Veteran Capitol Hill staffer Amy Smith could not be more grateful that she is starting a new job on Friday in the Washington office of aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
On Monday afternoon, while waiting for her husband to complete the Boston Marathon, Smith walked away from the finish line just minutes before the first bomb exploded across the street from where she had been standing. On a quest for a cup of coffee, she ended up fairly close to the second explosion and found herself in pandemonium that immediately carried her back to Sept. 11, 2001, when she was forced to evacuate the Capitol.
“All my D.C. instincts” kicked in, Smith said. “I just turned and started sprinting. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get into an open area. I’ve got to get away from cars and trash cans. I’ve got to make any calls I’m going to make right now because the phone lines are going to go down.’ ”
Miraculously, neither Smith — until last week the policy director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — nor her husband, Russell Smith, were harmed by the two blasts that rocked Boston, killing three and injuring more than 175 people. But their proximity to the devastating terrorist attacks have both Smiths counting their blessings — especially the wonders of modern telecommunications.
It was a providential text message that took Amy Smith away from potentially being in the path of deadly shrapnel on Monday.
“I got a message on my iPhone telling me that my husband, who was running in the marathon, had slowed down at the 30-kilometer mark,” recounted Smith, 39. “I thought, ‘If he’s going at that pace now, he probably still has 45 minutes to an hour before he finishes. I’m going to get a cup of coffee.’ ”
So she relinquished her spot, walked south on Boylston Street, and turned down a side street. She had only gone a few blocks when she heard the first bomb explode, back in the direction she had come from. And memories of 9/11 began flooding back.
“After the first bomb, I immediately went into PTSD,” she said, referring to post traumatic stress. “My heart started racing, and I wheeled around. There was smoke billowing from between the buildings. I couldn’t see where the first explosion had gone off — a building blocked my view — but people looked stunned. Nobody was running or screaming; I wondered if a cannon had gone off.”
Thirteen seconds later, the second bomb went off much nearer to where Smith was standing, although she could not see the explosion. Chaos followed, with some spectators vaulting barriers, others seeming to be immobilized.
At 2:55 p.m., Smith called her brother to tell him she was fine, but the battery in her iPhone died a few minutes later. She then stood in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue, dazed and unsure what to do. “Everyone just wandered around looking lost,” she said.
Russell Smith, an active-duty seaman, had continued running after the bombs went off. (There was no protocol in place to stop the marathon, so many runners continued down the route unaware of the crisis unfolding ahead.) He was finally stopped by a line of police at 3:19 p.m., 30 minutes after the twin explosions and just under a mile from the finish line.
But Smith would not know her husband was safe until later that afternoon. Still feeling disoriented, she said she “wandered aimlessly” until she encountered some women her age returning from a bar.
After that, “my day got a lot better,” Smith recalled. “I was distraught when I approached them. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. But they took me under their wing — I really owe them so much. They took me in into their house, offered me drinks, and put the TV on.”
Rather than relying on cable news, however, Smith turned to a medium that wasn’t around at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “One of my husband’s friends posted on Facebook that he was alright,” she said.
For Smith, the surreal episode marks the beginning of a new chapter. Earlier this month, she was named director of aviation-policy integration for Boeing and she was scheduled to report to the new job on Friday.
This article appears in the April 19, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.