Marathon Monday was shaping up as a banner day for former Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi and his namesake foundation.
The foundation, which aids families dealing with cancer, had 21 runners who raised $163,000 entering the Marathon. It was hoping to raise even more at a watch party just a few blocks from the finish line at Forum restaurant, 755 Boylston St. The sun was shining, and people from the foundation and sponsors were hanging out on the patio.
“Everybody was having fun; we were having a grand old time,” said Andruzzi, a cancer survivor. “We had some patients there that were a part of the foundation, one of our patients’ dads was running and their siblings and mom were having fun. We had a lot of people, from upstairs to downstairs and all over the place.
“It was starting out to be a great day, great event. Unfortunately it did not end up that way.”
Andruzzi, his wife Jen, and a photographer left the party at about 2:45 p.m. and walked to the finish line area to celebrate with their runners.
“We found one and were looking for the next and all of a sudden that first explosion happened,” Andruzzi said. “It was loud, you felt the effects. In that instant, nobody knew anything. There were some screams and yelling and a lot of smoke. You didn’t know if it was coming from a restaurant, kind of like a kitchen [explosion]. Then about 10-15 seconds later there was the second explosion. Then mayhem just started.”
Andruzzi helped two runners to their feet when he saw a blood-covered man being aided by others and brought him to the medical tent. That was the first of two times Andruzzi would lose contact with his wife and photographer.
Andruzzi then arrived back at the scene of the first blast.
“There was just chaos, like a battle scene,” he said. “No words can describe it.”
After helping to move some of the spectator fencing, Andruzzi found his wife and was walking back to Forum.
“I turned and saw three young women carrying somebody on their back,” he said. “I ran over and that’s the picture you saw. I told them, ‘Let me help.’ Scooped her up and I remember them yelling at the cameraman, ‘Stop taking pictures of my mom.’ I walked her down the block and to an ambulance. Later I was talking to her, she was calming down. She had hurt her ankle. One of the kids had blood on their hand, must have gotten hit with something. She said she was fine, a little scrape and EMS was there and they were taking care of her.”
Andruzzi doesn’t know the name of the woman in the photograph, just that she and her three daughters were from Virginia and apparently looking for her husband, who was in the race.
After losing track of his wife again, Andruzzi walked back to Forum through the back alley between Newbury and Boylston Streets, but he couldn’t get close to the restaurant.
Andruzzi was informed by restaurant staff that the place he had just left, with dozens of his foundation’s revelers filling it from top to bottom, was now a crime scene because the second bomb detonated directly in front of the establishment.
“My heart just dropped,” Andruzzi said. “I was sick to my stomach. We basically had the whole place to our foundation and 90 percent of the people were part of the JAF. We were worried sick about what was going on.”
It wasn’t until hours later, after several people affiliated with JAF took shelter with a caring neighbor on Newbury Street, and then a sponsor in the South End, that Andruzzi and his wife finally had accounted for everyone.
Amazingly, concussions and lacerations were the worst injuries sustained by the JAF group.
“We were very lucky,” Andruzzi said. “Later on television I saw many people from my foundation and the restaurant helping the many people in front. It was a tragic, heart-wrenching day for many.”
Among those close to the thoughts of the Andruzzis was Nicole Reis, the wife of Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis. Her father, John Odem, was severely injured as a spectator near the finish line.
Former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham, who attended the JAF event with his wife Erin and was present at the time of the blast, carried a severely wounded woman to medical attention behind Forum.
For many of his actions, Andruzzi quickly was called a hero after the events.
The brother of three New York City firefighters who were first responders to the Sept. 11 attacks quickly dismissed those sentiments.
“I am definitely not a hero,” Andruzzi said Tuesday in his first interview after the bombings. “I am just a bystander, and that led to my help. Many heroes that I look upon are people like my three brothers that are running into burning buildings when others are running out. Explosions are going off and they are driving their cars down Boylston [Street] right into the heart of the scene. They are the people that don’t care about their safety and are worried for other people’s safety and survival.”
Andruzzi said he saw plenty of true heroes at work.
“During this whole tragedy, I was truly amazed by all of the emergency workers there and how they sprung into action,” he said. “It was a medical tent that turned into a triage center and from the yellow jackets [Marathon workers] to the white jackets [medical personnel] to the police, firemen, EMTs. When I tell you that it was split seconds, I could not believe how fast they sprung into action. A lot of them are trained for that. But even the others who aren’t trained, civilians sitting on the side that sprung into action, it was truly amazing. It’s one of those sights that you’ll probably never forget.
“To be able to turn around and know that there are many people out there that are looking to help and want to help, when you get into those moments, you don’t think, you just do. That’s what I did and that’s what many other people did.”
Andruzzi said many restaurant workers, especially those at Forum, were instrumental in keeping people calm in a chaotic situation, and assisted many directly with medical attention.
Andruzzi couldn’t help but think about 9/11 as the events unfolded.
“Many times, especially when my cellphone wasn’t working,” he said. “I remember during 9/11 calling down to New York trying to reach any family member and getting many busy signals. To turn around yesterday, just getting busy signals and going straight to voice mail and just not knowing if everybody and all my foundation people were OK, it was a tough time.”
Andruzzi did talk to his brothers – Billy Jr., Jimmy, and Marc – who have been honored twice at Gillette Stadium for their heroism.
“They definitely know the feeling,” Andruzzi said. “They have been helping me get through the last 24 hours. It was great for them just to be there and to talk to. They said the best part is knowing that my family [five children] will be home waiting for me. [My brothers] said that time heals all wounds.”
Andruzzi hopes that holds true for the Marathon runners, who are rightfully viewed as heroes who spend countless hours selflessly building to that day to raise money for others.
“To all the runners out there, they all finished their marathon, whether they crossed that finish line or not,” he said. “A lot of them trained months for this, and I wanted to congratulate them for their hard work and dedication. Many are charity runners, like my 21 runners, who help pay things forward. Some even gave blood after crossing the finish line – just amazing stuff. Their hard work and dedication should not be forgotten. They all deserve a medal and completed that marathon, whether they crossed that line or not.”Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.