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Former Halifax resident up close with Boston terror

“A great unforgettable experience turned into a tragic, surreal unforgettable experience” after former Halifax County resident Steve Johnson crossed the finish line during the Boston Marathon on Monday.

At 2 p.m. Johnson finished the race, pleased with his time of three hours, 38 minutes and 55 seconds. He would cross the line a mere 50 minutes before two bombs exploded killing three and injuring 176.

He had made it back to his hotel and was unaware of the chaos gripping the city. Meanwhile his wife, Christina, and brother and sister-in-law Wayne and Robin Culley Johnson were feverishly searching for their lost loved one.

“I had cleared out and gone back to the hotel, but Wayne, Christina and Robin were on the train headed to the finish area before the bombs exploded. They got off the train, and it happened five minutes after they got off,” Johnson said.

“They knew something wasn’t right immediately,” he added.

They discovered bombs had exploded, and frantically began looking for Steve who they knew had already crossed the finish line.

“They didn’t know where I was, and they couldn’t get in touch with me,” he added.

Johnson didn’t learn of the explosions until later when he turned on the TV in his hotel room.

“I just stared at it in disbelief,” he said. “I had just ran right down the middle of the road where this had happened. It is still hard for me to believe it happened, and I was really there,” he said Tuesday from a Washington, D. C. airport en route to his home in Waukee, Iowa.

As the rest of the Johnson clan headed back to the hotel in hopes of finding Steve, back in South Boston, Johnson’s father had wondered why telephone communications with his family had ceased.  

“I went through some anxious moments myself yesterday,” said Elton Johnson. “One minute they’re texting me, and then there’s nothing. I knew Steve had finished, but after I didn’t hear, let me tell you, there were some anxious moments.”

Back in Boston, the Johnsons reunited with their husband and brother and together began calling other friends who had run in the marathon to check on their safety.

“I didn’t know anyone who got hurt,” Steve said, adding by early evening he had accounted for all his friends, one by one, using an email list of runners.

The Johnsons spent a sleepless night in a Boston hotel under lockdown.

“No one was on the street, and they were urging everyone to stay inside,” he said. “The whole block was taped off as a crime scene. You couldn’t get a cab last night, but you didn’t want to go anywhere anyway.”

Fortunately, the group had no trouble leaving Boston catching a 10 a.m. flight out of Logan International to Washington, D.C.

“We were able to get out of Logan with no problems. There were no issues at the airport,” Steve added.

Reflecting over his whirlwind weekend in Boston, he spoke of a happy reunion with his older brother, Wayne, and Wayne’s wife. He described the marathon as “a terrific race” and “a phenomenal experience.”

Getting into the Boston Marathon is no easy feat. For Steve it dated back to October 2011 when he qualified by running in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

Although he ran the Boston Marathon injured on Monday, he said, “I was very happy to be in it.”

His dad is very happy Steve had an opportunity to run in the race of all races. He’s happy his two sons and their wives were able to spend the weekend together. But more than anything else, he said he is relieved his family was not injured by the coward(s) who set off the two bombs that claimed the lives of three, including an 8-year-old child, and injured so many other innocent victims.

According to published reports, a White House official said the explosions, one of which occurred just before the finish line and the other only a few yards away, would be treated as “an act of terror.”

The blasts, only seconds apart, left some runners sprinting to the finish line, and hundreds of spectators with lower limb injuries, some requiring amputations.

The annual marathon has been held since 1897 and attracts an estimated half million spectators and nearly 20,000 participants each year.

No arrests had been made at press time.

President Barack Obama said in a statement following the bombings that his administration would get to the bottom and find out who was responsible.

Governor Bob McDonnell, currently in China on a trade mission, was briefed by phone by Chief of Staff Martin Kent about the two bombings.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston, and with marathon participants and attendees from around the country and the world, including many from here in Virginia, following the tragic events of this afternoon. There are no words that can properly express our grief and our concern. 

“I have asked members of our administration to immediately offer any and all assistance that Virginia can provide to Massachusetts in the days ahead. This is a sad day, but America is the strongest and greatest nation the world has ever known. 

“When we face tragedy, we respond with unity, courage and resilience. We’ve seen that already this afternoon, from the very first reactions to this event. I know we will continue to see that kind of response from Boston in the days and weeks ahead. Virginia stands ready to help our friends in Massachusetts in any way possible,” added the governor.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Monday evening, “Tonight we are praying for all those involved in the Boston marathon, for those injured and killed, for their families, and for the safe return of the many Virginians who were there to watch and to compete.”