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The road to the finish line of the Boston Marathon

Stories from some of the spectators at the race

Ascer Barlatier’s balloons drifted above the chaos after explosions rocked the Marathon finish line on Monday.

DAVID L RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

Ascer Barlatier’s balloons drifted above the chaos after explosions rocked the Marathon finish line on Monday.

This story was written by David Filipov, Sarah Schweitzer, Michael Rezendes, Jenna Russell, Patricia Wen, David Abel, and Geoff Edgers.

A week and a world ago, they set out on a day treasured in this town. They came from many points and for many reasons, converging where caprice and fate determined.

* * *

Steve Fiola, first lieutenant and executive officer of the 1060th transportation company in the Army National Guard, hauled himself out of bed at 2:45 a.m. He pulled on a camouflage uniform and Oakley boots, and slung his rucksack into the car.

He had packed that same bag with the same items for the past five Boston Marathons. Socks. Liners for the socks. First aid kit. Camelbak hydration system. Six 16.9-ounce bottles, four filled with water and two with Pedialyte. Energy bars. Packs of pureed banana and apple. Powerade gels. Extra uniform. Extra boots. GOR-TEX shirt for rain. Flip flops. A wool blanket. He headed off from his Fitchburg home to Hopkinton.

* * *

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Alma Bocaletti and Ascer Barlatier were relieved to find that the iParty store in Dorchester was open. They ordered 12 yellow balloons and added a Mylar sunflower. They would hold them aloft in the crowd along the marathon route so their friend, Natalie Olivier, would see them as she ran past. The yellow would stand out. Sunflowers are her favorite bloom. The iParty guy inflated the balloons with helium, and the friends paid $20.17.

They worried that the balloons would not fit in the Honda Civic hatchback. But they succeeded in cramming them in and set off for Newton to find a place in the crowd. They hit a bump on the way, and one of the balloons popped. Eleven would have to do. They met with five other friends in Newton, and set up their own personal cheering section near the 17-mile mark.

* * *

Kiva Kuan Liu lugged a heavy video camera, tripod, and microphone and a bag full of equipment up Boylston Street. For months, she had been documenting the physical and spiritual journey of Rebecca Roche, a woman determined to overcome ankle injuries to complete the Marathon for the first time. “I’m going to finish if I have to do it on my hands and knees,” Roche had told her.

Today she would get her final shots: The reactions of Roche’s parents and boyfriend, and Roche’s own triumphant, or agonized, final crossing. The 23-year-old Boston University graduate student headed for the Marathon Sports store. It had a good view of the finish line. She would set up there.

* * *

Jack Rozza spent the morning with his girlfriend and then said good-bye. She had to go work at his Fenway restaurant, BlackJack Pasta. But Patriots Day is special to Rozza. He spends it every year with the same group of friends. They like to go to Boylston Street, to Abe and Louie’s near the finish line, and linger over drinks and a meal. This time, he went to Cambridge to meet his friends. They piled into a cab and headed to the Back Bay.

* * *

Mike Dolaher had brought his children, Ryan, 7, and Lindsey, 4, to last year’s Marathon to watch his sister run. But it had been too hot out for the kids, and they had to leave before she finished the race. This Patriots Day was beautiful. Dolaher left a little early from their Ipswich home, and had time to take the kids to the Public Garden. They sat on the Make Way for Ducklings figures. They rode on swan boats. Then the family headed for Boylston Street.

* * *

It was in the starting corral when the runners started passing around the grease pen. Marc Bellanger had not planned on scribbling anything on his body. Then somebody handed him the pen. He wrote his name on his left leg. He wrote “Pappy,” the name the grandkids called Marc’s father, Alain, on his right leg.

Alain Bellanger is why on Patriots Day, Marc woke up early in Westwood, laced up his running shoes, and headed to the starting line for his first marathon. Ten years ago, Alain Bellanger killed himself. Over the years, as Marc built a professional career, married Suzanne, and had children, he developed a deeper relationship with The Samaritans, a nonprofit known for its 24-hour help line. Now on the board of directors, Bellanger raised $13,500 in pledges for this, his first marathon.

* * *

John Hampson woke early in his dorm room on the Tufts campus. The sophomore from Santa Barbara had never seen the Boston Marathon. He grabbed his camera and headed downtown to take pictures for the Tufts Daily, the campus newspaper.

Along the way

Fiola’s backpack was a lot to haul. At Lowell Avenue in Newton, mile marker 19, his shoulders were killing him and his feet were sore. He was not likely to need even half the things he was carrying along the Marathon course. But symbols matter. And on this day, when he and 15 other guardsmen under his command marched the Marathon route to honor fallen comrades, the heavy load was meant to mimic the survival loads that soldiers carry on training marches.

He had marched the Marathon four times before. He knew he would make it again. But one of his guardsmen was a new guy. Fiola had to be on the lookout for him.

* * *

Olivier saw the balloons, just as her friends had hoped. She wiped the sweat off her face and smiled at her friends as she ran past. They cheered. Barlatier rang a cowbell. Bocaletti and three other friends each released a yellow balloon.

It was time to get to the finish line. The friends walked to the Woodland T station. The Green Line trolley was packed. They feared the yellow balloons would pop. Barlatier, who was closest to the door, wanted to hand the balloons to his friends. Other passengers helped out, carefully passing the balloons person to person. Like one big family, Barlatier thought.

* * *

It was a strange race. Bellanger had been battling tendinitis in the weeks leading up. He took an Advil and seemed to be on his way to his goal of a four-hour marathon. Then, in Wellesley, a dog jumped out of the spectator area and bit Bellanger on the leg.

