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David L Ryan - AP Photo/The Boston Globe

Denton County residents at Boston Marathon

Profile image for By Ben Baby and John D. Harden / Staff Writers
By Ben Baby and John D. Harden / Staff Writers

Residents headed to social media pages to share and find news about friends and co-workers participating in Monday’s Boston Marathon that was interrupted by two bombs that exploded near the finish line.

The Boston Marathon’s website listed seven participants from Denton and one each from Hickory Creek and Providence Village. There were a total of 42 registered participants from Denton County.

By late afternoon, Google also launched a person-finder page to help track friends or family who had participated in the event.

Russ Stukel, director of student life for the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science program at the University of North Texas, participated in the marathon for the first time.

After finishing the race with a time of 3 hours, 16 minutes, 59 seconds, the 49-year-old said he was seated across the street on the second floor of a food court when the blast occurred and he saw a plume of smoke rush into the air.

“To us they sounded really close in nature in regards to timing,” Stukel said. “They’re saying they were 10 seconds apart, but to us, we heard kind of like a ‘boom-boom’ and it freaked everybody out. Then you immediately saw the smoke and that’s when chaos erupted at the food court.

“It was like a cannon had gone off.”

Inside the food court, Stukel said about half of the people ran toward the smoke while the other half ran toward the opposite end of the court for the exits. Kids were screaming. Parents were yelling. Employees were jumping over counters.

UNT graduate teaching fellow Christina Ledesma said she had just finished her race and was in the recovery tent for 15 minutes before she heard the first explosion.

“I didn't feel the ground shake but the explosions were extremely loud,” Ledesma said through a Facebook chat. “The medical team had no idea what had happened either. One nurse said it was thunder and the next moment, a man running the medical tent said to clear the middle of the tent and started calling out doctors to be ready.”

Ledesma said people began bringing in people on stretchers and in wheelchairs.

“Everyone was bleeding. I saw legs that had been affected directly by the bombs,” Ledesma said. “I saw and heard a lot of things that will stay with me for life — not in a good way. I knew it was some kind of sick attack when I saw that many runners injured, and at that, on stretchers in critical conditions.”

Judith Jenny Rogers went to the Facebook page of UNT economics professor Janice Hauge and posted, “Janice asked me to post an update: ‘We were there, but ran & are fine. Thanks to God for taking care of us. Prayers for the others.’”

Hauge finished the race about 20 minutes before the bomb went off, according to finish times posted by the Boston Marathon.

Patrick Zimmerer, a UNT engineering graduate and employee at Weber Aircraft, finished with a time of 3:00:11, before the bombs went off. He posted on his Facebook page, “We are all ok (sic) up here. Don’t know any details. Lots of cops and ambulances everywhere.”

Brandi Waits, a friend of Denton city employee Kathy Lambert, of Providence Village, posted on Lambert’s page that she had talked with her and that Lambert was OK. Stacey Blaylock’s brother, Christopher Blaylock, posted a similar message on his sister’s Facebook page. Lambert and Stacey Blaylock also finished the marathon.

The first bomb went off at 4:09 into the race. Several other area residents finished well before then.

The Boston Marathon reported Denton residents Michael Dooley finishing at 2:47:38 and Sonia Soprenuk at 3:37:37. Hickory Creek resident Haley Pollard finished at 3:17:42.

David McEntire, associate professor in UNT’s Emergency Administration and Planning Program, said he believes the explosions in Boston on Monday were terrorist attacks.

“In light of the uniqueness of this event, it would be a prime target for an attack,” he said.

McEntire said the things law enforcement officials would look at in determining whether or not a terrorist attack had occurred is the number of bombs. Authorities would also rule out other types of events such as a gas explosion or murder, he said.

“Based on the number of bombs they found, it has the signatures of a terrorist attack,” McEntire said.

He said the blessing of the planning for the Boston Marathon is that there were a lot of medical personnel and law enforcement officials on hand. All the planning helped in expediting those responding to individuals injured from the blasts.

As major events — such as the Kaufman County shootings involving the district attorney office’s personnel and the explosions at the Boston Marathon — have occurred, area officials began talking about security locally, according to Jody Gonzalez, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Denton County.

“We increased the alert at the courthouse after the D.A. shooting,” Gonzalez said. While they have not heard anything from federal or state officials, he said they would likely look at similar events in the coming days, weeks and months.

Denton County has been asked to add security to the upcoming opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on May 1. Officials also would look at adding security to any larger gatherings in Denton, such as the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival.

“We’ll look at what events are going on and how to increase our [security] presence,” he said.

Staff writers Britney Tabor, Karina Ramirez, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Dawn Cobb contributed to this report.

BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869 and viaTwitter @Ben_Baby.

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882and via Twitter @JDHarden.