Tom Cali stepped out on the sidewalk and saw blood on two women’s faces.
More than an hour earlier, he had finished his 13th Boston Marathon. While entering a cafe to unwind with friends, he had heard a loud noise but wasn’t alarmed.
Then, spotting the women, he guessed that they had tripped or suffered another kind of accident.
Only later on the shuttle bus back to his car did he learn the horrible truth: Two bombs had exploded near the crowded finish line about three blocks away.
Coming seconds apart a little more than four hours into the race, the blasts killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded at least 141 runners, spectators and volunteers, several critically. Witnesses reportedly described seeing limbs on the ground.
“It’s just amazing that such a terrible thing could happen,” Cali said.
Cali, a State College real estate agent and Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty member, was among the local runners competing in Boston on a sorrowful Monday.
He and 14 other Nittany Valley Running Club members ran to raise money for the Centre Volunteers in Medicine clinic as part of the annual Marathoners for Medicine fundraising initiative. Another NVRC member, Seth Senior, made the trip but ending up not running.
After the race, Cali tried to contact the other runners while fielding a barrage of text messages and calls. All the NVRC runners finished before the race was halted.
As of early Monday night, Cali confirmed seven of his team members and their families were unharmed. He and team member Aroline Hanson spent the night in Roxbury, a Boston neighborhood, at the home of her brother.
John Domico, the Marathoners for Medicine founder, spent Monday afternoon trying to track down the CVIM team members — a task made tougher by poor or nonexistent cellphone service in Boston in the aftermath of the explosions.
By 8:30 p.m., he had heard from every runner but one, all of whom were safe.
“With the communication problems, I’m hopeful it’s just a matter of time,” Domico said, declining to name the remaining runner.
In addition to Cali and Hanson, Robert Crowe, Sarah Farrant, Marty Klanchar, George Lesieutre, Allison Machnicki, Andrew Maguire, Lauren Philbrook, Michael Renz, Jeff Smucker, Elizabeth Soroka, Michael Sullivan, Steve Williams and Yu Zhang ran for CVIM.
NVRC member Tara Murray has run the marathon six times. The news hit her hard.
“It’s just sad,” she said. “It’s a really emotional day anyway. Usually, it’s a happy day, especially at the finish line. To think of something like this happening is heartbreaking. It’s so scary.”
Ryan Hogan, a Penn State junior, found himself in the middle of it.
Hogan, the president of the university’s club cross-country team, was a spectator, cheering on three current members and six alumni running in the race.
Ted Evans, Ian Knecht and Tom Rudowsky ran as students. Alumni runners were Emily Fogel, Britt Kern, Kelsey Markham, Ben Neito, Brian Petraco and Shelley Wilke.
All were safe after the race, Hogan said.
When the explosions occurred, he and his girlfriend, Katie Schmiech, were about two blocks away. Her father, Ed Schmiech, already had finished.
“The first one was really big and really loud, and about 15 seconds later, there was a second one,” Hogan said.
The couple thought the noise sounded like thunder. Then they saw people running in terror toward them, followed by confusion and “sirens everywhere,” Hogan said.
Later at their hotel near the Prudential Center, they spoke with two runners who said they were among the nearly 4,500 participants stopped about a half-mile from the finish line and then, as the congestion grew, dispersed by race officials.
Hogan was left shaken by the thought his girlfriend’s father could have finished when the bombs exploded.
“If he had a tight hamstring and had finished 35 minutes later, who knows what could have happened?” Hogan said.
Before his team’s practice run Tuesday, Hogan said, members plan on holding a moment of silence at 4:30 p.m. at Rec Hall. They’ll pay tribute to the victims, their families and all the runners, for whom running the marathon “is supposed to be one of the happiest days of their lives,” Hogan said.
“The whole day essentially has a huge cloud over it now,” Hogan said. “It’s such a sad thing that an exuberant day has be overshadowed by such a tragic event.”
Reports of other Centre County residents who ran the marathon Monday were still coming in as of press time.
Cali said he was in a “state of shock” afterward as the alarmed NVRC runners tried to contact each other.
“We all thought we were just running a marathon,” he said. “You’re tired and you have a sense of accomplishment. It’s really the last thing you expect to happen.”
Domico had run in the past 10 marathons for CVIM until an injury this year kept him in State College. He said the marathon is special, “the closest thing to the Olympics a normal person will experience,” because of the enthusiastic crowds and passionate volunteers.
“It’s just heartbreaking that somebody would take advantage of the situation and pull something like this,” he said.
Tom Rhoads, a Bellefonte native living in Vermont who has run the Boston Marathon, agreed that the spectators and volunteers distinguish the race. The year he ran, he remembers, two women with their children insisted on carrying his bags to his hotel.
“I can’t help but think of how kind those people were to me,” Rhoads said. “For me it makes the deaths and injuries feel personal.”
In light of the attacks, Penn State will evaluate the security of upcoming athletic events on campus, such as the Jeremy Herbstritt Memorial 5K on Tuesday and the Special Olympics Beaver Stadium Run on Sunday, said Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
“This is on our radar screen, as it is for most of America,” she wrote in an email.
Like many, Domico can’t fathom why someone planted the bombs.
“All we know is it’s a tragedy, and we have good people hurt.”