Boston marathon runner who witnessed bombing: 'It was a horrible, horrible mess'

The annual Boston marathon came to a halt on Monday after two bombs detonated near the finish line. So far, three people have died and over 150 were left injured.

Around 23,000 runners participated in the 26-mile-long race, including local reporter Paul Burton and 25 kids who joined him in the marathon.

Burton is also the director of the Ron Burton Training Village (RBTV), a non-profit organization focused on providing physical and educational lessons to children and teens from challenged backgrounds.

Each year, he and a group of students from the program participate in the Boston marathon but Monday’s occasion ended in what Burton calls a “very challenging, very intense and very terrifying” event.

Bombs blast on Boylston Street

It was Burton’s ninth year participating in the marathon and just like each year prior, he ran alongside a group of kids from his organization.

This year, the students ranged in ages from 11-18 and cheered each other on as they neared the finish line.

“I was coming in about to cross the finish line and it was my best time yet,” Burton told theGrio. “I had about five campers running with me when we heard the first and second bomb go off while we were about 50 yards away.”

The blasts were results from explosive bombs that were placed in garbage cans on Boylston Street, close to marathon runners and spectators. The first bomb detonated around 2:50 p.m., followed by a second blast only 13 seconds later.

Pandemonium strikes the city

“As soon we heard the first blast we stopped dead in our tracks and then proceeded forward a little further and that’s when the second bomb went off,” Burton said. “I knew, right then, that something very awful had happened.”

As the second bomb hurled clouds of smoke into the air, Burton said it was then that panic and chaos filled the streets.

“People were screaming and crying and they all started running in the opposite direction of the finish line,” he said.

Adding, “All the smoke and debris were everywhere but police and firefighters did a great job getting people away from the scene.”

Kids and teens amidst the terror

Burton’s said the students that ran with him were all confused by the initial occurrence.

“The kids didn’t understand what happened, they were all in shock,” he said.

The 25 students that participated in the race each ran at different speeds throughout the marathon while a few had crossed the finish line just seconds before the explosions rocked the street.

Burton and his five-member team were only a few strides away from rounding out the marathon before the first bomb exploded.

He says, “If we were 30 seconds further along we would’ve all been in the explosion.”

Locating family and friends during the aftermath

In the moments that followed the blasts, runners scattered the streets and wounded victims fell to the ground as they suffered horrific burns and cuts. Burton and his camp immediately returned to their hotel room and conducted a head count for their team.

“We talked about what happened and watched the news, we were all under lockdown,” he said. “It was a horrible, horrible mess.”

Cell phone reception in the area soon became unavailable but Burton managed to locate all of his students and eventually met with his own family members who originally waited for the group at the finish line.

In effort to communicate with the students’ parents, Burton’s brother, Ron Burton Jr. took to the Ron Burton Training Village Facebook page to inform guardians that all campers have been located and were being “transported home.”

An organization set to help the youth

Burton’s goal was to raise scholarship money for the kids in the RBTV organization. Each year, his team raises an average of $50,000, which is awarded to multiple students in the camp.

Over 130 students participate in the seven-year program, which is aimed for kids to further enhance their education, social skills and fitness levels.

The organization was founded by Ron Burton Sr., Paul’s late father, who grew up under extreme poverty but later spent six years playing for the New England Patriots and was inducted into the NFL College Football Hall of Fame.

During the program’s “intense” five-week training summer camp, Burton says he and campers “wake up at 4 a.m. and run seven miles a day.”

“Running is a major part of what we do,” he adds, providing further explanation for his team’s participation in the annual Boston Marathon. Instead, this year’s race ended in a moment Burton claims was “an absolute tragedy.”

Where to go from here?

In a live press conference held early Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama addressed the nation saying that the bombings in Boston were “a heinous and cowardly act and from what we know now, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism.”

Many are left with serious injuries including those who suffered loss of limbs, deeps cuts and broken bones. Among the three casualties recorded so far is 8-year-old Martin Richard, a young boy who was struck by the second explosion as he waited for his father to run across the finish line.

Investigations into the bombings are underway but individuals who were involved in the attacks have yet to be found.

Meanwhile, heightened security measures have already taken place in large metropolitan cities including Washington D.C. and New York City.

Despite all the horrific events, Burton says he is “thankful” that he and his campers returned home safely. A note on the RBTV Facebook page, released early Tuesday morning, stated:

“We are still sorting our thoughts after the horrific tragedy that befell the Boston Marathon. We are very thankful that none of the Burtons or RBTV campers and families were injured from this unimaginable attack. The Ron Burton Training Village stands together with an even greater sense of faith and determination to advance our mission of love, peace, patience and humility in a world that is in such great need of each.”

Follow Lilly Workneh @Lilly_Works