Nancy Breeden didn’t tell her sister she was coming to Boston.
Breedan pretended to be a housekeeper, knocking on her sister Vicky King’s hotel room door Sunday morning.
Breeden, from Oak Harbor, took a red-eye flight from Sea-Tac Airport to be present for her sister’s first appearance in the Boston Marathon.
King opened the door of her hotel room and broke into tears.
“I totally surprised her,” Breeden said.
Some 30 hours later, the sisters were in a tearful embrace again, reunited at a city park. However, this time it after a horrifying ordeal after being separated for more than three and a half chaotic hours following two explosions that shook the Boston Marathon Monday.
Breeden, 47, was running behind a barrier and cheering on her eldest sister less than a quarter-mile from the finish when the first explosion went off near the finish line.
Before Breeden could process what was going on, she heard the second explosion 15 seconds later about a block away. She could see panic in people’s faces and smoke from both blasts.
“It was chaos at that point,” she said.
Ultimately, the sisters escaped the tragedy that gripped Boston unharmed but were emotionally drained from experiencing the shock, fear, sadness and confusion that followed.
Breeden was standing with her brother-in-law Dennis King, from Modesto, Calif., waiting for Vicky at about the 25-mile mark of the 26.2-mile race when they spotted her.
They followed her for about a mile, rooting her on.
Breeden remembers hearing the first explosion shortly after runners rounded their final turn on to Boylston Street.
It wasn’t just the sound of the blast or the sight of the smoke that left Breeden feeling that something was terribly wrong. She recalled seeing “terror” in the face of a police officer who approached Vicky and other runners and pointed them in the opposite direction.
“He said, ‘This is not a joke,’” Breeden said. “’You guys need to run in that direction as fast as you can!’
“He told my sister, ‘Run back! Run back!’”
At that point, Breeden and her brother-in-law were separated from Vicky as both parties were sent in opposite directions at an intersection.
Breeden said she heard the second blast but knew her sister was OK because she still had her in sight.
What followed was three and a half hectic hours of trying to find each other in an unfamiliar city and not knowing if more danger was coming.
The situation was compounded by widespread cell service failure, as well as the fact Breeden’s phone battery eventually died and her sister wasn’t carrying a phone.
Breeden, co-manager for Thrive Community Fitness in Oak Harbor, was flooded with text messages from co-workers and got a call amidst the chaos from her husband John back home.
“He said, ‘I saw the news. Are you OK?’” Breeden said.
Vicky, 58, and other runners waited at a city park to reunite with loved ones and friends. Her son, Brian King, and his girlfriend Alisha Fitzgerald, also came to Boston to see her race.
Breeden said her sister told her that a homeless woman saw her shivering and gave her own jacket to wear. Another person let her borrow a cell phone to get word out where she was waiting.
That message eventually got to Breeden. When she got to the park three and a half hours after being separated, she and her sister hugged and cried.
Vicky’s first Boston Marathon stopped exactly .12 miles from the finish. A gadget she carried showed she had traveled 26.08 miles before a police officer ordered her to change course.
“That look on his face, I won’t forget that,” Breeden said.
Breeden said that she normally would have stayed home and participated in the Whidbey Island Half-Marathon, which took place Sunday, but she wanted to surprise her sister in Boston.
Instead, they both were witness to a cruel surprise.
Breeden said she was grateful she was spared the bloody sight of those who were killed and injured.
It also wasn’t lost on her that another block and she and her sister would have been near the site of the second explosion. Breeden was standing on the same side of Boylston Street as both blasts.
Breeden said her first trip to the Boston Marathon would likely be her last.
“Lives were lost,” Breeden said. “That really hit home.”
Whidbey News-Times reporter Ron Newberry can be contacted at 360-675-6611, ext. 5070, or firstname.lastname@example.org