– Sitting in the lobby of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Tuesday with one daughter upstairs in critical condition and another recovering in a hospital blocks away, Carol Downing described the frantic hours she spent looking for them after bomb blasts cut short her third marathon and separated the family.
The Monkton woman stumbled over her words, dropped her head into her hands and slowly ran her fingers through her short brown hair as she relayed what happened at the storied Boston Marathon, which was supposed to have been the culmination of a weekend getaway with her daughters, Erika Brannock and Nicole Gross, and her son-in-law, Michael Gross.
When the bombs exploded, Downing said, she was just a half-mile from the finish line where Brannock and the Grosses were waiting to cheer her on. They were gathered outside the LensCrafters on Boylston Street, one of the bloodiest sites along the course. Downing heard sirens, not the blast, and officials corralled her and other runners in a spot under a nearby overpass.
She spent the next six hours trying to locate both her daughters.
"They're like my best friends," said Downing, dressed in a pair of shorts and a borrowed fleece. "They are great, supportive daughters, always have been. We've always had a lot of fun together. They mean the world to me."
Brannock, 29, who teaches at a Towson preschool, had her left leg amputated from the knee down among other injuries, cousin Jocelyn Wood-Garrish said Wednesday.
"She is aware and taking the news very well. I'm in awe of my cousin's bravery," Wood-Garrish said, adding that there were more surgeries to come. Brannock was communicating with the family by writing, and had requested pictures of the students she teaches.
Brannock, who before Wednesday had been heavily sedated, is expected to remain in the hospital at least a month, Downing said.
Nicole Gross, 31, a personal trainer at Charlotte Athletic Club in North Carolina, had both her legs broken, family members said. She is in stable condition at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. Michael Gross sustained lacerations and burns and has been discharged, Downing said.
Downing, a retired massage therapist, said she tried texting her daughters and son-in-law, but the phone lines were jammed. She finally reached Michael Gross about an hour after the blasts, but they couldn't locate Brannock until 9 p.m.
While she was panicked, scared and cold after running nearly the entire marathon, Downing said, a Boston couple took her back to their home, where they gave her something to eat and drink and allowed her to take a shower. They also gave her a fleece jacket, which she kept, and stayed with her at Brigham and Women's Hospital until family arrived.
"With all the chaos and to be in a city where I don't know anyone, it reminds me that there are some good people in the world," Downing said.
She said she doesn't know what to think of the attack, and isn't focused on the constant news updates.
"I am not really thinking about it right now," she said. "I don't want to watch TV, and I am not reading the paper. It's just too emotional for me. I am trying to stay disconnected from it and focused on my kids."
Wood-Garrish said the family has been overwhelmed by support, an outpouring that began Monday night on Facebook.
"I know that so many people are worried about her," Wood-Garrish said. "Our hearts are breaking, but our hopes are high."
For friends who knew that Brannock was in Boston, the hours after Monday afternoon's blast were tense. Former roommate Ericka Leonard, a Boston University graduate who is now a middle school teacher at McDonogh School, was texting with Brannock about places to go in the city and received updates on Downing's pace throughout the day.
"I knew that her sister and brother-in-law and she would be at the finish line because her mom's expected crossing of the finish line was around that time," Leonard said.
Leonard said she sent a text message that showed up on her phone as having been read, but did not receive word until 9 p.m., when Downing told her Brannock was at a hospital.
"It was a really stressful few hours," Leonard said.