By Dustin Luca
---- — The Yepez family of Andover was just a few hundred feet away as the first bomb exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday.
They had no clue a second bomb was positioned just a couple yards behind them, waiting to go off.
When it did, 15-year-old David Yepez and a 12-year-old family friend from California found themselves in harm’s way.
“We were approximately 5 to 8 feet from the blast, and the way we were lined up, standing to root on the runners, David and his friend took the brunt of that explosion,” Louis Yepez, David’s father, said. “He was thrown to the ground.”
David Yepez, a freshman at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, suffered second-degree burns to his left arm and a small portion of the side of his face and ruptured his ear drums.
Yepez underwent surgery Tuesday at Floating Hospital for Children in Boston to remove a 1-by-3-inch piece of schrapnel from his leg.
His friend, whose mother was running the marathon, suffered similar lacerations in the explosion and is recovering as well.
Louis Yepez said he expects his son and the younger boy will fully recover from their injuries. He’s more worried about the other victims and those who lost family members. The Yepezes were standing within reach Monday of 8-year-old Martin Richard of Dorchester — one of the three spectators killed in the explosions.
“There have been (victims) who have lost family members,” Luis Yepez said. “David’s injuries are non-life threatening. Over time, they’ll heal. We’re very grateful that’s the case, but our family’s concern is with those who have had it much more difficult than we’ve had.”
For years, the Yepez family has made attending the Boston Marathon a tradition. This year, they were accompanied by their friends from California.
“We typically go down every year to root on the runners,” Luis Yepez said. “This year wasn’t any different.”
Four hours into the race, they stood against the barriers that enclosed the running lane at the finish line. It was 2:50 p.m. when the first explosion farther down the line caught everybody’s attention.
“Everyone was like, ‘What was that?’ You’re looking at color. You’re looking at the runners,” Luis Yepez said. “And in the blink of an eye, you don’t hear anything. You don’t see anything. It’s just a flash — and when you open your eyes, it’s a scene of devastation.”
Then, the second bomb exploded right behind them.
The air was full of dust and smoke. Bottles and chairs were all over the place. And scattered among the debris was “people in horrific conditions, missing limbs,” Yepez said.
It wasn’t long before the family was separated amidst the carnage.
“You’re wrestling with the human aspect of providing as much aid as you can, and also trying to protect and keep your family from being injured,” Luis Yepez said. “At some point, during the chaos, we were separated. Fortunately, my wife and my son were able to make it into one of the restaurants.”
Bystanders flooded the scene. Everyone from volunteer medics to complete strangers engaged in make-shift triage. The scene along the side of Boylston Street “became a chaotic war zone,” Louis Yepez said.
“We were trying to place the tourniquet on a gentleman who lost the lower limb of his leg, another woman who was injured severely, a child who was just laying there,” he said.
After things started settling down, Luis Yepez worked his way around the scene, eventually finding his wife, Gisela, with David in the restaurant.
“That’s when I noticed that his hair had been singed, that he was injured and bleeding, and needing assistance,” he said. “Thank God that there were a number of paramedics and ambulances there, near the finish line.”
The entire Yepez family is passionate about running and they all hope to one day to qualify for the Boston Marathon, Luis Yepez said. But he’s not yet sure they will be returning to watch the race next year. Still, he said he would “hate to have this type of thing start controlling your life.”
“We really haven’t thought it out. The attention has been with David, and we haven’t thought beyond that,” he said. “We run marathons. It’s not going to stop us from running and participating in events.”
Louis Yepez said many things surprised him and his family on the streets of Boston Monday. But there was one thing that came as no surprise to him as he stood in the crowd, he said.
As supporters moved in, tearing off shirts and shredding them to ribbons to use on victims to help cut off blood flow to open wounds, Luis Yepez said he found that everything was actually proceeding exactly as he expected.
“When something like this happens, we as a country come together,” he said. “It has been everything I would have expected that we, as Americans, do.”