Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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April 14, 2014

Local family in midst of marathon tragedy

ASHLAND — Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings that shook the world.

Kathy Whitely, whose daughter Amy Compston of Ashland ran in the tragic marathon and will be in the race again on Monday, stood only a few feet from the bombs with 20 other family members the entire day.

She remembers the joy of watching her daughter cross the finish line and the pure terror of what happened about 30 minutes later.

“We stood there and talked, had a good time together, waiting for Amy to come,” Whitely said. “She starts coming down the street and we’re all screaming and taking pictures. Everybody was so excited when she crossed that finish line.”

Compston finished the race around 2:20 p.m. She was drained and exhausted. She and her husband, Chris, who had met her at an area where runners go after the race, called the family and told them to meet at the subway instead of her coming back to them.

The remainder of the family left to meet them at the subway station as instructed. They went down an alley between two buildings because it seemed like a shortcut at the time. That turned out to be a fateful decision.

At 2:50 p.m., almost two hours after the winners had completed the race, two explosions occurred near the finish line where Amy’s family had just been minutes before. Three spectators were killed and 264 others were injured. Among the injured, 17 were in critical condition. At least 14 required amputations. The race was halted eight minutes after the explosions and more than 5,000 participants who were unable to finish because of the race being stopped were later given medals.

Whitely was able to speak with Amy on a cell phone a few minutes after the race and said they were coming to meet her. After gathering everybody together, Andy Wesolowski, Amy’s older brother, pointed the family in the direction they should be going, which was between two buildings down an alley.

“My son says ‘Let’s not go through this crowd. Let’s go down this street and get away from the crowd where we can move faster.’ We went down the alley, all 20 of us because Chris had already left to meet Amy,” Whitely said. “Somewhere along in there, I hear this explosion sound. I thought it was two rail cars hitting together. Living in eastern Kentucky, that was a sound I was used to hearing. Then, all of the sudden, I hear another something that sounded like an explosion.”

Her son-in-law, Mike Vazquez, said what everybody else was thinking: it sounded like a bomb. “Mike, Traci (Mike’s wife) and I kind of looked at each other. None of us said a word,” Whitely said.

They went on toward the subway, only to find it closed, where they learned it was definitely a bomb. Whitely was concerned for everybody, but she had heard from Chris and Amy and knew they were unharmed. Her attention turned to her father, Gerald Womack, who was home in Chicago.

“His whole family was here in Boston,” she said. “I finally got through to him and said ‘Dad, we’re all OK. There’s been a bomb.’ I was rattling on to him. All he heard was ‘We’re OK, bomb.’ Then he turned the news on and saw what was going on.”

Chris and Amy didn’t know the tragedy that had unfolded yet.

“We were sitting on a bench waiting for them to get there when a lady asked if she could use our phone,” Amy remembered. “We said ‘Sure, here.’ She asked us if we’d heard what happened. We said ‘No’ and she said ‘There’s been a bombing.’ It was a moment of disbelief and shock.”

Amy said she was already disoriented after running the marathon and the immediate concern was making sure all of the family members were safe and together again. They got the cell phone back and were able to make contact with the family and learned everyone was unharmed. The connection lasted only about five seconds before all phone service in the area was cut off.

“We tried to leave the subway (station) to find our family and the police told us to get on the subway and get out of the city,” she said. “They (the family) went to a park somewhere in the city. They weren’t allowed on the closest subway to them but eventually got on one. We were separated for an hour until we all got together again.”

Amy and Chris heard reports of the second bomb while riding on the subway. It was all like a frightening nightmare.

The rest of the family was even separated from each other for a short time among the confusion. Eventually, they were able to get on a subway and return to where the family was staying three miles outside of town.

“I was crying on the way home,” Amy said. “It’s such an emotional day anyway. I couldn’t believe I was at the Boston Marathon, and now I can’t believe I was at the Boston Marathon where there was a terrorist attack.”

When the family was finally together again, 11 children and 11 adults, not a word was being spoken.

“We hugged and we cried tears of joy because we were all safe but also tears of sadness for what just took place,” Amy said. “The kids were silent, which is pretty unusual for them. When we saw on TV where the bombs went off, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s exactly where we were at, that’s the bathroom (at a Starbucks) we used all day. That’s when it really hit home. That’s how close we all were to this tragedy.”

But there was no fear among the family. They went out sightseeing the next day.

“We really were close (to tragedy) but God did protect us,” Amy said. “That’s why we have this peace about going back. He was there and he’s going to be there. It’s all in his will. My whole family feels the same way.”

Almost immediately after arriving back together, Whitely said, the family took a photograph with everyone in it. It remains a treasured keepsake from the trip and a photograph that Compton uses when talking about the events of that day while sharing her mission, Amy For Africa.

Compston, who along with her husband will be running 14 marathons combined in the next eight months starting with Boston, began Amy For Africa about a month after returning from Boston last year. It recently surpassed $50,000 in fundraising for missions in Moyo, Uganda. Information can be found on amyforafrica.com.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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