He kept running, but the attack had thrown him off. Bellanger slowed down on the Newton hills before picking up the pace further down Beacon Street.

* * *

Rozza could not have been happier. It had turned into a sparkling day, and the lunch of oysters and shrimp at Abe and Louie’s, along with the vodka and soda, had put him in a sublime mood. Soon, he would have to leave, go help his girlfriend at his restaurant, but he did not want to. He weighed the possibility of calling in, hoping she would say it was a slow day. He stayed at the restaurant a little while longer.

* * *

The runners from Tufts started crossing at 1:45. Hampson made his way into the roadway, the Tufts running coach beside him, and trained his camera on their faces. Through the lens, he looked for ecstasy rising through agony. A lot of the runners were crying. The coach, Donald Megerle, wrapped each one in his arms after he or she crossed the finish line.

* * *

Dolaher sat with his children, his parents, and his sister’s boyfriend on the second floor of Forum restaurant. They had scored a table by a window that provided an excellent view of the runners approaching the finish line. Ryan and Lindsey sat closest to the window. At first, they were cheering on their aunt, “Let’s go, Katie!” They noticed the posters other spectators were holding up. The kids started cheering for them, too.

* * *

Kiva Kuan Liu stayed with Roche’s mother and boyfriend all morning, interviewing them outside Marathon Sports, sometimes just chatting. At midday, they went to Newton, to shoot Roche passing the 17-mile mark. When they returned to Marathon Sports, she stood on the benches in front of the store to get the best possible view of the runners.

Finish line

Bocaletti hurried to the finish line to stake out a spot near Marathon Sports, where she could take pictures of Olivier with her iPhone. She knew Olivier would arrive soon. Runners who had been just ahead of her friend were finishing. Oliver’s other friends joined Bocaletti. One of them, Jenny Chung, was going to shoot video. Barlatier stood a bit behind the crowd, holding the balloons high so they would not bother other spectators.

A redheaded woman in the crowd moved a bit to give Bocaletti a clean line of vision. That was nice of her, Bocaletti thought.

* * *

Forty-five minutes had passed, then an hour. Every couple of minutes or so, another Tufts runner finished, and Hampson stayed in the street, his camera in his hands, triggering the shutter when human emotion spilled over. Another hug. Another joyous, tear-streaked face. Another runner overcome by the rush of realized potential. He was getting some good shots, he thought. So he kept on shooting, watching and waiting for the perfect moment.

* * *

About 2:45, Bellanger reached the last stretch of the race. He ran to the left side of Boylston to slap high fives with his buddies from work. He is senior vice president of marketing for The Kessler Group, which has its office at 855 Boylston just a tenth of a mile from where the second bomb would hit. Bellanger then jogged back toward the middle of the street and made his way toward the finish. He looked at his watch and realized he was about 30 seconds too late to reach his goal of four hours.

* * *

Dolaher and his family had finished lunch, and were finishing their beers. They planned to go outside and make their way to the finish line, where they would meet his sister. They figured they would leave the restaurant in a few minutes. For some reason, the kids had moved to another table behind the one where the adults were sitting, away from the large, glass window.

* * *

Kiva Kuan Liu was still standing outside Marathon Sports with her video camera. She caught beautiful footage of Roche crossing the finish line. But now she was struck with indecision. Roche’s boyfriend had darted suddenly into the crowd to find Roche. Liu wanted to capture the moment when they reunited, but he had disappeared so quickly that she was not sure she could find him. She thought she should wait where she was, knowing they would return together. But then, impulsively, she plunged into the crowd to go after them, still wondering if she had made the right decision.

* * *

Fiola made good time, crossing the finish line at 2 p.m. He was hoarse from screaming encouragement to runners and revving up the crowd with chants of “USA!” He was exhausted, too. But there was no going home yet. He had to wait for the rest of his soldiers. Shortly before 2:50 p.m., the last soldier – the new guy – came across. Fiola helped him to a resting spot and was standing next to the finish line near the public library, planning how the team would make their way to shuttle buses. He turned his head toward the medical tent for a moment.

* * *

Rozza and one of his friends stepped out onto the sidewalk at Abe and Louie’s. He wanted a cigarette. They lit up and talked, and Rozza looked up the street toward the finish line.

The race clock said 4:09:44.

Seconds later, a bouquet of yellow balloons slowly rose over Boylston Street.

4:09:45

Just after the first explosion, Steve Fiola’s antiterrorism training and his work as an EMT came back to him. He ran toward the blast and began tearing away fencing that was not meant to be taken apart, so that he could reach the wounded.

* * *

Just as Mike Dolaher and his family were about to leave Forum, the second bomb exploded outside the restaurant, shattering the window where the children had been sitting. The family escaped, unscathed but traumatized.

* * *

Marc Bellanger, the runner who was slowed by a dog bite, was not injured.

* * *

John Hampson, the Tufts photographer, was herded back by police away from the chaos; a while later, someone pointed out that he was shaking. He has not done anything with his photos yet, but he plans to send the best ones to the running coach.

* * *

Jack Rozza, who was not injured, later got a call from his girlfriend. She said her two brothers, J.P. and Paul Norden, were badly hurt. Each lost a leg.

* * *

Ascer Barlatier and Jenny Chung suffered shrapnel wounds. They are recovering. Their friends temporarily lost their hearing. The redheaded woman who moved aside to let Alma Bocaletti take pictures was Krystle M. Campbell. She died of her wounds.

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