As uncertainty and fear surrounded the streets of Boston on Monday when two bombs were detonated at the finish line of the city’s annual marathon, the college locked down its campus and activated its emergency notification system. The precautionary measures were a prelude to what has been characterized as one of the greatest scenes of violence in Boston’s recent history.
Glass windows in buildings near the finish line at Copley Square were blown in during the incident as hundreds of spectators fled toward back alleys, escaping the smoke-filled Boylston Street at 2:50 p.m. Among those affected by the terror that killed three and injured 176 were eight Emerson students who were sent to local hospitals and treated for minor injuries.
As President M. Lee Pelton began hearing the news, he said he enacted a plan for the campus, located just over a half mile from the explosion.
“I was not watching the marathon,” said Pelton, who said he was working when the race was going on. “Then news reports started coming in that something extraordinary had happened. We assembled our emergency management team, who made decisions about how to move forward.”
With the campus on lockdown, only those with an Emerson ID could enter buildings and were subjected to having their bags checked.
The injured Emerson students, all spectators of the race, were released from the hospital Monday night, Pelton said. They each suffered from temporary hearing loss. Other injuries included lacerations from shards of glass, minor bruising, and scrapes; one student has a perforated eardrum.
Four students of the college participated in the race but were not injured. Although they were not hurt, sophomore Christian Bergren-Aragon said Monday’s events have impacted him in ways he will never forget.
“I had no idea that it was an attack,” said the journalism major. “I assumed, ‘Something exploded. It wasn’t intentional at all. Is there any way I can be redirected or just finish?’ And then understanding that it was an attack, all of a sudden nothing matters.”
Bergren-Aragon was running with classmate Brendan Scully, a sophomore journalism major, when he first heard about what was happening as their friend, Jon Allen, called them.
“Brendan was concerned,” said Bergren-Aragon, who also ran in last year’s race. “I was more concerned with just getting to the end.”
Bergren-Aragon and Scully said that after they realized something was wrong, they received a call from Caitlin Courtney, a resident director in the Little Building dormitory where Bergren-Aragon is a resident assistant. Courtney was at a friend’s apartment around mile 23, and told the two to come inside.
“From the second we got off the racecourse to this apartment, we had no idea who these people were, and they cooked us dinner, they gave us water, they offered us their showers, and it was just awesome,” said Bergren-Aragon, who described receiving the news of the explosions while other runners had no idea what was going on. “I felt like Brendan and I knew the world was ending, and no one else did.”
Scully said they stayed in the apartment for several hours before making their way back to Emerson. By then, Scully said, the campus was still under lockdown, a decision that was enacted at 4 p.m. Monday and lifted at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
“It was an abundance of caution,” Pelton said of the lockdown.
Around the same time Emerson was put on lockdown, Pelton said he first received the news that seven Emerson students were being treated at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, and immediately asked an Emerson police officer to drive him there.
“The first student that I saw, someone that I recognized and I know very well, she was tearful, and it was immediately clear to me that I did the right thing,” he said. “I just gave her a big hug, told her everything would be OK, and spent time with the other two students, as well.”
Pelton said when he arrived, three of the injured students were still being treated, while the four others were in the cafeteria.
“It took us awhile for them to be discharged because there was a lot of other activity at St. Elizabeth’s,” Pelton said. “And all the students were interviewed by FBI and Homeland Security Officers who were, it seemed to me, trying to pinpoint exactly where the second blast had occurred and the time that it occurred.”
Pelton said he learned later that night of an eighth Emerson student who had been admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital for injuries she sustained while watching the marathon, which he said were not life-threatening.
When Bergren-Aragon and Scully finally collected themselves inside of the apartment, they said they contacted those who were waiting for them at the end of the race.
“We were just happy that everyone who we knew who was near the finish line, and weren’t running, were safe,” Scully said.
Throughout the race, Bergren-Aragon and Scully said they had been running with Emerson senior marketing communication major Lauren Cortizo, but she later ran ahead of the two. On Wednesday, an emotional Cortizo told her story to a packed Cutler Majestic Theatre during an Emerson community gathering.
“I was at mile 24 when I got a phone call from my dad who was at the finish line,” Cortizo said, adding that her father told her to get out of the race. “In one ear, I hear cheering and screaming, and in this ear, I don’t really know what’s going on.”
Eventually, after she received a number of additional phone calls, Cortizo said she realized she needed to stop and leave the route.
“I was getting calls from Emerson students who were in the midst of chaos, who were calling me to make sure we were all OK,” she said as she began to cry.
Wednesday’s community gathering came a day after Emerson cancelled classes, a decision Pelton said he made to give students time to heal. He said it is also important for Emerson to come together in its response, and is confident in the school’s ability to recover.
“This event happened in our backyard,” said Pelton. “But we are part of Boston, Boston is part of us; we animate Boston, Boston animates us. And that’s part of the wonder and what’s really wonderful about Emerson.”
Jackie Tempera, Beacon Staff, contributed to this report.