By Nate Tenopir, Editor-in-Chief
When Scott and Lori Zegar took their first steps onto the streets of Boston they were greeted by a car chase that almost ended in a collision with a pedestrian. As they stepped off the subway the scene that unfolded included a woman diving for her life, a car backing up onto a sidewalk and about 20 police vehicles in pursuit.
Once the drama had ended and the Zegars were safely out of the way they looked back comically on their dramatic introduction to the city.
“Me and Lori just kind of looked at each other and, well…welcome to Boston, we’re here” Scott said jokingly.”
They shared the same story with Lori’s sister Katie Zulkoski and her husband Ryan later that evening when the couples met up at the hotel. Within the first few minutes of arriving, Scott and Lori were laughing that they had already experienced the most memorable part of the trip.
The Zegars had traveled from Columbus, Neb. to Boston at the request of Katie. Katie, who lives with her husband in Omaha, had qualified for the Boston Marathon and decided to participate.
She invited Scott and Lori along, and they thought it was an excellent idea. The trip would allow them to support Katie during the race, and visit a major, historic city they had never been to before.
When the big day arrived, the trio of Scott, Lori and Ryan planned to catch Katie at three different spots along the marathon route.
The first was near the campus of Boston College, the next was at their hotel near the 20 mile mark of the race and the final spot was at the finish line.
They were successful at their first attempt. Lori jumped out onto the course and ran beside Katie for a short time before rejoining Scott and Ryan on the side of the street.
The large crowds on the streets and at the subway stations made catching Katie at the second stop more uncertain. Rather than miss her altogether, the trio decided it would be best to make their way to the end of the marathon route and be sure to see Katie when she crossed the finish line.
While on the subway they discovered they wouldn’t reach that goal either. Before Scott, Lori and Ryan could get there, Katie had sent out a text to let them know she had finished.
Not knowing if they’d ever be back at the Boston Marathon, the trio decided to get to the finish line so they could at least say they had been there.
“When we got off at the subway station we had a conscious decision to either turn left, or go across the street,” Scott said. “The only reason we went across the street is because at that time there seemed to be an influx of people leaving. If we would have went left and stayed on that side of the street, we would have been on that side of the street (where the bombs went off).”
The spot the three decided on was across the street from the two explosions, roughly 50-75 yards away. The first went off to the right of the group, and the second to the left just moments later.
“The closer you got to the finish line the testier people were getting about not letting you through,” Scott said. “Eventually we were gonna try to make our way to Katie who was in the runner’s tent. Everyone was just hooting and hollering, then that first explosion goes off to our right. Everyone kind of…everyone that was cheering just stopped cheering and kind of looked at each other and was…what was that? That was way too loud to be a part of this.”
“Just then that second one went off. When the second one went off that’s when people realized what was going on and that’s when people freaked. I grabbed Lori and I said get the F out to the middle of the street, that’s all we can do. My biggest fear was another one was gonna go off across the street or behind us, or something.”
Nobody in the group had been harmed, but Scott said they must have been closer to the second blast because he could feel the force of the second bomb more clearly than he had the first.
Scott, Lori and Ryan pushed through the barricades in front of them, got to the middle of the street then didn’t know what to do. Eventually the group ran to the right and went down an alley while using their cell phones to try and get in contact with Katie.
As they got closer to the finish line Scott said he could see some of the damage in blown out windows and shredded barricades. Though they went to their right, Scott said they didn’t go far enough down Boylston Street to encounter any of the carnage that was unfolding near the end of the race.
Eventually Katie responded to let her husband and the Zegars know she was OK, but didn’t know what was going on. When the explosions went off Scott said a woman in the runner’s tent standing next to Katie commented the sounds were something new that had never been done before.
But the talk soon changed to one of concern once there was a realization the sounds likely came from an explosive.
While running for safety in the area, the group ended up near the John Hancock building a block and a half south of Boylston to wait for Katie.
After about a half hour Katie joined the group, and they began to work their way out of downtown Boston.
“You just kept looking up at these buildings thinking I really hope one of these things doesn’t blow, Scott said.”
The group gained some sense of comfort once they had gotten through downtown, past the parking garages and the interstate. It wasn’t until then the Zegars and Zulkoskis took a chance to stop, regroup and figure out what had just happened. But it was also then that the terrifying reality of what had taken place began to reveal itself.
