Marathon brings blessings of family

Gillian Guidetti

BOSTON -- Larry and Stephanie Guidetti were standing three rows back in a dense crowd when the bombs exploded on the sidewalks across the street, first to their right and then to their left on the finishing stretch of the Boston Marathon. Their 27-year-old daughter Gillian was still out on the course, somewhere close, according to the race tracker they'd been checking all afternoon.

Stephanie was a nurse for 23 years, trained to cope with life and death on the job. Larry has logged 44 years as a math teacher, coach and guidance counselor. He has dealt with the aftermath of suicides and car wrecks and heart attacks.

But what faced them at that moment was wholesale shock and gore. People turned away, fleeing to either side and behind them. Stephanie's body iced over. Her mind congealed into a single thought: Please God, let her be OK.

Larry's head instantly cleared of all but the essential. He worked the equation. If there was a third bomb, he reasoned, it was likely to be on their side of Boylston.

"We need to get into the street,'' he told Stephanie. He climbed over the metal barricade and yanked it just wide enough to let her slip through. She grabbed his arm. They began walking in the opposite direction from where the runners had been flowing moments before.

Their path took them past the swath of devastation in the second bomb zone. "Don't look,'' Larry said. But it was unavoidable. He remembers more than she does: Severed body parts, pools of blood, first responders crouching over the wounded, a man with clothing still smoldering.

Stephanie, dazed and frantic, tried to call Gillian. Police stopped their forward progress after a few minutes, gesticulating toward side streets. "They were saying, 'Get to safety,'" Stephanie recalled later. "I thought, 'Where is that? We don't know where that is.'"

A couple of blocks away in the media workroom in the locked-down Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, I was fielding an onslaught of texts and tweets from concerned friends, colleagues and near-strangers. I'd never grasped how many people had a piece of the Boston Marathon. Everyone seemed to know someone who was running or someone there to support a runner.

Were there more bombs? Could there be one in the building where I was pinned down? Fear clawed in my stomach briefly. I stiff-armed it away.

It never occurred to me that I could have loved ones in danger.

Larry is my father's sister's oldest son, a cousin I adored as a child. He is one of an ever-dwindling group of people who can summon up the faces and voices of my grandparents, who emigrated from Italy as children. He can remember my father, Vincent, as a young Army veteran from Springfield, Mass., who brought home a beautiful blonde named Susan from Minnesota.

Yet I had no idea Larry and Stephanie were on Boylston Street, or that Gillian was running. And they had no clue I was in Boston. We shared 50-plus years of family history, but we weren't in regular touch.

Our family was fortunate compared to many. Gillian, running her first full marathon, was stopped roughly a mile from the finish and didn't understand the scope of what had happened until she got back to her apartment near Fenway Park. Larry and Stephanie made their way there and took her to dinner and told her they were proud of her.

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