Three BYU students personally affected in Boston Marathon bombings

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The tragedy at Boston sent shock waves throughout the nation. This impact has been even stronger because of the many people from around the country who participated in the marathon.

Several BYU students who participated in the marathon and witnessed the tragedy in different stages and locations were emotionally affected and grateful for the things and people they have in their lives.

Ben Walters, a Spanish translation major from Brier, Wash., had finished the marathon about an hour before the bombings and was on the subway heading back to his hotel when the explosions happened. He wasn’t aware of the bombings until he returned to his hotel.

“The scariest part was that my dad and my sister were right at the spot of the explosions,” Walters said. “If they had stayed there for an hour and a half, they would have been right there when the explosions happened.”

Parker Murray, a BYU student from Ogden, had finished 25 minutes before the explosions and was on the street parallel to the finish line between the two buildings when the bombs went off.

Parker Murray, before the actual race with the people and causes he was running for on his arms and legs. (Photo courtesy Parker Murray)
Parker Murray, before the actual race, with the people and causes he was running for on his arms and legs. (Photo courtesy Parker Murray)

“It was the biggest explosion I’ve ever heard,” Murray said. “Like something in a movie or something. It sounded unreal. At first, we thought it was some sort of fireworks. The second one went off, and we could tell something was wrong. It all felt really surreal.”

Heather Brown, an exercise and wellness major from Provo, had finished 40 minutes prior to the explosions but was in a medical tent, approximately 100 yards from the finish line, being treated for dehydration. She was about to be released but accepted a massage from a physical therapist. As soon as she lay down on the table, the bombs went off.

“Luckily, my parents were with me, because they were right where the bombs were before,” Brown said. “The doctor called them and told them I was in the medical tent, and they came to me. We saw the whole tent move, the wind went right through the tent, and they started bringing in bloody people, and I immediately knew it was a bomb. So I got up and said, ‘I’m fine,’ because I knew I needed to clear room for those people who were really bloodied up.”

The attack had a profound impact on all three BYU students, forcing them to reflect on the devastation of a senseless act and their gratitude for the families they have.

“The main thing for me was thinking about all the people and hoping there were priesthood holders in the area to give blessings to those who wanted them,” Walters said. “Secondly, I thought how grateful I was that my family was still alive. It was a difference between 90 minutes.”

The Boston Marathon is always held on Patriots’ Day in Boston, and many people run for causes and people they love. This was the case for Murray, whose dream came true when he qualified for the event.

“It felt literally like I was in some horror movie,” Murray said. “It’s devastating — ever since we got here, I felt so safe the whole time. It’s so sad that someone would ruin all that. I was running that marathon with specific people in mind, and it was one of the most ecstatic experiences I’ve been through. It was a dream come true, and having that dream turn into a nightmare in the blink of an eye was just devastating.”

Brown, who was the closest of the three to the explosions, and had firsthand accounts of the victims, was grateful for the unnoticed blessings she received and was stalwart in her unity with the other runners.

“My first thought was that the medical tent was going to blow up too, because it was right next to the explosion,” Brown said. “I knew it was a blessing that I needed an IV, because that’s what allowed my parents to be with me and allowed them to be safe. I just think those people who thought they could destroy a marathon don’t really realize how mentally strong marathon runners are. We are people who can tough this physical exertion out and come together.”

On Thursday night, the bombers were identified as Tamerlan, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, two brothers from Chechnya, a Russian province. Tamerlan was killed Thursday night in a shootout with police, and Dzhokhar was captured Friday evening.

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