“This lady, she just started balling,” Scott said about a woman the group encountered in a neighborhood near downtown Boston. “We overheard her crying to her friends and say ‘I just saw people dying.’ When we overheard that we kind of all stopped and thought,…oh my God.”
Immediately after the bombing everything had been shut down. No public transportation was allowed and Scott said that although there were taxi cabs in the area, they all flew by wanting to get out of the area as fast as possible.
Since the hotel was seven miles away, and Katie had just ran 26.2 miles, Scott spent some of the trip back to the hotel carrying Katie on his back. Along the way they stopped at a restaurant to grab a soda, and by that time the televisions inside were already declaring two people dead.
“As we were walking there were some real cool people in the residential neighborhoods that had obviously heard about it,” Scott said. “I remember one guy specifically, he stopped this whole group of people that had been walking and asked, ‘Hey do you guys need anything? Does anyone need to come in and take a shower or just come in and watch TV or sit down for a little bit? If you need to, I live right here on the corner.'”
Once the group got back to the hotel, Scott said everyone in the city was walking on pins and needles for the next several hours. Their own hotel had a little bit of a scare when Scott noticed a larger police presence outside the building than had been there before.
A false media report had him and Lori believing two more bombs had been detonated since the marathon.
With the extra security near the hotel, the frightening thought there may be another bomb near their location began to become a real concern.
Scott called the front desk and was assured the extra security was merely a precaution due to the events of the day.
“The first night when we got back to the hotel, Lori couldn’t really sleep,” Scott said. “I didn’t necessarily have a problem falling asleep, but when I feel asleep I would hear that noise and I felt that percussion go through my body again. You know when you fall asleep and you jerk awake? I kept doing that probably five or six times.”
“The first time, she (Lori) asked me what was that? I said ‘sorry, it just replayed through my mind again.’ After a while she asked me to stop doing it. I can’t, I said. This is real.”
The next morning the Zegars got up to leave and arrived at the airport four hours early. When the couple woke up Tuesday morning they wanted nothing to do but get out of Boston.
After they had cleared a ramped up security checkpoint they made their way to the food court to get a bite to eat. A gentleman eating alone had gotten up from his table to get something and left his bag sitting by itself.
With the previous day’s events still fresh on everyone’s mind, it didn’t take long for someone to notice. Not a minute after the man left his bag unattended, Scott said a pilot approached the man, began swearing at him and demanded he return to his table and pick up his bag.
With the pilot’s radio out ready to call for more security, Scott said everyone froze in place.
“I know it’s not fair to Boston, but I was never so happy to leave a place,” Scott said.
Now it all feels like a distant dream. Even the night when Scott and Lori returned to the hotel room he said it was hard to look at the TV coverage and put themselves back on the scene.
Surreal is a term Scott maybe never truly understood until it was forced upon him that fateful afternoon in downtown Boston.
“That’s something that has run for 117 years,” Scott said. “As we were there you start learning more and more about this, what this meant to the people there. It was on Patriot’s Day, the Red Sox played early so they could go out and watch the finish line, [and] no one worked.
“It’s (the bombing) gonna be associated with the Boston Marathon now. In a sense you feel sorry for the people there who’ve raced this thing for so long. It just ruined it for them.”
Scott and Lori have since returned to less dramatic lives in Columbus where Scott works as a home builder and Lori as a health care professional.
Seven months ago the couple welcomed their second son, Owen, into the family. Scott and Lori hadn’t been as happy to see Owen and their four-year-old Aiden than the moment they returned home from Boston.
Since they’ve come back to Nebraska the horror of the day has mostly subsided. Scott no longer gets jolted awake the way he did the night after a terrifying day.
Sometimes he thinks about how things could have been different. He thinks about how he would have reacted if people around him were calling out for help with limbs missing.
He thinks about how they might have chosen the opposite side of the street than the one they were on. And he thinks how things might have gone if the couple had their two boys on the trip.
But at the same time he doesn’t allow second guessing to rule his life. Scott said they made the choices they did, and whether they were guided by luck, karma or faith, no amount of overanalyzing can tell him the why or the how.
The Zegars are a successful, growing family who would rather look towards all the years of happiness ahead than focus on one sad memory from the past.
“It definitely put things into perspective,” Zegar said. “We have two boys that we left at home and we thought (if the boys were there) those guys (the suspects) could have went across the street, or we could have went across the street.”
“But at the same time you can’t live your life planning like that or worrying like that either. It definitely drove the point home that, OK there’s bigger things in life, these are our priorities.”