3 Fil-Ams linked by a tragedy in Boston

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11:05 AM April 17th, 2013

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By: Dennis Clemente, April 17th, 2013 11:05 AM

NEW YORK— Philippine diplomatic officials said all Filipinos were safe and accounted for after the bomb attack on the Boston Marathon. But three people of Filipino descent are inextricably linked by the horrifying incident nonetheless. They were within a few feet of each other and the two explosions that killed three people and injured 176 others at Copley Square in Monday’s Boston Marathon.

They were within earshot of the deafening sound of the explosions. And they all saw the smoke that engulfed the area like a war zone. They didn’t see the victims up close, but there was no need to witness that. The important thing for them was to see to it that the other people in the area were safe.

Maria Eden Gianan, a medical volunteer at the marathon, is the president of the Philippine Nursing Association of New England; Hanah Natalio-Fadrigalan, 25, is a production assistant at NBC Universal and freelance photographer; and Jessica Bolandrina, 21, is a journalism student at Northeastern University and one of the official marathon photographers.

Fil-Am volunteers get ready to take posts at the Boston Marathon.

Each of them had a riveting story to tell, but they were one in saying they were caught by surprise, shock, sadness and anger over the incident on Patriots’ Day. They know each other but didn’t see each other at the time.

The Embassy and the Philippine Consulates General in New York, Chicago, Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Agana also expressed their deepest sympathy and solidarity with the victims of the explosions in a statement.

There are 10,577 Filipinos in Massachusetts, many of them working in the medical and health care industries. The city with the largest Filipino American population is Boston, with more than a thousand Filipinos, followed by Quincy, Cambridge and Randolph.

Sick yet she showed up

Recalling the fateful day, Eden said she woke up with an achy body and her sinusitis acting up. Still, she knew she had to show up, because she promised the marathon organizers.  She took two pain relievers and went to her assigned spot at Copley Square.

“I was helping one of the runners who was shivering (from the cold) when I heard the explosion, then another explosion. I said to myself, ‘Oh my God.’ I continued what I was doing, as our team leader said we had to stay we found out what was going on. They told us to stay calm, although we knew what happened when the ambulances and police cars passed by in our street,” Eden said.

Assigned to help the runners, she ended up taking care of the family members who were in tears as they waited at the finish line with their roses, congratulatory notes and hugs that would not come until much later, after the incident. The president of Massachusetts General Hospital cited the volunteer nurses on Channel 5 TV news.

Volunteers, most of them nurses, ready wheelchairs for runners who may need them.

It took two hours before the nurses were told to go home. Because public transportation was suspended, Eden would ride home with another volunteer. At 9 p.m., she was in bed. Then she woke up later only to find out that the 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, had died.

She felt sad for families with kids. “I asked myself, ‘What if this happened to my nephew, your nephew, your son or your grandchild, how would we all feel?’” she said. Eden asked PNANE members to contribute $5 or more for Richard’s family.

Then she reflected on how she was so close to death, “God spared me this time probably because I have to finish what I have to do in this life.”

Saved by friends

Hanah went to the Boston Marathon with eight friends visiting from Los Angeles. They got off at the Hynes Convention Center, because the Copley Square station, the site of the finish line, was closed.

She said they were walking toward the finish line when “we saw it, heard it and saw the smoke. We must have been 50 feet from it. Or 20 seconds away.”

“I thought it was a cannonball and that the (marathon organizers) decided to have a re-enactment of some sort,” she said. “Then the second explosion followed afterwards. “Limbs everywhere.”

By then, she knew something serious was happening right before her eyes. “I grabbed my brother and friends. We turned to a street corner. At this time, people were screaming, but fortunately there was no stampede.”

She said they were told to be out in the open and avoid enclosed spaces and landmarks, but “they were landmarks everywhere.” They ended up at the Christian Science Monitor building, which was also unsafe.

It was an agonizing wait of two hours, for the police to take care of their business, before people were reportedly allowed to leave.  It was reported that cell phones didn’t work during that period of time, not calls or text messaging. But Facebook worked, so she updated her family and friends on the social network.

Hanah said she was ok until she got home. “That’s when it hit me. I would have been in that spot where the explosion happened, because that’s where I take my photos. If I didn’t have my friends, I would not be standing (right now).”

Today, she was asked to leave work when her supervisor and colleagues saw her crying. “I am the last person to cry. It makes me angry and sad (this happened).”

Bystander, not by choice

Jessica Bolandrina said she was on the same street early in the morning, as she was one of the official photographers of the runners once they pass the finish line. “They pose with their medal. We take photos.”

However, she couldn’t take photos of the incident, because she didn’t have her own camera and they were told to take the official cameras down. She could not even get closer to the scene of the explosions, because she was not working that day as a media person. She is a journalism student at Northeastern with her own Filipino newspaper, passed on to her by her mom, Gretheline, called Planet Philippines.

She took photos of Filipino runners but she could not unfortunately use it. It’s enough for her to know they are all safe. The Boston Marathon website listed 10 Filipinos registered for the event. They were identified as Arnie Aguila, 36; Amanda Carpo, 38; Leila Carpo, 44; and Noel Colina, 53, all from California; Richelle Embree, 37, Massachusetts; Arland Macasieb, 37, New Jersey; Ricardo Mansueta, 32, Ontario; Rolan Ocampo, 53, New York; Jose Martin Paiso, 50, Virginia; and Angielyn San Juan, 25, Illinois.

Like Hanah, Jessica thought the first explosion was part of the celebration and that it was just cannon firing. When she heard the second explosion, she knew what she had to do. She asked the runners to continue running. “We told them to keep moving down the street, to get away from the scene. I stayed with the photography team. Later, we hid inside one of the stores.”

Like Eden and Hanah, she waited for two hours before they were cleared to leave the scene. “I was able to contact my parents outside of Copley. My Dad then picked me up. We’re coming back to Boston tonight, to show our support.”

But she can’t stop thinking of the incident. “We want to understand it. We want to know who did it. I’m looking forward to being with people tonight. Boston is big city, but it’s close knit. And yes, we’re going to do our best to move on.”

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