Charles Village resident caught up in chaos at Boston Marathon

Tom Gamper, organizer of the annual City Catch program that teaches inner city children to fish, spent Friday stocking the Dead Run stream in Leakin Park with rainbow trout.

He would have been there Saturday too, when the children arrived, but he was on his way to the Boston Marathon, as one of 448 Marylanders, including 59 from Baltimore, who were signed up to run in the marathon.

That's where the Charles Village resident was when he saw and heard the explosions that left at least three people dead and scores injured, some with severed limbs, near the finish line Monday, April 15.

Among the injured was Erika Brannock, 29, a preschool teacher at Trinity Episcopal Children's Center in downtown Towson, who was in intensive care at press time Tuesday.

Brannock, of Cockeysville, was in Boston to support her mother, Carol Phillips Downing, in the marathon, according to friends and former colleagues. They said Brannock's sister, Nicole Gross, and brother-in-law, Michael Gross, were also injured in the explosions.

"It's a mess," Gamper, an architect and Gilman School graduate, said from Boston, where he had entered his third Boston Marathon. "This is terrible. It's just terrible. It's a bad scene."

Gamper had finished the race and was retrieving his equipment bag from a bus when he heard the first explosion. He said he was about two blocks away, with a view of the smoke and chaos along Boylston Street.

"At first, it was very strange, as if everyone around me had a sense of denial," he said. "But at the same time, you knew just intuitively that something terrible had just happened."

Within five minutes, Gamper said, emergency vehicles started to race onto the scene in a steady stream. "Then the whole city went on lockdown," he said. "Our cellphones went out."

With the downtown Boston subway lines closed, Gamper walked two miles to retrieve his car.

"All through the city, people were in a zombie-like state," he said. "They were ashen, or there were tears coming from their eyes. People seemed to gather on Boston Common, just hanging out there, as if it was a safe place to be. ... It's overwhelming to me, a beautiful event like the Boston Marathon — how do you put that back together after this? It's heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking."

Ryan McGrath, who organizes a running group through Falls Road Running Store in Mount Washington, and other Baltimore-area runners were relaxing after the Boston Marathon when they heard the blasts.

"I thought maybe it's one of those boat-type things that just shoots off a cannon every day," said McGrath, a Highlandtown resident. "One of my friends was like, 'Man, that didn't sound like a cannon.' "

Police and emergency vehicles quickly flooded the area, and marathoners and spectators ran by crying, McGrath said.

Some of the Falls Road Running Store team had flown to Boston and planned to stay the night Monday, but Ryan McGrath and others who drove expected to leave Monday afternoon.

The group of about 20 runners on the team had finished well before the explosions, McGrath said. Most of the race's entrants qualify based on their marathon results, but many of those who were still on the race course had been awarded spots for raising money for charity. The last wave of runners in the race started at 10:40 a.m. and had until 5 p.m. to finish, he said.

"This is probably the biggest in the eight years that I've lived in Baltimore," he said of the team's Boston contingent. "A lot of people got pretty psyched about doing it this year."

Brennan Feldhausen, a Baltimore resident also with the Falls Road group, said he had finished the race a couple of hours before the explosions and was getting on the subway to return to his hotel when authorities told everyone to evacuate. Feldhausen, who immediately started calling the other members of his group, said they have all been accounted for.

"My initial thought was: "What's wrong with this world?'" said Feldhausen, 28. "It's truly a holiday up here for Boston, most places are closed, everyone's out supporting it, and then to hear something terrible like this — it's really pretty creepy."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Jon Meoli, Carrie Wells, Scott Dance, Patrick Maynard, Justin Fenton, Dan Rodricks and Jessica Anderson, and Reuters News Service contributed to this story.

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