The city’s signature Stockade-athon was nearly halted mid-race Sunday morning after officials were alerted to a suspicious-looking gym bag near the finish line.
The maroon bag that caused the panic — which could have kept 1,863 runners from the finish line — was singled out because it had wire coming out of it, according to assistant race director Dwight Wilson, who said he saw the bag.
“With everything going on with Boston and everything, I think the feeling from the fire department, and from me as a race official, was to err on the side of safety,” Wilson said. “It was probably nothing, judging by the bottle of water on top and the position of it and all that stuff, but we didn’t want to be the ones who said, ‘Oh it’s probably nothing,’ and somebody gets blasted by shrapnel or something.”
Two bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, killing 3 people and injuring more than 250 others.
The suspicious bag at the Stockade-athon was left about 100 yards from the finish line, near the trunk of a tree growing between the dog park and the building that serves as the park’s headquarters. A woman reportedly spotted the bag and expressed her concern to an on-site member of the Schenectady Fire Department, who in turn notified police.
“With the Boston thing, we want to take every precaution,” said Schenectady police Sgt. John Moore, who was on the scene Sunday.
At approximately 9:40 a.m. — 40 minutes into the race — crime scene tape was used to cordon off about 50 yards in every direction from the bag. State police and a bomb-sniffing dog were called in to assist with the investigation.
“There was a brief period of time where the police were talking amongst themselves and with Dwight and myself about whether we should stop the race. I strongly advocated not stopping because the runners were not going anywhere close to the bag,” race director Vince Juliano said.
The race went on, and while some spectators voiced annoyance when told they could not walk down Iroquois Way, which had been blocked off due to the scare, runners and their fans seemed mainly unaware of the police activity in the park.
Officers gathered behind the crime scene tape, while nearby, winded runners streamed into the park for the final leg of the 15K race.
As officers were getting ready to investigate the suspicious bag with a bomb-sniffing dog, the owner of the bag — a Stockade-athon participant — showed up to claim it, Juliano said.
“From what I heard — I heard this from the police — the zipper was broken on this guy’s bag, so he used electrician’s wire to close the bag,” Wilson recounted.
At around 10:30 a.m., police began removing the crime scene tape, after it was determined the suspicious bag contained nothing dangerous.
“The police took it seriously, as they should. We have police, fire, everyone doing their jobs, and they took the precautions they should’ve taken. It’s a scare, but that’s all it was,” said Juliano.
There was an abundance of sports bags in Central Park on Sunday. Each race participant received a black string bag at packet pickup, instead of the usual T-shirt. Juliano said race organizers were considering giving out shirts next year, but noted that line of thought had nothing to do with Sunday’s scare.
“We try to mix it up,” he said.
With the exception of the disruption caused by the suspicious bag, the race came off without a hitch. A record 2,083 competitors registered for the event, and 1,863 finished the race.
Spectators stood on street corners, cheering athletes on despite cool temperatures and cloudy skies. Bas Korevaar and his children, Daniel, 4, and Aryeh, 6, were playing drums on their stoop on Front Street in the Stockade neighborhood.
“We’re cheering them up,” Aryeh exclaimed as he banged on a wooden box with a drumstick, his eyes on the runners in the street.
Down the road, Jessica Gelarden was keeping the beat with a wooden spoon and a cast iron frying pan.
“When the runners hear the noise, they really like it,” said Charles Gelarden, who was sitting on their stoop holding the leash for their dog, Mickey. “Loud noise at this point in the race really seems to get them pumped.”
Spectators in the Stockade stood aside the statue of Lawrence the Indian, watching runners chug by. Many racers sported neon-colored outfits that brightened the dreary day.
Meg Frisoni, who lives in the Stockade, held up a sign that said, “Dave, run like someone just called you a jogger!”
She said the message was meant to motivate a friend.
“I just wanted to give him a little incentive to keep up the good work,” she explained. “I got the thumbs-up.”