Metro Atlantans reacted with alarm and empathy to the Boston Marathon explosions, an attack which resonates here because of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics, and this city’s own big running event, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race.
Georgians who ran Monday in Boston described how joy gave way to grief.
And amid heartbreak for those killed and injured in Boston came questions about metro Atlanta’s own readiness for such an incident.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency is in contact with federal officials and monitoring the situation closely, spokeswoman Lisa Janak Newman said, but added “there is no indication of a wider threat.”
Tracey Russell, executive director of the Atlanta Track Club, which started the AJC Peachtree Road Race in 1970, said in a statement that the organization works closely with city and federal agencies to ensure security for the race. The 10-kilometer event, held on the Fourth of July, has attracted more than 60,000 participants in recent years.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the Atlanta Braves and MARTA released statements indicating they would take additional security measures in light of the Boston tragedy. The Braves begin a series at Turner Field on Tuesday.
MARTA officials said the mass transit agency plans to increase police presence, place all staff on heightened alert and deploy K-9 units to make additional patrols. Also, MARTA’s police department is working directly with federal, state and local agencies — including the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and the Transit Security Administration in Washington — to stay updated on any recommendations related to public transit.
Moreover, MARTA said it is in contact with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency and its liaison to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to ensure that it receives any pertinent information that may affect MARTA operations.
Georgia’s presence was felt in Boston: More than 360 runners listed the Peach State as their place of residence, according to records posted at the Boston Marathon’s website.
Malcolm Campbell, 42, is noteworthy among them. The Marietta man came in first among Georgia runners, completing the race at 12:23 p.m. and staying near the finish line, mingling with other runners and friends, before heading back to his hotel.
Then came the explosions — and Campbell’s high turned to horror. His strong showing? “It’s very pale in comparison to this,” he said.
Former Gwinnett County Commission member Mike Beaudreau said he had finished the race and was heading to a transit station when he heard the first blast. He said he was about three blocks away.
“I thought it was a natural gas explosion,” Beaudreau said. “I was pretty far away before I realized the magnitude of it, what the heck was going on, or how serious it was.”
Elizabeth Schulte Roth and her 5-year-old daughter, Caroline, were headed to find husband and dad Thomas at the family area near the finish line.
“As we were walking we heard a boom and the ground shook,” said Elizabeth Roth, a former Atlanta resident who recently moved to Asheville, N.C. “Then we heard another one and I thought about my worst nightmare. (I was) standing with a 5-year-old in a crowd searching for my husband. Thankfully, we found him, (but) everyone was kind of oblivious and asking people what happened.”
Another marathon runner with Atlanta ties, Nicole Hawthorne, said she finished the race about seven minutes before the explosions went off.
“I am thankful to be safe,” said Hawthorne, an Atlanta native who now lives in South Carolina.
Staff writers Jennifer Brett, Alexis Stevens, Greg Bluestein and Dan Klepal contributed to this report.