Couple Survives Boston Marathon Bombing and Virginia Tech Massacre
(CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio) — Kelly Willard was thrilled when she finished the Boston Marathon. Her cell phone was dead, but she was excitedly waiting to reunite with her husband and kids in the family meeting area two blocks from the finish line.
Then two bombs went off, Willard didn’t know where her family was and began to have flashbacks to another terrifying event she and her husband had experienced — the Virginia Tech catastrophe in 2007.
“There’s very few times that you have terror set in, but in my life I remember feeling a certain way during the massacre — just sheer terror — and feeling that way at Boston, not knowing what was happening,” Willard told ABC News. “I definitely had flashbacks to Virginia Tech.”
Willard, 32, and her husband Ryan Willard, 34, live in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with their two young daughters but have found themselves in the middle of national tragedies not once, but twice in their lives.
Willard was completing her veterinary degree at Virginia Tech in 2007 so she and her husband were living in Blacksburg, Va., for 10 months. On April 16, 2007, she arrived at the on-campus veterinary hospital to the news that a female student had been shot to death in her residence hall.
The veterinary hospital was just a few buildings away from where some of the shootings took place. Willard and her classmates were on lockdown for almost 24 hours. Her husband, a teacher, was at school about 10 minutes away and his school was also on lockdown.
“There’s the terror and fear of what’s going to happen next,” she said. “Is there more? You just don’t feel safe.”
This was the feeling that rushed back to Willard when the two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon.
She finished the race about 45 minutes before the explosions, but her cell phone had run out of battery during the run. Her husband and two daughters had cheered her on from a spot earlier in the race and were on a train heading to the family meeting area a few blocks from the finish line.
Willard was sitting with some other runners when they heard a very loud noise from the direction of the finish line.
“We heard an explosion and we just looked at each other and thought, ‘That didn’t sound right,'” she said. Seconds later, they heard a second explosion. “Then you just saw people screaming and the terror.”
As people started running, no one knew what was going on. A passerby told Willard they thought a bomb had gone off in a restaurant, but word eventually spread that two bombs had gone off near the finish line.
“You go from being so excited and happy about the race and then it just goes into sheer terror where I just wanted to see my husband and kids,” she said.
Ryan Willard and the couple’s two daughters had been forced off the train a few stops away and had to make their way through the chaos to look for their wife and mom. She had borrowed a stranger’s cell phone after the race to text that she had finished, but Ryan Willard couldn’t get in touch with his wife after that.
“Everybody else was running the opposite direction and we’re trying to go up stream,” Ryan Willard told ABC News. Like his wife, he was also taken back to Blacksburg during the fray.
“It was sort of flashback-y in a lot of ways,” he said. “You get the same feelings. You want to make sure the other is safe first of all and then it doesn’t hit you for a couple of days.”
The family was eventually reunited, contacted their extended family to let them know they were safe and took a stunned two mile walk back to their hotel.
“It was surreal and it didn’t even sink in until we got back,” Kelly Willard said. “You just feel terror. You’re very thankful that you’re okay, but it’s just heartbreaking for the people involved.”
“It definitely makes us appreciate our relationships with the people we care about,” Ryan Willard said.
His sister-in-law posted on Facebook that the couple was safe and by the time they made it back to their hotel, the post had more than a hundred likes and comments.
“It was unbelievable the number of phone calls and texts from people we hadn’t heard from in years,” he said. “To feel that cared about, it certainly makes you appreciative.”
Kelly Willard said that experiencing both events has made her realize that anything can happen in a small town or a big city, but that she cannot let that negatively impact her life.
“What are the odds something like this would happen again? Now after having the odds increase a bit, it makes me a little nervous, but I don’t want to stop living life,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen, but you don’t want to live in fear or else the terrorists or sick people win.”
She re-qualified for next year’s Boston Marathon and said she is “definitely” going back.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio