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UCLA officials unable to confirm safety of seven people in or en route to Boston during explosions

By Sonali Kohli

April 15, 2013 10:43 p.m.

The original version of this article contained editing notes that have been removed.

This article was updated on April 16 at 1:34 a.m.

UCLA officials had not confirmed as of press time the safety of seven people connected to the university who were either in Boston or en route to the city during Monday’s explosions at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

There were two explosions Monday near the finish line of the 117th annual Boston Marathon, one of the oldest and most beloved marathon’s in the country. Three people were killed and more than 100 were injured, according to the Boston Police Department.

Two UCLA students in the Boston area, who may not be included in the seven-person count from the UCLA Office of Insurance and Risk Management, are safe and uninjured, the students said in separate phone interviews with the Daily Bruin.

Second-year communication studies student Alex Wood completed the marathon about an hour before the explosions. Fourth-year business economics student Kaytlin Louton was a spectator near Boston College, which is at mile 21 of the marathon.

It was unknown as of press time whether other people from UCLA were in Boston on Monday.

Third-year computational systems and biology student Thomas Curran was also registered to run in the race. Friends of Curran’s confirmed to The Bruin via text message and phone that he is safe, but The Bruin has not spoken directly with Curran.

The UCLA Office of Insurance and Risk Management contacted the seven people who registered their trips through UCLA, but university officials could not confirm how the people are affiliated with the university or whether they responded.

The UCLA Office of Insurance and Risk Management encourages faculty and students traveling for a UCLA-related purpose to register their travel plans online through a program that allows the university to get in touch with them and provide assistance and updates in case of situations like this one, said the office’s director, Dean Malilay.

The risk management office was trying to get in touch with the seven people who registered for the program, Malilay added.

Protocol calls for the office to ask the seven people to update their personal information and email addresses to make sure they can receive updates, and to confirm whether they are safe or need assistance, he said.

Registration for the program is voluntary, so it is possible that other people affiliated with UCLA could also be in Boston.

Wood, the marathon runner and UCLA student, said she finished the race at about 1:35 p.m. She and her family hung around the finish line for another hour or so, taking pictures and enjoying the atmosphere. They left for a cafe about two blocks away around 2:45 p.m.

A few minutes later, some people in line thought they heard a noise, but Wood didn’t hear anything. Then someone in the cafe told her there had been an explosion. In the cafe’s bathroom, two women were crying.

“Everyone on the street (was) walking in one direction, away from the finish line,” Wood said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “We (saw) eight ambulances go in the direction of the hospital.”

Wood and her family stayed in the cafe for a while, because the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, where Wood was staying, was even closer to the explosion site.

She kept getting texts from friends asking if she was OK, but couldn’t respond because cell service was so shoddy in the area after the explosion.

When Wood and her family finally returned to the hotel, it was on lockdown and surrounded by guards, Wood said.

“It’s just very surreal watching it on TV, seeing President (Barack) Obama talk about this, because you always think … ‘Oh, it’s somewhere else,’” Wood said. “But this could have easily been me or my family.”

When Wood talked to The Bruin, it was about 7:20 p.m. in Boston. She said she was tired from the race and the emotional toll of everything that followed, but grateful to be safe.

Other members of the UCLA community, not present at the marathon, were also affected by the explosion.

First-year undeclared student Alan Golombek said he found out about the explosion from his girlfriend, a Boston University student who was eating lunch a couple of blocks from the explosion site. She called him as soon as she had run into the nearest Boston University building.

“I was very grateful when I heard that she was fine,” Golombek said. “The more I hear about it, the more thankful I get.”

Robert White, a UCLA alumnus who attends architecture graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was on a bus to Boston when he got a barrage of text messages and calls about the incident from friends and family in both Boston and California.

He and others on the bus talked to each other, trying to figure out what was going on in the city, and if they were going to be safe when they returned, he said.

“It’s really unsettling having the Boston marathon – such an institution in Boston – be attacked like that,” White said. “It really strikes at the heart of the city.”

The FBI took over the investigation and had not made an arrest as of 5 p.m. Monday, according to the Boston police department.

There were initial reports of a possible third explosion at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, but officials later said the incident was “an incendiary device or a fire” and may not be related to the Boston Marathon explosions.

After the explosions, Wood questioned whether she would return to complete another marathon.

“My mom and family friend said ‘no … we’re going to show the people who did this we’re not going to let them win,’” Wood said.

So Wood will be back next year, to run her third Boston Marathon.

Contributing reports by Jillian Beck, Bruin senior staff.

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