When two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon yesterday, Bruce and Bonnie Showstack were standing where they have for the past decade of races — two blocks from the finish line.
The Showstacks, both longtime Scouting volunteers in the Boston Minuteman Council, have spent the past 10 to 12 years working in Section 12, the area where runners receive their medals and meet loved ones.
But at 2:50 p.m. Monday, elation turned to panic when the explosions killed three and injured more than 170.
Thankfully, Bruce, Bonnie, and the other Scouts and Scouters volunteering at the race are shaken up, but OK. And this morning, Bruce and Bonnie — pictured above before the race began — took the time to call me and relay their experiences from yesterday’s marathon.
“You could just hear two big booms, and all of us said, ‘What the heck is that?’ We were in the shadow of the Hancock building and couldn’t see anything,” Bruce said. “All of a sudden they shut the area down and kept everybody out and emergency vehicles were coming from everywhere.”
Bonnie was even closer to the blasts. Moments after the first explosion, a throng of injured people came her way.
“People were running,” she said. “Like how people run in a movie and you don’t know why. People were running by you, and they’re bloody and screaming. Then we saw another [bomb] blow up, and I thought, oh my God, my daughter’s right there.”
The Showstacks’ daughter, also a Scouter, was volunteering in a hotel right by the finish line. Her hotel was evacuated, but Bruce and Bonnie didn’t know she was OK until much later.
Their son-in-law was running in the race and was 10 minutes from finishing when he and others were told not to continue. Bonnie said he was expecting to finish around 2:50 p.m. — the exact time of the blast — but stopped for a while during the race to stretch. She’s thankful for that.
After the explosions, Bruce, who serves as council commissioner, said he, Bonnie, and other Scouters volunteering in the area sprang to life to help where needed.
“At that point, adrenaline kicked in,” Bruce said. “Our job was to keep the streets clear so ambulances and law enforcement vehicles could get in. We had to keep everybody out of the scene and work with the runners and the families to calm them down and talk to them.”
Holding back the crowd wasn’t easy, Bonnie said.
“I get it. It’s scary when you can’t get in touch with your friends and family,” she said. “People were in my face yelling at me, because they want to get to their family, and you understand, but you can’t let them down those roads because the doctors and nurses need to do what they need to do.”
Steven Boudreau, a training chair in the council, said Bruce had instructions from security personnel to keep the area clear.
“Bruce Showstack got the call from security saying to lock it down,” Steven said. “No one gets in except for police, fire, and medical people. At that point we took all our resources and manned the line.”
Bruce and Bonnie weren’t close enough to provide medical care to the victims, but from talking to them I get the sense that Bruce, an Eagle Scout and 35-year Scouting vet, and Bonnie, a nurse for 37 years, would’ve done whatever was necessary to help in any capacity.
“If a job needs to be done, we need to do it,” Bruce said. “Not let people flood to that area, be there to comfort, and give information as much as we could.”
The Showstacks stayed until around 5 p.m., when police officers asked the couple and other volunteers to head home. When I tried to thank and commend Bruce and Bonnie for their actions, each was quick to deflect the praise.
“I work in the background, and I just like to help out wherever I can,” Bruce said. “In my Scouting career and everything else. I had a good team with me, and we just did what we had to do. We just stayed until they told us to leave.”
Bonnie, who said she put medals around the necks of injured runners as they were wheeled toward ambulances, also remained humble.
“We’re volunteers who live by the Scout Law and Oath, and that’s what you do,” she said. “We did what’s expected of volunteers in a crisis situation. There were many others that were there and just rolled up their sleeves and pitched in.”
Once home, Bruce and Bonnie were “physically and mentally drained,” Bruce said. Bonnie said she was physically shaking for hours and “couldn’t stop crying.”
“Once I heard from my children, I think I cried more because I knew they were safe,” she said.
Still in a fog
Just one day after the tragic events, Bonnie and Bruce are, understandably, still upset. Each talked to me in a quiet monotone.
Bonnie, who on Friday had told her coworkers how excited she was for the race, is at work today.
“I’m still kind of in a fog,” she said. “I keep trying to stay focused at work, and my mind keeps wandering. My boss said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I think it’s to keep the mind busy, to be honest with you.’”
“Bruce and I went out to dinner with a bunch of Scouters last night,” Bonnie said, “and we’re all just sitting there and numb. Someone said, ‘How are we gonna get through this?’ And I said, ‘Us? How about those who lost family members?’”
Once again, concern for others over a concern for self. Bruce and Bonnie Showstack weren’t the only heroes yesterday, but they are prime examples of how Scouters respond in a crisis. They run toward the victims, stand their ground, and do what needs to be done.
And for that, they have my respect and gratitude. Let’s commend Bruce, Bonnie, Steven, and others and keep all who were affected by this tragedy in our thoughts as we search for answers and strength.
I think Steven put it well: “Unfortunately, it’s happened,” he said. “Now, it’s just how can we get going from here and make everything better?”