BOSTON--- Two bombs shattered the celebratory mood of the Boston Marathon Monday, turning the finish line into a zone of carnage that left at least three dead and more than 130 injured.
The explosions hours into the 117th running of the iconic 26.2-mile race came well after the elite runners had finished, but near the time when the bulk of the about 27,000 runners were laboring toward the finish line.
Two bombs hundreds of yards apart went off within seconds of each other on what was also Patriots Day. Dazed and bloodied victims walked around seeking help as officials rushed to their aid, taking them to one of the medical tents that dot any marathon route. Some victims had severed limbs.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and officials said there had been no warning to what officials were considering an act of terrorism.
“Any event with multiple explosive devices -- as this appears to be -- is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror,” one federal official said. “However, we don’t yet know who carried out this attack, and a thorough investigation will have to determine whether it was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic.”
President Obama pledged federal help for the investigation and cautioned people not to jump to conclusions. But he also struck a firm note.
“But make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice,” he said from the White House hours after the tragedy.
“We’re still in the investigation stage at this point,” Obama said. “But I just want to reiterate we will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.”
Boston officials told reporters at a nationally televised briefing that there were no suspects, but they acknowledged they were questioning some people.
A federal law enforcement official said authorities were questioning a Saudi national who was taken to a Boston hospital with injuries. The official also said authorities are “desperately seeking” a Penske rental truck seen leaving the race site.
Another federal official said that they believe the explosive devices were small bombs placed in small receptacles and that at least one was detonated in a trash can. Another federal official said the bombs appear to have been “unsophisticated” and did not include plastic explosives.
Patriots Day commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution. One of the highlights is the marathon, which attracts runners from around the world. This year, about 27,000 runners were eligible to compete.
The elite runners finished in 2 1/2 to 3 hours. More than five hours into the race, as the main body of athletes moved toward the finish line, at least two explosions shattered the celebratory mood. Both were along Boylston Street.
The explosions were “nearly back to back” along the viewing area, witnesses said. Two more devices were “quickly found and dismantled” nearby, an ATF official said.
Another object was found inside a “military style” duffel bag, but it was unclear if it was connected to the main explosions, the ATF official said. A sixth “event” took place near the JFK Library, but that was later discounted as an unrelated fire.
The area of the blasts was a major trauma scene as ambulances rushed by and officials tried to move people to hospitals.
Officials said at least three people had died. The Associated Press reported that at least 134 injured were hospitalized, with 15 in critical condition.
Runners and spectators described a chaotic scene when the explosions went off, with people fleeing in panic.
“I just turned around and saw the smoke, and I just started sprinting,” said a 19-year-old woman from New York City named Francesca, who declined to give her last name.
Her sister, Mica, who also declined to give her last name, was watching from about a block away. “It sounded definitely like a bomb,” she said.
Two volunteers working security near the finish line still appeared stunned hours after the explosion. One, who had just eaten lunch in the area five minutes before the blasts, said, “It’s your worst nightmare. Somebody wants to make a statement, and you have all these people here.”
The other said he had never seen such a terrible sight. “It was just terrifying for everybody,” he said.
After the explosion, word rippled back among the runners still on the course. Many pulled out cellphones to try to reach family and friends, but could not get through because officials shut down cellphone service lest it be used to detonate another bomb. As racers stopped, nearby residents came out of their homes and offered water and garbage bags to help them keep warm.
Deb Hendley, 63, from Lubbock, Texas, clutched a space blanket as she recalled hearing the news while she was running. “I saw this woman run out and grab her son and say, ‘You can’t finish, you can’t go any farther,’” she said.
She said not being able to complete the race was trivial compared to people being killed and injured.
“You train for so long, and it’s disappointing, but I know there’s people dead here,” she said, sobbing as she talked. “I can’t believe sick people have to ruin things for everybody.”
Three hours after the explosions, the core downtown area remained cordoned off as FBI agents interviewed witnesses.
A 53-year-old volunteer working security who declined to give his name said he was about 150 yards from the explosions. As runners fled, he said he ran with police and other volunteers toward the site and helped rip apart metal barriers that were linked with plastic ties so that people could flee. He said he saw victims, mostly spectators, lying all over the sidewalk. “They were bleeding, injured, yelling,” he said.
“Mayhem is a good word,” he said. “Mayhem, chaos, all those words apply.”
The explosions prompted security alerts across the country. From Los Angeles to Washington to New York, officials put extra security personnel on the streets at venues where large numbers of people could be expected. Even the White House was part of a nervous nation’s response.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have expanded our security perimeter at the White House complex. It is not unusual to expand or contract these security perimeters,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said.
But intelligence officials both in Boston and Washington said they had no hint of the attack.
“There was, nothing, nothing on the radar screen,” in terms of terrorist threat information, a U.S. homeland security official said.
The nation united in an outpouring of sympathy, with officials sending condolences and prayers to Boston.
“This is a horrific day in Boston,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said. “My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been injured.”
This story was reported by Joe Tanfani and Noam N. Levey in Boston and Jessica Garrison, Maeve Reston, Matt Pearce, Michael Muskal, Christine Mai-Duc, Julie Cart and Rosanna Xia in Los Angeles. Richard A. Serrano, Christi Parsons, Matea Gold, Kathleen Hennessey, Ken Dilanian and Michael A. Memoli reported from Washington, and Alana Semuels contributed from New York.
[Corrected, 6:55 p.m. April 15: This post has been updated to reflect the latest confirmed death toll, three, and corrected to say that the blasts occurred more than five hours into the race, not four.]