One week in Boston ‘It was like a scene from a movie,’ said WHS grad who works a block away from bombing

By on April 24, 2013

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

Leslie Hostetter (middle) with her coworkers in Boston, Thaigo Marcsant (left) and Mike Maida (owner), along with Rocko (bottom left) and Balki (bottom right) outside Pawsh Dog Boutique, one block away from the second bomb.

Bombings. Shoot-outs. Lockdown. Manhunt.

"It’s been one hell of a week," Leslie Hostetter, former Lititz resident, aptly put during a phone interview from her Boston home Monday night.

Hostetter, 24, is a 2007 Warwick High School graduate who moved to Boston a few months after her commencement. She manages a high-end dog boutique called Pawsh at 31 Gloucester St., one block away from the second bomb.

This is her story:

"I went to work Monday. Normal day. I’m usually by myself on Mondays, but the owner came in to help because Marathon Mondays are a little crazy with tourists and everything."

Twenty-three thousand runners participated in this year’s race. The first bomb went off at 2:50 p.m.

"Something told me in my gut that it wasn’t normal, and there’s something terribly wrong. And then the second one went off about 10 seconds later, and my heart sank. I ran outside and it was like a scene from a movie, I’m not kidding. I turned to my left and there are crowds of people screaming and running down the street, and I had to ask people what’s going on. I got a hold of one woman and she said she was right at the finish line, two bombs just went off."

Two homemade bombs turned Boylston Street into a war zone, killing three and wounded 170 people. Hostetter was able to call her girlfriend and roommate, who was safe in New Jersey, but was unable to reach her family in Lititz. Panic was in the air.

"I tried to call my family. I tried to text them. The phone lines weren’t going through. That was very scary."

She closed the store and walked to her boss’ house. People were passed out on the street and bleeding. Some were overwhelmed to the point of convulsion.

"I just remember being terrified the entire time. That walk was the longest walk of my life. We just didn’t know if something else was going to happen. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that scared since I was a little girl, probably when 9/11 happened."

On Sept. 11, 2001 Hostetter was a student at Warwick Middle School.

"At that time I had my parents to go home to, and I felt safe with them. And now I’m 24 and I’m on my own."

Eventually she was able to reach her family, letting them know she was OK. But Boston was no longer the Boston she once knew.

"I walked home three hours later. It was very weird. I had to go out and around the main streets because they were all shut down. And there was military on every corner. Huge guns, and cops everywhere. It was a very eerie and strange feeling around the entire city."

That was the first five hours. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama had just addressed the country, saying, "Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice." And America was about to learn that one of the three fatalities at the scene was an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard. Seventeen others were critically injured by the barrage of shrapnel that included nails and ball bearings.

"It’s still unbelievable to me. I just can’t believe that this happened here. It’s so awful, the things that people have had to go through. One of our customers at our store was running the race, and she was near where the second bomb was. She already went through four surgeries in two days. Thank God they saved her life, but she’s going to need a lot of physical therapy … I really feel for all those families that lost loved ones, and all the people who lost their limbs. I feel terrible, and I can’t stop thinking about them or how their families must feel. And I feel very, very lucky to be alive. I’m very happy for that."

Hostetter realizes that she often walks right by the bomb locations. She could have just as easily been one of the victims on April 15.

"I walk past these places every day on my break. Luckily, I don’t like crowds too much, so I didn’t go on a break that day. I can’t help but wonder, what if…"

One of her customers was eating in a restaurant that was badly damaged by the second blast.

"She literally saw people having heart attacks on the floor when the second one went off. And people were running in who were injured. There was blood all over the place. Luckily, she’s OK, but she has a lot of post-traumatic stress. I’m pretty sure almost everyone in the city has that. Those explosions sounded like they were right next door."

Monday through Thursday was a stressful eternity for Hostetter and her fellow Bostonians.

"I was afraid to be alone, especially the day that they showed the surveillance tape of the suspects because they turned the corner at Gloucester and Newbury, so there is a 100 percent chance that they were on the corner of where our store is."

By Thursday night, she was exhausted from watching the news.

"I came home from work. I’d been watching the news all day. I’m sure everyone in Boston was watching the news all day, every day, especially after they released the suspects’ photos. I decided when I got home I was not going to watch TV anymore. I was overwhelmed and extremely frightened."

Her roommate, a waitress, got home from work at midnight.

"She burst in the door and said there’s shooting in Cambridge (home to Harvard and MIT), you need to turn on the TV."

Her break from the media was over. Was this somehow related to the marathon bombings? Back to nonstop TV.

"It had to be. Why would anyone do this in such close proximity to what happened on Monday?"

MIT campus police officer Sean Collier is shot and killed, and two armed men carjack an SUV, which police find in Watertown. Gunfire is exchanged. Suspect #1, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is shot and killed. Suspect #2, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, speeds away from the scene, driving over his older brother.

"One of the reporters (for Channel 7 News) was so close to the shoot-out that he was crying. He was so scared. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard that in my life."

It’s early Friday morning. Mass transit is shut down in Boston and the city is in lockdown during a manhunt that grips the nation. Everyone is on edge; anxiety reaches its peak. The streets were empty for most of the day. And then, just before 9 p.m., he was found, bleeding and hiding in a boat.

"I just remember being so relieved. I don’t even know if I can compare it to anything else that I’ve ever felt in my life. And I’m so glad that they got him alive, so that these families can get some kind of closure. To be honest, I don’t want him to get the death penalty. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, but I think that would be too easy. It would be something for him to look forward to; an exit out of jail. He should spend his life in prison with no hope of getting out."

And then Boston celebrated. According to Hostetter, her boss said the cheering in the streets was comparable to when Osama Bin Laden was killed, or when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and it seemed like the entire city crossed the finish line together.

"Regular civilians ran toward the explosions to help the suffering people on the ground. That’s amazing. When something like that happens, you don’t even have a second to think. You just react. People get so hung up on political parties, if you’re gay, if you’re straight, all that stuff. But in times like this, those things don’t matter. People just help one another, and that’s just amazing to see."

And that was the week in Boston, from tragedy to triumph, the worst and the best, as told by a former Lititz woman who has no plans of leaving her new home.

"I love Boston," she said, simply put. More BOSTON, page A16

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