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Some From Charlotte Are Among Boston Blast Victims

John Tlumacki
The Boston Globe

  BOSTON A Charlotte woman who was seriously hurt in the Boston Marathon explosions faces additional surgery, her brother-in-law said Tuesday morning.

Nicole Gross, 31, a personal trainer at the Charlotte Athletic Club, was behind a temporary fence at the finish line with her husband, Michael, when the explosions went off. They were waiting for her mother, Carol Downing, to complete the 26.2-mile race. Nicole’s sister, Erica, was also hurt in the explosions and was in critical condition Tuesday morning.

They were among hundreds of Charlotte-area people who were in the race or were watching along the course.

Michael Gross told the Observer on Tuesday morning that his wife and sister-in-law are undergoing operations Tuesday.

“Their health and recovery is my only focus,” he said.

Downing told the Observer in a message that she was at the hospital with Nicole Gross’ sister, Erica.

“I know that the running community and tri(athlon) community is so supportive of Nicole and Michael,” she wrote. “I have met many of them and they are all so wonderful.”

Brian Gross, Michael’s brother, told WSOC-TV that Erica underwent what he called “a partial amputation.”

He also told the Observer’s news partner, WCNC, that he “received a handful of updates” overnight from his brother, who also was injured in the blast.

He said Nicole Gross suffered broken bones in both legs but came out of surgery about 12:30 a.m. and is recovering.

“She faces more surgery on her left leg,” Gross said. “There are broken bones below the knee.”

Gross told WCNC he was able to reach his brother, who suffered severe burns, in a medical tent near the finish line. He said his brother was stunned at what had happened and was trying to find his wife and his mother-in-law, who was not injured.

A photo which has been published in newspapers across the country shows Nicole Gross on the ground, with at least a half-dozen other victims nearby. Shattered glass from a LensCrafters storefront covers the sidewalk.

According to a family friend who did not want to be identified, Michael Gross posted on his private Facebook account that his wife has compound leg fractures.

Michael Gross, a general manager at Charlotte Athletic Club, also was admitted to the emergency room after suffering burns, a source said.

Another area woman, Demi Clark, said she barely escaped injury.

The Fort Mill resident had been running on the left side of the road – where most of the carnage happened – but moved over at the last minute to the right side so that her two young daughters could see her finish.

“I was at the right place and many were not. It’s not necessarily a good feeling, but I was lucky,” she said. “When I looked to the left, I saw several of the runners who I had been running with down.

“I just remember seeing people blown up against the fence and blood and runners down, and it was like this war zone,” Clark said. “Nothing you’d ever expect to see at a marathon finish line. My husband, he was in the bleachers on the left hand side. I remember panning the crowd, trying to take in the whole situation and I saw him, about the fifth row on the bleachers, and he had one daughter under each arm and he was holding on for dear life, I’ll never forget that.”

Charlotte runner Denise Derkowski already was wearing her finisher’s medal when she heard the explosion just five minutes after completing her race.

“Nobody knew what it was,” said Derkowski, 47. “Then when I saw the smoke, I was like, ‘That is not right.’ But it was surreal. After running that far, I was just like, ‘That can’t be what I think it is.’ And then I saw the second one I’m like, ‘This is not good …’ ”

Mark Ulrich, a Charlotte software architect, had finished earlier Monday afternoon and was back in his hotel getting ready to celebrate his first Boston finish with friends when the first explosion went off.

“It was loud. It sounded almost like a transformer blowing, but it was louder, and we were like, ‘That sounded like a bomb ... like something blew up,’ ” said Ulrich, 40.

When he and his friends looked out the window of his room at the Westin Copley Place, about half a block from the finish line, “we could see a big puff of white smoke.”

Like Derkowski, he was much more worried about the second boom.

“It’s kind of like the World Trade Center (attacks) – when it happens once you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe it was just something weird.’ Then when it happens twice, you’re like, ‘No, probably not,’ ” said Ulrich by cellphone. Sirens could easily be heard in the background.

“… There were instantly sirens everywhere, and you could tell that they had blocked it all off and there (were) no more finishers coming through. At that point we knew: Something bad happened.”

Dave Munger, 46, of Davidson, didn’t hear the explosions from the park bench he was sitting on in Boston Common, a nearby public park. But not long after, he heard lots of sirens.

“It just puts everything in perspective. I had a lousy race, but it’s like, who cares at this point,” Munger said. “Mainly what we’re doing is trying to find out on Facebook if our friends are OK. … It’s tragic, and it’s just such a horrible kind of blight on what’s supposed to be a really great day.”

WSOC-TV contributed