards standing directly in front of the site of the first exploding bomb.
Further down the road, the Yepez family of Andover was caught in the second bomb blast, which had gone off just a few feet behind them. All around them, debris from the explosion was provided miserable company to the human carnage that had resulted in a matter of seconds. (See related story, facing page.)
Of the more than 23,000 who stepped off hours earlier in the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, only about 17,000 crossed the finish line before two bombs stopped the race in its tracks — killing at least three people, including an 8-year-old boy, in the process and injuring more than 170 others.
Suddenly, dozens of Andover residents running, watching or working the race found themselves unwilling witnesses to tragedy.
“We were right before the finish line,” Cheryl Johnson said. “It was just one boom. I craned my neck to the direction and you saw this huge, billowing, white-grayish cloud just going up, and you didn’t know whether it was coming from underground or aboveground.”