May 21, 2018
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Moving on after Boston: Maine runners say they’ll race again; local officials looking for lessons

By Kathryn Skelton, Sun Journal

Paula Rousseau couldn’t believe the number of people on the sidelines offering pizza, beer and licorice to runners in the Boston Marathon. She and running partner Barbie Clement laughed. They had trained in snow all winter for this. Beer could wait. When they passed college students holding up signs that asked for kisses, they blew a few their way and kept running.

Toward the end of the 26 miles, Rousseau reached out to touch her friend every few minutes, gently encouraging her to keep up the pace.

Twenty minutes after they crossed the finish line, deadly bombs exploded two blocks away from them. They were safe but others weren’t.

Rousseau, a second-grade teacher from Lewiston, spent last week thinking about everything, a lot.

She’s going to run the Boston Marathon again next year.

“I just feel like it’s time to go back and prevail and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to let them bring us down,'” said Rousseau, 49.

Nearly two weeks after the Boston bombers killed three and injured more than 170 — and then killed and injured more during the ensuing manhunt — people all over Maine say they’re ready to move forward.

They won’t forget, but they won’t let terror stop them in their tracks, in Boston or close to home.

Planning, prep

Lewiston police Sgt. David Chick is already thinking about the Dempsey Challenge, an annual charity cycling, walking and running event hosted by actor Patrick Dempsey that draws thousands, including other celebrities. He’s searching for lessons he can draw from the attack.

“The perpetrators behind these events are trying to cripple us with fear,” said. “You can’t play into that.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston bombings, Maine State Police began talking to the Maine Emergency Management Agency and partner agencies about potential vulnerabilities in Maine.

“There are a number of road races in the summer and the fall,” said State Police Col. Robert Williams. “We immediately started looking at what we could be doing or should be doing.”

Maine also loaned a detective with “technological expertise” to the FBI and ran down information for the Massachusetts State Police during the Thursday night manhunt and shootout with suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“The information that they wanted, the people were related to Maine,” Williams said. “I’m assuming that at the end of it they ruled them out as suspects.”

Williams said the detective, Lenny Bolton, is a former member of Maine’s joint terrorism task force, assigned to the southern end of the state and good at what he does. Bolton worked in Boston for several days.

“All we will be releasing . . . is that he was doing cellphone analysis,” said Williams.

Williams expects to be consulted in the coming months by event organizers looking to tighten security or take more precautions for their own events. He’s ready for that, and knee-jerk reactions won’t work.

Remove all of the trash cans from an event, for instance, out of fear that someone could stash explosives there, and “now you have to employ people to pick all that trash up,” Williams said.

Bangor is now planning security for its summertime concert series and American Folk Festival, both of which draw large crowds to the city’s waterfront. Security has always been a priority, but there have been new considerations since the Boston bombing.

“There could be a number of options available to us, including hiring extra personnel or checking bags as they come into the event area. But that’s still in the planning stages,” said Bangor Police Sgt. Cathy Rumsey. “We know there needs to be a heightened awareness, and I’d be confident in saying you’ll find that across the country right now.”

In Portland, city leaders, police, fire and other emergency workers met just a few days ago to review that city’s security measures. Portland’s Mother’s Day 5K, one of the largest races in the state, is coming up next month. After that, thousands of people will crowd into the city for the Old Port Festival in June and the Fourth of July fireworks and outdoor concert.

There’s talk of augmenting security, including engaging event organizers more when it comes to security and working more to educate the public about what they should look for and how they can stay safe.

And next month there will be an opportunity for officials to take a hard look at the city’s response to a major emergency: The Portland Jetport will hold a regularly scheduled, full-scale emergency exercise in May, complete with simulated mass casualties.

Portland officials believe they can learn a lot from the Boston bombing and how it was handled.

“They don’t happen very often, but events like this do sort of force us to take a pause, look at what we’re doing and see if there’s anything we can add,” said Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city of Portland.

In Lewiston, Chick had been in the process of reviewing city event applications, of which there are several. Lessons learned could be a matter of small tweaks, he said. For some events, it might mean controlled access points, specific ways in and out, paying closer attention to the places the largest crowds gather and coaching volunteers to keep their eyes open for anything suspicious.

“It’s been something that’s been on the forefront of our minds since this happened,” said Aimee Arsenault, the Dempsey Challenge’s event manager.”With an event like the Boston Marathon, which obviously has a charity component, athleticism and wellness — you just don’t expect something like this to happen. That was only two hours away and it definitely felt very close to home for us.”

Organizers of the Dempsey Challenge, which is the main fundraiser for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, already work with state and local police. The Challenge’s event management company has experience with emergency preparedness and response. Arsenault plans to talk to volunteers this year about being vigilant.

There is, though, no such thing as 100 percent prevention, she said.

“We’re not going to let this deter us from continuing on, from trying to make the event bigger, trying to have more high-profile people come and speak about their experiences,” Arsenault said. “We’re not of the mindset of scaling things back or cutting things back because of fear. It’s really an important statement to make.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, was Maine’s governor during the Sept. 11 attacks. He has sat in many meetings the past few weeks and called these “very complicated and serious” times.

“I think we have to realize we’re in an open society and there’s some risk in that,” said King, whose wife had been at the Boston finish line cheering on Joan Benoit Samuelson before the blasts. “You could line the route of the Boston Marathon with 10,000 soldiers shoulder to shoulder, but who wants to live in that country?”

The best to come

Jamie Theriault hopes to race in next year’s Boston Marathon. The 28-year-old from Lewiston has trained since last August, dropping 15 pounds and shaving seven minutes off her time. She has a qualifying marathon in Rhode Island in two weeks.

During this year’s Boston Marathon she handed out Gatorade and water at Mile 14.

“The next day, I went out for one of my last big training runs in order to qualify,” she said. “It just felt weird. I felt very numb. I wasn’t sure if I should forge ahead, in light of the fact people had died or lost limbs. Since then, I’ve sort of reconciled with the fact we need to just keep moving on.”

Before the race, second-grade teacher Rousseau hung medals and race numbers on her classroom walls. Her students knew she was going down there to run. She got lots of hugs the Monday after school vacation, and she’s found herself looking at her students differently since the event.

“That poor little boy [Martin Richard] that was killed was about the same age,” she said. “You just look at these kids; you just never know from one day to the next what they may encounter.”

Her running partner, Clement, 45, of Monmouth, also took time to consider running the race next year.

She’s also in.

“I think it’s going to be, probably, one of the best years,” Clement said. “I do want to be part of it again. I don’t want that tarnished feeling.”

Before the Boston Marathon, she’d bought a marathon-yellow-and-blue running jacket and was excited to wear it after the race. It took a week, last Sunday, before she could put it on.

She and Rousseau start training for the Boston Marathon again in December.

Sun Journal writer Lindsay Tice contributed to this report.

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