Published April 19. 2013 4:00AM
Jessica Newman, a behavioral analyst in Norwich public schools, and her boyfriend, Kurt Mias, a social worker at a Putnam school, had never been to the Boston Marathon before, so when the event fell on their April school vacation, they finally got the chance to see their favorite elite runners up close.
And the day was everything they expected, with sunny skies, a jubilant Patriots Day holiday atmosphere and a great spot along the metal railings right near the finish line. They bought folding chairs for $20 each at a nearby Walgreens store and sat and talked for hours with family and friends of runners - from Kenya, Australia, Spain and San Diego.
Mias, 28, and Newman, 32, both of Tolland, are runners themselves with races coming up in May in Providence. The two have followed the world's elite male and female marathon runners and cheered when they crossed the finish line Monday.
They mingled afterward, near the Lord & Taylor department store, went to the Starbucks and stood beneath the array of flags that overhung the street - all now famous landmarks around the world following the deadly bombings Monday.
Newman doesn't know why they decided to get up and start walking along the street away from that area. They turned onto Newbury Street and stepped into a lower-level coffee shop to get a drink. You couldn't hear the hum in the street from there, she said. They stepped back onto the street and heard the bang.
"Fireworks!" Newman heard someone say. "People are celebrating with fireworks."
Seconds later, as they walked back toward Boylston Street, Newman and Mias saw the plumes of smoke and people running toward them covered with blood, screaming.
"A woman was screaming, 'What happened? What happened? Where's my family? What's going on?'" Newman said. "She was bleeding on her legs, and black metal pieces were sticking out of her leg."
Mias, an Eagle Scout who remembered that the first step is to stop the bleeding, stayed with the woman and set up one of their folding chairs for her. Newman ran back to the coffee shop and grabbed as many napkins as she could. Still, people in the shop were unaware that anything was wrong.
She ran back to the woman. Others stopped to help. One woman wrapped her hooded sweatshirt around the woman's right leg. Mias and Newman used the napkins as best they could on her left leg. Help arrived, so the couple stepped back, left the woman and the chair and headed back toward the finish line.
More bloodied people came screaming down the street. Some were lying in the street being tended to. Mias heard a race volunteer scream for help to clear the streets. Volunteers started throwing cases of bottled water meant for the finishing racers toward the curb.
Tables cracked as people frantically tried to move them out of the way of approaching ambulances.
They recalled a flood of thoughts and emotions. They wanted to help but wondered if they would be safe at the scene. Newman was able to call her father to tell him they were safe.
"What are you talking about?" he said, not yet aware that two explosions had shattered the Boston Marathon festivities.
"I was in a state of shock," Mias said. "It was a combination of curiosity and wanting to help out. We turned right onto Boylston to find out what was going on."
The couple jumped the metal barrier and joined the fray of volunteers, tossing water bottles, bags of goodies for runners and shoving tables and whatever else blocked the streets until a police officer called for clearing the volunteers off the streets as well.
The two then wandered to the Prudential Center, which was packed with people like them who were also unsure of where to go. They asked a police officer if it was safe to take the subway home, and she said yes.
Newman, a behavioral analyst for young students with autism at the Samuel Huntington and other Norwich schools, said she doesn't plan to talk to students about her own experiences.
Mias, a social worker at the Northeast Regional Program in Putnam, recalled recent training on how to talk to high school students about the Newtown shootings.
"As a social worker, if any of them do ask questions, it's part of my job to help them sort it out," Mias said.
The experience won't keep them off the road. Mias will run a 5-kilometer race in Providence May 11 and Newman plans to run a marathon the next day, May 12, also in Providence.
"I think I'm still on the precipice of understanding how close we were, how lucky we were," Mias said. "The bomb went off 30 minutes after we left that spot. We watch the news and see the Lord & Taylor's, the Starbucks and the flags where we were standing."