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Runners, spectators with ties to Forest Grove, Cornelius unscathed by marathon bombings

by: NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Groves Elena Parker and her son, Grayson Penfield, finished Mondays Boston Marathon before dual bomb blasts killed three people and injured more than 100.Monday started out in fine fashion for Boston Marathon participants hailing from western Washington County: skies were clear, the temperature was perfect and the crowds were ebullient.

"It was an amazing experience — there were people cheering the whole way," said Elena Parker of Forest Grove, who competed in the women's 55-59 age group. "It gave me goose bumps."

Then, disaster struck.

Soon after Parker completed the race in 4:01 (four hours, one minute), just before noon West Coast time, a pair of explosions rocked downtown Boston and created chaos at the packed finish line on Boylston Street.

With thousands of runners still on the course, emergency responders closed the area near the finish chute. Of the 23,326 runners who started the 117th Boston Marathon, 17,584 — including Parker and at least three others with ties to Forest Grove and Cornelius — completed the marathon before officials brought the world-famous footrace to an abrupt halt.

At least three people were killed and more than 100 injured in what is believed to have been an intentional bombing. An investigation by the FBI and other agencies is ongoing.

Parker, 55, had traveled to Boston with her son, Grayson Penfield, 21, who finished the race ahead of her as part of the men's 18-39 age group. Parker completed the marathon around 2:30 p.m. Boston time, about 20 minutes before the first explosion rocked Copley Square.

She was two blocks away when she heard the first blast.

"I was standing in line to get my clothing bag off my bus and I heard this big bang," Parker said. "Then there was another explosion, and I saw the smoke. I knew right away something bad had happened."

Former Forest Grove Community School AmeriCorps member Kate Phillips, who now lives in Indiana, clocked a 3:06 in the women's 18-39 age division. Cornelius resident James Deorup, 64, finished the race in 3:56.

After running 26.2 miles, Parker said she was "in a daze" but aware that police cars and fire engines were speeding toward the marathon finish.

"I've never seen so many ambulances in my life," she said. "Sirens were going off non-stop. There were helicopters overhead."

She looked around for her son, who had come in 38 minutes prior, but couldn't find him. And amid the chaos, she couldn't reach a designated meetup area for family members. "Then, an amazing thing happened," she said: Grayson came walking toward her out of the crowd. "It was a miracle."

Close call

Jenna Jacobson, daughter of Forest Grove High School track coach Sue Fleskes, had a close call as a spectator in the grandstands near the finish line.

Jacobson, a former Aloha resident now living in Massachussetts, was rooting for her longtime best friend Jonna Leighton of Eugene.

"Jenna was standing there with Jonna's husband when the first explosion happened," said Fleskes, who was babysitting her two-year-old grandchild during the race and hadn't been watching television coverage.

"I'd gotten a text from Jonna that said, 'We're safe and we're out of the area,'" Fleskes recalled. "I thought it was a strange message."

Then Adrian Shipley, a former FGHS long-distance runner and Fleskes' assistant coach, called and asked if her family was OK.

"I realized then what had happened," Fleskes said. "It's so sad. It's so awful. Jenna said, 'Mom, that bomb was right there … right there."

Laura Lewis, a social studies teacher at Forest Grove High, had qualified for the 2013 Boston Marathon but didn't have time to make the trip east.

On Tuesday, she was recovering emotionally from what might have been.

"I was shocked to read the first headlines regarding the attack," said Lewis, who is "committed, now more than ever, to qualify again and run Boston in 2014 or 2015."

Phone lines down

Once they were reunited, Parker and Penfield walked out of the jammed city back over the Massachusetts Bridge to their Cambridge hotel, still unaware of the severity of the incident. Safely back in their room, they saw multiple text messages and voicemails from worried family members back home — but were unable to return calls until nearly 5:30 East Coast time.

"All the phone lines were down," said Parker. "It was pretty surreal."

Penfield and Parker were due to fly back to Portland Tuesday evening. Asked whether he would take away some good feelings from Boston despite it all, Penfield was clear.

"I know I will," said the University of Portland junior, who ran a 3:23 in the marathon. "I separate the two events in my mind."

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