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Cohen shares horror story from Boston finish line

Former pairs skater was at scene when explosions detonated

Proud Bostonian Daniyel Cohen and Kellene Ratko in the stands at Fenway Park.
Proud Bostonian Daniyel Cohen and Kellene Ratko in the stands at Fenway Park. (courtesy of Daniyel Cohen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(04/18/2013) - Of all the experiences skaters and former skaters shared with icenetwork.com, Daniyel Cohen's may be the most frightening of all.

Cohen and his girlfriend, Kellene Ratko, are both former skaters and current students at Northeastern University in Boston (Cohen skated with 2011 U.S. pairs champion Caitlin Yankowskas as a novice). Cohen and Ratko live in South Boston, quite close to Boylston Street and the marathon finish line.

On Monday, they headed in to cheer for a neighbor who was running, arriving on Boylston Street at about 2 p.m. Cohen grew up in Newton, Mass., and although he had watched the marathon many times in Newton, he had never watched from the city. Ratko had never seen the race at all.

"We were originally right by the finish line, where the athletes rest," Cohen said. "There was so much commotion, it was hard to get by, so we went farther up Boylston. The crowd was about six- or seven-people deep. As people started seeing their relatives and going to meet them, we got closer. We were about two-people deep at the fence."

Cohen and Ratko were near the Lord and Taylor department store, across the street from where the bombs exploded. As it turned out, they were half a block from the first bomb and directly across the street from the second.

"To our right, we heard the loud boom," Cohen went on. "I felt it shake me, and it sounded like a firework, but when I saw the smoke I knew exactly what it was. Before anybody even said it, I said, 'Kel, that's a bomb; we need to get out of here.'

"We were right next to an alleyway, and I pulled her up the alley. As I was pulling her, the second one went off directly across the street from where we were.

"You can't really explain how powerful the bomb felt," he continued. "The power was unbelievable, and the noise it made, it shook you like an earthquake. I didn't realize how small the bomb was until I saw it in the videos. At the time, I thought it was mass casualties, like hundreds of people, because I knew how crowded it was there."

Cohen and Ratko started down the alley, which was crowded with people fleeing the explosion. Cohen began to worry that people might get trampled.

"We were one of the first ones down the alley because I think we reacted the quickest," he said. "People were screaming. Once the second [bomb] went off, everyone started running.

"There were a lot of little kids. A girl, maybe 9 years old, fell in front of me, and people were stepping on her. I think her mother fell as well. I picked the girl up but people shoved me and I fell on top of her. Kel picked her up and put her on her feet. The girl was terrified; it was exactly what you hear about people getting trampled."

Cohen and Ratko emerged from the alley, and Cohen called his mother to let her know they were all right. As they neared Copley Place, they saw a woman crouching on the ground next to Neiman Marcus, sobbing.

"I didn't know what to do, so I went up to this lady and started hugging her," Cohen said. "She was in town from London, she had no friends or family with her, and it turned out she had been in the bleachers waiting for her fiancé to cross the finish line. We walked her to our place in South Boston. It took her over two hours until she was able to get in touch with him."

Two days after the event, Cohen is still trying to come to terms with the events of Marathon Monday.

"It happened so fast and everything was so crazy, it doesn't feel real," he said. "I was looking at the street of runners when the first one went off and I remember crouching and seeing the smoke, and I don't think I'll ever get that thought out of my head. The other thing was, within seconds, there were ambulances. How fast they got there was pretty comforting.

"I grew up in Boston, and I've always felt so safe here. That it happened in my city is what bothers me the most.

"Last night, I was sitting home alone watching a piece on the 8-year-old boy who died, and they said he was a diehard Bruins fan, and that just killed me and I started crying. I remember being a diehard Bruins fan when I was 8 years old."