In those last few moments before two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, spraying nails, ball bearings and shrapnel into the crowd, Erika Brannock, now 30, stood in her skinny jeans, green sneakers and Baltimore Ravens T-shirt, waiting for her mom to run by. Brannock, a preschool teacher, had never been to Boston before, and she was enjoying the electrifying atmosphere of the race, and the boisterous shouts of support from onlookers directed at complete strangers.
Brannock, who was with her sister and brother-in-law, Nicole and Michael Gross, had originally staked out a spot at the 26-mile marker, near the Sandy Hook tribute honoring the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Her sister and brother-in-law were eager to move closer to the finish line, so the three of them jostled and squirmed through a wall of people on Boylston Street, trying to get closer to the runners.
“I was, like, This is not a better spot than where we were!” Brannock recalled recently, talking via FaceTime from her parents’ home in suburban Baltimore. “Being a sensitive person, I started getting emotional” as she saw the runners move past. Her sister put her hand on Brannock’s back and told her everything would be OK. When a few people in front of them left, Nicole nudged Brannock forward, into their spot.
The first bomb went off seconds later, about a foot from where Brannock was standing. She was blown off her feet, flat on her back on the pavement, unconscious. Blood was splattered everywhere; torn limbs and broken bodies littered the ground. All around her, runners and spectators fled in terror, while others rushed to help the wounded and dying, desperately cinching belts around severed limbs.
When Brannock came to, she heard sirens and people screaming, and the acrid smell of singed metal burned her nose. She realized that her knee felt impossibly twisted, so she reached down, only to feel raw flesh from inside her leg. When she pulled her hand back, it was covered in blood. About eight inches from her head were Jeff Bauman’s knees; both his legs had to be amputated. At her feet lay Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager who died almost instantly in a medical tent nearby.
“I started to feel like I was slipping away,” Brannock recalls. “I saw the white light and felt a pull in my chest leading me upward. I closed my eyes and had a conversation with God and said, ‘I’m not done yet. You’re not taking me.’ I started screaming.”
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