Mike Chase, 34, and Dan Marshall, 32, graduated within a year of each other at Danvers High School and have stayed close friends in the 15 or so years since then. Monday's tragedy at the Boston Marathon changed all that and forged a new bond between the two men.
Chase, Marshall and their families were among the spectators only several feet away from the two bombs that exploded near the finish line that afternoon.
Still disoriented by the force of the explosions, both men courageously jumped into action with other bystanders to aid the victims in what they could only describe as a bloody battlefield.
“I’ve never been to war, but I’ve been to a battlefield,” Marshall recalls saying to Chase afterward. “There were just so many body parts and blood. I saw someone pulling shrapnel out of his leg.”
Using just belts, shirts and shoelaces, they fashioned tourniquets for the victims they came across – too many of which were young children who lost limbs.
Chase, who is the Falcons boys' varsity soccer coach and a behavioral specialist at the alternative high school program in Beverly, actually wrote down in specific detail his recollection of that day's events as a way to better help process it all.
"I have been struggling to put my feelings into words since this tragic event. The support, kind words and love you have all shared has a greater impact than you could ever imagine," he wrote.
A prime Marathon-viewing spot
He explained that he and his wife Dena took the train from Beverly into Boston, where they then bumped into Marshall and his girlfriend Lauren. The couple was heading to the Atlantic Fish Company to watch the marathon and the Chases decided to join them there. It turned out several other family members were also there.
Chase said they were all sitting outside on the restaurant patio -- a "prime location to cheer on the runners on a beautiful day. Boylston Street was hopping."
"We tracked the leaders on Twitter and anxiously awaited the text updates for our friend, Julie Carney (also from Danvers)," he said.
Marshall, meanwhile, shared stories from the three marathons he ran while living on the West Coast and said he was planning on running Boston next year. He works now for the town as a custodian at Danvers High.
As Chase talked on the phone with his brother and tried to give directions to the restaurant -- he had tickets to the Bruins game and was heading into the city with his wife -- Marshall stood several feet away along the street, looking for a college friend who was racing.
'Smoke, fire and silence'
That’s when the first bomb exploded at 2:50 p.m. No one knew what happened, Marshall said -- it could have been fireworks -- but they could see a cloud of smoke rise overhead; they all felt the concussion. Chase said it was about 75 yards to their left and he stayed on the phone with his brother.
"Seconds later, 15 feet away, the second blast. Imagine the highest pitched ring and silence, all at the same time," Chase recalled. "Smoke, fire and silence. I jumped on top of my wife and covered her. I remember screaming at Lauren and was able to get us into a safe position. I yelled into the phone 'Get out of the city!'"
Chase said the second blast was literally across the street, but they weren't hit with any shrapnel, he believes, because of a planter along the patio wall that took the brunt of it.
"We're very fortunate to be alive, if not badly wounded," he said.
Marshall said he was nearly knocked off his feet by the second blast. Chase helped his wife and friends move inside the restaurant and then, without thinking -- he later described it as experiencing "tunnel vision" -- headed out to the street as the smoke settled.
He couldn't find Marshall then, but "the carnage was everywhere."
“I came across a firefighter with a little boy who lost his leg,” Chase said. The boy was only six years old.
Chase used his belt and shoelaces to create a tourniquet for the child’s upper thigh and then he and the firefighter (Matt Patterson of Lynn who was there as a spectator himself) carried the boy down Boylston Street toward a parked ambulance.
They came across the boy’s father, clearly distraught and disoriented as he fiercely hugged his other son to his body. That boy was only 11.
Chase said he told the father to keep the older boy away and cover his eyes. He promised to trade places with the man once the younger boy was in the ambulance. Chase returned and sat with the brother and tried to answer the boy’s question about what just happened.
Using his shirt as a tourniquet
Once the man returned, Chase ran back to the epicenter of the second blast, which is where he found Marshall and several others, kneeling next to a young boy who was severely wounded. Marshall had used his shirt as a tourniquet.
Marshall said he didn’t get the boy’s name at the time, but he saw EMTs at the scene cover the boy with a white sheet. He’s pretty sure it was eight-year-old Martin Richard, one of the three killed by the blasts.
From there, the two friends continued to help, moving metal barriers out of the way, passing backboards and doing whatever they could to assist medical professionals who were starting to flood the area.
"When the emergency personnel had things under control we knew it was our time to find our loved ones," said Chase.
'I'm very angry — just get them'
"As I stepped back, I will never forget my initial thoughts -- the smell of sulfur or the ringing in my ears. Baghdad," wrote Chase. "Boylston Street had turned into a Third World country in a matter of seconds. The only difference was we were trying to save lives in front of a restaurant that serves $50 steaks."
Marshall said it still seems so surreal -- a warzone you might see in a movie or a video game, not downtown at the Boston Marathon.
The two heroes were then quickly interviewed by police and went to find their families.
They were checked out later at local hospitals and both suffered ruptured eardrums and concussions as a result of being so close to the blasts.
Doctors tell them those wounds will heal over time, and they're still dealing with the emotional trauma of all they witnessed.
Marshall says he doesn't really know why he jumped into the fray instead of running in the other direction, as so many other bystanders did that day -- he just did.
Chase, on the other hand, said he's always wanted to join the police force -- his father is Stuart Chase, a retired former Danvers Police Chief -- but health reasons prevented him from pursuing that dream. Even so, the in-bred desire is always there to help others in need, he said.
"Personally, I'm angry -- very angry," Marshall said. "I don't care who did it or why they did it, just get them." He said he's confident the bombers will be brought to justice by authorities.
Chase says their experiences that day forged a new, deeper bond between the two friends and that day will stay with them for a long time to come.
"Acts of terror are designed to scare us into changing our daily routines. They want us to rethink our travel plans, second-guess decisions once made without hesitation and ruin our spirit.
"I will be at the Atlantic Fish Company next April anxiously awaiting a text message to tell me Dan Marshall will be turning the corner onto Boylston Street. I will cheer as Dan cruises by to complete the 26.2 and complete his dream.
"I love Boston!" writes Chase.