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Boston student from Catonsville strives to regain normalcy after bombings

By Julie Baughman, jbaughman@tribune.com

7:53 PM EDT, April 26, 2013

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Catonsville resident Caitlin Donnelly, a sophomore at Boston University, is among the thousands of Boston residents striving for life to return to normal less than two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings.

When the two bombs detonated near the finish line of the marathon on April 15, killing three and leaving more than 250 people injured, Donnelly was on campus, less than two miles from the explosions.

"I had been planning to go (to the marathon)," said Donnelly, 20, a student in the School of Education. "But I didn't, because I had a big paper I had to do that week, so I actually stayed in."

She said she had friends at the marathon watching the race by the finish line near where the bombs went off. Though no one she knew was hurt, she said it was a traumatic experience for everyone in the city.

"I could hear the sirens and everything from my window," she said. "My dorm room is actually right along one of the major roadways.

"I had a friend that came in really panicked right after it happened because she had been there," Donnelly said.

She said with all the confusion right after the incident as to what actually happened, she wasn't too concerned at first.

"I was thinking (it was) maybe some sort of gas line break," Donnelly said. "I didn't immediately go to terror attack or bombs or anything like that."

She said she didn't call her parents right away, since she wasn't sure how serious the incident was. When she finally did call, she encountered cellphone lines too jammed for her to immediately get in touch with them.

"The worst part was that when it happened, all the cell towers were jammed, so it was really hard to call anyone," Donnelly said. "It took me a while to actually call home."

The delay only heightened the concerns for her mother, Laura Donnelly, who was driving home from work as a teacher at Emmanuel Lutheran School on Ingleside Avenue when she heard about the bombings.

"It was about an hour of back and forth, between I'm sure she's fine and maybe she's hurt and just not knowing," Laura Donnelly said on April 24.

"When we could finally get in touch with her, you know, we were relieved," she said.

This was not the first time Laura Donnelly had to wait anxiously to hear if one of her children had survived a large scale, tragic act of violence.

Her son, Ryan Donnelly, was a student at Virginia Tech when the shootings occurred on the Blacksburg campus in 2007.

"I was thinking goodness, two of my three children who have gone to college have been witness to, or been involved in this kind of tragedy," she said.

"It's kind of odd. It's very strange," Laura Donnelly said.

Fortunately, Caitlin Donnelly came home soon after the events for her brother Ryan's wedding in Catonsville.

She avoided the stress from the massive manhunt throughout Boston, the neighboring Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus and the suburb of Watertown.

The manhunt took place just across the Charles River from where her dorm room is located.

"I can actually see MIT from my window," she said.

Her mother was glad to have her home during the manhunt.

"She wasn't there for the lockdown and all of that," Laura Donnelly said. "Her roommates were calling asking if she had any food anywhere because they couldn't leave."

But until the search ended after suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, captured by Boston Police, the anxiety remained, even though Caitlin was back in Maryland.

"I was getting all of the Boston University school alerts," she said.

Caitlin

Donnelly said "Boston Strong" posters can be seen throughout the city and on the BU campus.

"All over Boston, you see 'Boston Strong' signs. And in dorm windows, you see 'Boston Strong' signs," she said.

"That's the phrase that everyone's saying to keep everyone together and proud of their city," she said.

"Boston is a strong city, and I feel like they're doing a really good job of coming together, and showing that pride and the fact that we will carry on even though something terrible has happened," Caitlin Donnelly said.

Though a citywide unity has been evident, Caitlin Donnelly said there are still lingering side effects that will probably take longer to recover from.

"You live in a city, you hear sirens all the time," she said. "But now I feel like everybody immediately locks onto that sound, and it takes them a minute to be like it's OK."

"I think everyone's a little bit more aware now of things like that," she said.

She said the situation became very real for her when she heard a rumor a bomb had been disabled at Kenmore Station, a stop on the Boston T train, in the days following the bombing.

"That was when it finally hit me," Caitlin Donnelly said. "Because I go to that station every other day to take the T around Boston.

"Immediately when I heard that, my stomach dropped," she said. "It's just the thought of, you know, being so close to home."