Everything seemed perfect Monday afternoon on Boylston Street in Boston.
The throngs of people crowding the finish line at the Boston Marathon basked in the sunny skies and warm temperatures. John Capobianco finished the 26.2-mile race in 3 hours and 38 minutes — a good time for the 62-year-old insurance broker from Albany, who was running his ninth marathon in the city.
“It was such a beautiful day — such a celebratory day,” he recalled by phone Monday.
Then everything changed abruptly. First, one explosion, then another, less than 20 seconds later.
“I heard these two explosions and really didn’t know what to think,” said Capobianco, who estimated he was about 200 yards from the first blast. “I turned around and saw the smoke from both of them.
Former Saratoga Springs resident Kareem Ghobrial had just come from a Red Sox game and was heading down Boylston to grab a bite to eat with his girlfriend when the first explosion shook the city. Like many others, the 25-year-old graduate student had no idea what had happened just a short distance up the street.
“You could just feel the vibrations going through you,” he recalled during a phone interview. “My girlfriend thought it was a cannon for Patriot’s Day.”
But with the second explosion, Ghobrial realized something had gone drastically wrong. Chaos and confusion rolled through the crowd, as police shut down the course along Boylston and quickly moved uninjured spectators off the street.
“Every policeman was running down the course to the scene,” he said. “It happened instantly.”
Hundreds of runners from the Capital Region area were competing in the marathon and many other area residents were watching. Though it wasn’t clear if any were among the deaths and horrific injuries caused by the bombing, many remain rattled in its aftermath.
Even those who left the city before the detonations seemed shaken. Brian DeBraccio of Scotia finished nearly an hour before the bombings and was on his way back to his car, which he parked on the outskirts of Boston, when he saw police descending on the city. Dozens of emergency vehicles were headed in the opposite direction on the Massachusetts Turnpike, something that struck him as an ominous sign.
“I knew it was something that was not good,” he said.
The incident also gave DeBraccio, 47, pause to think about the vulnerability large city marathons pose. He was spooked by the notion that something like the Boston Marathon could become a target for a bombing.
“You’re dealing with 26 miles of roadway, one million spectators and 30,000 athletes,” he said. “There could have been more of these in garbage cans along the course.”
Emily Bryans, 45, of Delanson, dropped out of the race around mile 17 after her muscles tightened. Her early exit might have prevented her from crossing the finish line around the time of the blast.
“I just feel completely saddened by what happened today,” she said. “It’s hard to understand how someone could target something like this.”
Mike Roda finished the race more than an hour before the blasts, but his sore legs prevented the 37-year-old Albany man from sticking around to watch his friends finish.
“On a whim I got on the T [the city’s commuter train],” he said, “and I’m glad I did, obviously.”
Gazette reporter David Lombardo contributed to this report.