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Southlanders in Boston: ‘It was crazy’

Boonsom (left) Scott Hartman Oak Forest their Bosthotel.  |  Supplied photo

Boonsom (left) and Scott Hartman, of Oak Forest, in their Boston hotel. | Supplied photo

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Updated: May 18, 2013 6:25AM



Boonsom Hartman had just run 26 miles — joined for the last half of them by her husband, Scott Hartman, who snuck into Monday’s Boston Marathon midway through — when the Oak Forest couple decided to pose for a postrace photo, smiles and all.

Then the bombs went off.

Scott Hartman, 55, and Boonsom, 53, estimated they were only 30 to 40 yards away from the explosions that killed three people and injured dozens.

“The sound was just incredible,” Scott Hartman said Tuesday. “You go to a July 4 celebration and they have the loud sonic boom explosions that sometimes set off car alarms. Imagine one of those going off right next to you. It was crazy, powerful sounding.”

Scott said he then saw a “big, billowing cloud of dust and smoke,” at least three or four stories high. Ten to 15 seconds later, the second bomb went off. Scott said he heard people crying and screaming but didn’t see any of the carnage.

He and Boonsom started walking away from the scene after the first explosion, and started walking faster after the second. Their hotel was about three blocks away.

From inside the hotel lobby, they called their son Nick Hartman to let him know they were OK.

Boonsom has run the past five Boston Marathons and 254 marathons overall. The Thailand-born racer is known to many runners as the “Lipstick Lady,” as she likes to apply a layer to look good for postrace photos.

With such traditions to carry on, the couple plan to run next year’s Boston Marathon despite being eyewitnesses to tragedy.

“I cried for a couple of hours,” Boonsom said. “I couldn’t stop crying thinking about all of those people. It’s so sad. ... But I will come back next year. If you stop doing what you love, you let them win. We will come back and support Boston.”

‘The lucky ones’

When marathon runner Kristin Kotara, of New Lenox, heard the explosions, she thought officials perhaps were blowing off cannons as part of Boston’s Patriots’ Day celebration. When she heard sirens, she knew something bad had happened.

Kotara, 35, had finished her first Boston Marathon about 30 minutes earlier. She and her cousin, Alyssa Kenney, 28, of Downers Grove, were in their hotel room on the 10th floor of the Westin Copley Center when they heard the blasts.

The hotel lobby quickly became a command center for Boston police and the FBI, “so I take comfort that we’re safe here tonight,” Kotara said Monday evening.

When she watched televised reports about the dead and injured, she “felt kind of numb,” she said.

“This is so unexpected. This is a race, a sporting event. People from all over the world are here,” she said.

Her husband, Luke, didn’t know about the explosions until he got a text message from Kristin saying she and Alyssa were OK.

This was Kotara’s second marathon ever and she finished in 3:23.

After watching the news for several hours, the women went down to the hotel restaurant.

“The mood here? Honestly, it’s hard to say. People are hanging out and the running community is very supportive of one another,” she said. “We were planning to go out on the town tonight to whoop it up until this happened.”

The race had “a big military presence” with uniformed personnel on hand and she wondered whether that was a motive for the bombings.

Kenney also didn’t know what to make of the “loud booms.” She’s not a runner but “came along to cheer on Kristin,” she said.

“It’s scary. You leave town for a few days to have some fun and then someone does this. But we’re OK. We were some of the lucky ones,” said Kenney, a special-ed teacher at Downers Grove South High School.

The women were scheduled to fly home Tuesday evening. Kotara, a non-practicing nurse, had one item on her to-do list upon seeing her three children, all between 3 and 7 years old.

“Hugs,” she said. “Big hugs.”

‘We all prayed’

Mel Diab, 63, has owned Running for Kicks, a store in Palos Heights, for 16 years. He had run 15 prior marathons, and the Boston Marathon was to be his last. He was with a group of about 20 Southlanders from the Yankee Runners club.

“We had just passed Mile 22 when we heard rumors there was an explosion,” he said. “You listened to it, and you think maybe they got it wrong. Then we heard a second set of runners say there was an explosion. Then we noticed that there were people around the water tables holding hands and bending down and praying. Then we saw all police head toward the finish the line.

“They stopped the race. They obviously had to do it. All the runners were good with that. Finishing was not the priority. We all prayed that nobody got hurt.”

There were no buses or cabs to catch, so he walked about five miles back to his hotel.

“This is so sad for this to happen. When you think about runners, they’re the most innocent people, the most kind-hearted, open-minded people,” he said. “Whoever did this was chicken and had no backbone. I don’t know who did it or why. It was a terrible thing.”

An anxious parent

Linda Mulac, of Orland Park, said her daughter was running in Boston with a friend. Lauren Mulac had completed her first marathon in Chicago in October.

Lauren on Sunday had lost her cell phone, her mom said. But upon crossing the finish line, Lauren was able to make a free call to let her family know she finished. So Lauren did that, and told her mom she’d call back later.

Linda Mulac then went for a walk and got an alert on her phone about the explosions, throwing her into a panic. But Lauren was able to use someone’s phone and send a brief text message letting Linda know she and her friend were safe.

Linda was watching the news coverage Monday and said, “It’s very upsetting,” and that even knowing her daughter was OK, she had a “huge knot” in her stomach.

Contributing: Mike Nolan



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