Boston Marathon story: A motorman’s job, a wife’s anguish

Hertford1By Cynthia Prairie

Sarah Ringquist-Paulicelli of Hanover, Mass., her four children and a nephew came to Chester last weekend for a nine-day visit with her mother, Sharon Baker, owner of the Country on the Common clothing store. Sarah’s husband, John, planned to join them for a two-night visit Monday evening, after work.

But at 3:05 that afternoon —  just as the family was heading to the playground at Chester-Andover Elementary School — Ringquist-Paulicelli’s cell phone rang.

John, a motorman for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston, was on the other end.

Minutes earlier, around 2:50 p.m., he said, two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, right above his head. News reports now confirm that three people — two young women and an 8-year-old boy — were killed and 176 were injured.

John Paulicelli, the son-in-law of Chesterite Sharon Baker, was driving a train when the marathon explosions occurred overhead. Photo provided.

John Paulicelli, the son-in-law of Chester’s Sharon Baker, was driving a train when the marathon explosions occurred overhead. Photo provided.

John Paulicelli had been operating his Greenline train beneath Boyleston Street, at the marathon’s finish line, when – even above the noise of his train – he heard a muffled bang. “My train shutters, like a tremor, almost like a little rumble. It was out of the ordinary,” Paulicelli says, adding that he knows that track well since he drives it many times a day.

His wife worried, her mind flashing back to 2001. “Just because of 9-11, I’ve always been afraid of something like that … with him working in Boston. So when he called me, my heart was in my throat. … I was pretty scared.”

After John’s initial call, authorities cut off all cell phone service just in case cell phones would be used to detonate more bombs. “I didn’t hear from him for about four hours,” says Ringquist-Paulicelli, “and I couldn’t get through because all the cell service was shut down. Of course, I’m up here, three and a half hours away and watching it on TV.”

Although he felt the first explosion, Paulicelli’s train had  apparently already passed it. By the time the second bomb exploded — about 10 seconds later — he had passed that as well. That’s when the dispatcher began calling the trains, first to say there was a “police action.”

But moments later, he says, dispatchers announced that a massive evacuation was taking place and the motormen would be under police advisement. “When you hear that, it is scary,” Paulicelli says.

“At the next stop,” Paulicelli recalls, “people started piling into the train. It was chock full. Everyone who got on the train seemed very upset, crying, dazed.” Once at street level, passengers were told to go to one of the many marathon Red Cross tents if they needed help.

The whole situation was “shocking, crazy,” Paulicelli says.

His wife, Sarah, says, “I’m so relieved now. I feel so sad for everyone. It is just awful, just awful.”

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Sharon Baker says:

    Cynthia,

    Thank you for such a personal perspective over such a sad and shocking event. It was almost surreal when the call came from John. Thank goodness there were so many in the line of duty who stepped up to the plate, did their jobs and made it easier for the public to get out of harm’s way. Hats off to you, John!