Charlotte-area residents at Boston Marathon, react to explosions

Charlotte runners hurt in bomb blast
Published: Apr. 15, 2013 at 9:33 PM EDT|Updated: May. 15, 2013 at 9:33 PM EDT
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Nicole and Michael Gross (Source: Facebook)
Nicole and Michael Gross (Source: Facebook)
Demi Knight Clark
Demi Knight Clark

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - At least two Charlotte residents were injured in explosions during Monday afternoon's fourth hour of the Boston Marathon.

WBTV has confirmed Charlotte athletic trainer Nicole Gross and her husband Michael were both wounded in the attack. It isn't clear the extent of the couple's injuries.

When he flipped on the horrifying footage from Boston yesterday afternoon, Fort Mill resident Brian Gross was looking for any sign of his sister-in-law.

"At that point, I know my brother [Charlotte resident Michael Gross] had some head injuries, injuries to his arm," Brian says. "But that was the extent of it. We didn't know anything else. He was not able to locate his wife, Nicole. He was not able to locate her sister, Erica."

A picture from the Boston Globe showed Nicole Gross looking dazed and bleeding at the finish line.

When Brian saw that picture, wearing a heartbreaking expression, he said his own heart sank. It was Nicole, the photo snapped minutes after the blast, and broadcast all over the news.

"I'm not used to seeing Nicole with that dazed look, and injured," Brian says. "She's a fighter, she's a tough person. Nicole and my brother both are iron man athletes. Marathon runners. They treat their body like gold, and so to see it damaged and broken like that is upsetting."

After the explosions, Michael was still standing. He was the lucky one.

"The blast took effect, and Nicole and Erica both dropped to the ground," Brian learned later. "Nicole was conscious and kind of remembers everything. From what I'm hearing, she saw her sister and the rest is a blur."

Nicole's sister's leg had to be amputated from the knee.

"The other leg is still in serious condition," he says. "They are keeping a close eye on it. From what I understand, she lost a lot of blood."

On Tuesday afternoon, surgeons were also still working on Nicole.

"She's going back in to surgery to, I believe, repair both breaks in her left leg," Brian says. "You know, screws, rods, whatever's necessary."

In the meantime, Brian feels both blessed and angry.

"You ask why," he says. "Why does this have to happen to them? Or why does this have to happen to our country? There are a lot of answers out there that we're looking for, so we kind of sit and wait at this point."

Nicole and her husband weren't the only local connection near the point of explosion.

Fort Mill resident, Demi Knight Clark, was just reaching the finish line when the first blast happened.

She arrived back in Charlotte Tuesday night where she told WBTV she was suffering from a bit of survivor's guilt.

"I had just 100 yards earlier crossed over to the right so I could wave to my family, my daughters," said Clark. "Just a stroke a luck that I was in the right place at the right time."

Seconds, later the first bomb exploded. Her main concern: getting to her husband and children in the VIP section even though police were trying to keep her from them.

"I guess I just went into 'Mama bear' mode," Clark recalled. "I just had to find them. Then I look up and see my husband coming toward, one child tucked under each arm like loaves of bread..I was sobbing when we reached each others.

Despite Monday's, horrific event, Clark says she'll be back.

"We're runners," she said. "That's what we do. There's always another race. We're resilient. It's like you were saying, we're a community and we'll rally around this as a global community of runners and I know here in Charlotte runners are very close and we'll rally here, too."

Clark was running the race for a charity called "Dream Big" - which raises money for girls who can't afford to play sports. She says her heart breaks for those that lost a loved one and those injured in the incident.

Back in Charlotte, a spokesman with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department says the department is closely monitoring the events in Boston. An Emergency Management Plan for Charlotte-Mecklenburg is not in effect.

"The public should be comforted in knowing that the CMPD is well trained and prepared to protect our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston following this senseless attack on humanity," the police department said in a statement.

Race results shows 73 runners participated in the Boston Marathon from the Charlotte region.

Several runners described their experience to WBTV.

"I heard a couple of very - I'd say - percussive noises. They weren't super loud where I was. I could tell it definitely wasn't fireworks or something like that going off there was just a very deep kind of forceful explosion I could tell it was an explosion I just couldn't tell what it was," said Charlotte runner Marcus Dunn.

Alex Burnett, a former producer at WBTV who ran in the marathon, said he was about a block or two from the finish line waiting on some friends when the explosions went off.
"It was loud. Initially it sounded like a couple of cannons, and I wasn't sure if that was part of the program," Burnett said, adding, "It sounded a little louder than a sonic boom."

Anna Dolan her husband went to Boston for the race as well.

"It's really hectic," Dolan told WBTV over the phone from her hotel room - just a block from the finish line. Dolan also talked about the sheer number of people in the area during the race, "I can't believe they cleared it out as fast as they did."

WBTV caught up with Jeff Hare, a Cornelius resident who ran the marathon and witnessed the explosions.

"It sounded like bombs, but no one wanted to believe it," Hare said.

Throughout the day Tuesday, runners returned to the Charlotte area. At times, the airport was filled with the iconic colors of the Boston Marathon. Some people proudly displayed their medals or wore the blue and yellow jackets.

Bjorn Norman from Norway was sitting with Jill Stevens at a nearby restaurant having a quick bite to eat after the race. The pair heard the blast but was unsure what happened until they saw the emergency vehicles and people running.

"Thinking back on Sept 11, being from Norway...what happened [there] two years ago...where is it safe now?" Norman asked.

Hickory resident Katie Ledford had just crossed the finish line when the blasts happened.

"I got my medal and was holding tight to it thinking what an accomplishment this has been and then they went off and it went down hill from there," Ledford said. It took Ledford an hour and a half to reunite with her husband.

"I heard like cannons going off…everybody thought it was part of the celebration…I could smell gunpower...I started wondering...there was 38,000 other people looking for loved ones," Gary Ledford said.

"It was such a happy moment that turned devastating in seconds," Runner Erin Miller said.

"We did have friends that finished right around the time...friends from Charlotte that I had trained with..we were worried about them," Margot Brinley said.

WBTV sat down with former FBI agent Chris Swecker.

When asked if the event in Boston could be part of a larger wave of terrorism, Swecker said, "Well, multiple bombs are indicative of some type of terrorism, whether it's domestic terrorism or international terrorism. We don't know. It could be a lone wolf. It could be some deranged person. We won't know for a while. But I think we've got a little bit complacent about the international terrorism aspect, and we completely lost sight of domestic terrorism."

When asked about his thoughts on officials getting their hands on the device that didn't detonate, Swecker said, "It's a forensic bonanza. Any unexploded item will give you tons of information. You can get fingertips off the inside of tape. You can get the type of materials that are used. Certain bombers have signatures – the way they put a bomb together. You can create a profile of the bomber, even work your way back to where they bought the hardware."

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