It’s the eerie feeling of calm surroundings in the seconds after the Boston Marathon bombings that Laila Harré will always remember.
The former MP had just completed the race and was a few hundred metres from the finish line when the explosions ripped through the crowd that had gathered to watch the runners finish.
Her feeling of exhilaration at completing the gruelling marathon was replaced with confusion, as clouds of smoke from the blast billowed along the road. Surprisingly, the initial reaction from those around her was to remain composed.
“It was very loud and we saw smoke,” she says. “We were surrounded by runners at the finishing area. Although it was tense, there was no panic.
“You hear about mass hysteria but it was kind of mass calm,” says the issues director for the Green Party.
However, down the road at the scene of the blasts, chaos had broken out when people realised the extent of the carnage caused by the bombs, and screams filled the air in the aftermath of what some are calling the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11.
As one eyewitness said, “What you don’t see on TV is how loud it was after the fact. Imagine there were hundreds of people just screaming at the tops of their lungs... it was like a collective scream and it went on and on. It was piercing, just the terror that you could hear.”
Laila (47) was able to keep her cool as she tried to find out whether friends who were still running the marathon were safe – which, fortunately, they were. She also phoned her husband, Dr Barry Gribben, who was in Boston with her, and on the train to meet her at the end of the course.
“I told him there had been these explosions and he said they were aware something had happened. While I was talking to him they were evacuating the railway system.”
Laila then rang her youngest son Jack (18) at home in Auckland and asked him to put a message on Facebook saying she and Barry were all right.
Eldest son Sam (23) got a huge shock when he turned on the computer and read about his mum being at the scene.
“He saw breaking news saying, ‘Former MP crosses finish line at site of explosion’. But within a couple of minutes he knew I was fine,” said Laila, who has run four marathons since 2009.
She told TV3 show Firstline that it was a huge relief to be able to get hold of the other women from her running club, who were all unharmed, and there was also an outpouring of warmth and love from the people of Boston towards those who had been involved.
While she says the frightening scenes in Boston won’t deter her from competing again, other people who were there have been left traumatised.
One told a CNN reporter, “I will never participate in an event of this nature in a city in fear that something like this could happen again. My hands have not stopped shaking.”
Three people died in the blasts, including eight-year-old Martin Richard, and 176 were injured. Martin’s mother Denise suffered a brain injury and his six-year-old sister Jane had
her leg amputated. The word “peace” is now etched on the footpath outside the Boston family’s two-storey home.
Doctors confused another victim, Krystle Campbell (29), with her friend, so for hours her parents believed she was alive.
When they went to visit her in hospital, they realised the patient was not their daughter and that she had been killed. The third fatality was Chinese student Lu Lingzi (23).
The mum-of-two had just finished her run and was lucky to have already gone past the blast zone
Pressure cooker bombs were packed with shards of metal, nails and ball bearings
Laila, pictured with friend Paula Gardener, moments after crossing the finish line
Laila and Paula Gardener