Goffstown students were spread around Boston
GOFFSTOWN - Jennifer Ulcickas didn't believe her 12-year-old son, Ryan, when he texted her from Boston on Marathon Monday to say that there had been two bomb explosions in the city and that people had lost their limbs. "I sent him a text back that said, 'Ryan, stop kidding,'" she said.
It wasn't until the Mountain View Middle School paraprofessional got home and watched the news that she realized her son wasn't kidding. "I felt so bad," she said. "But then he told me he was going on the ferry, and it made me a wreck."
Ulcickas wasn't alone in her anxiety. Her son was one of 270 seventh-graders from Mountain View on a field trip to Boston when three people were killed and at least 176 were injured - many critically - after two bombs within a hundred yards of each other detonated near the finish line of the storied race.
"As a parent, the whole day was nerve-wracking," said Ulcickas. "I only felt better after I heard from his chaperone. Once I talked to his chaperone and she told me everything was OK, he was safe, I felt better."
The explosions in Boston touched off a flurry of activity in Goffstown as teachers and administrators tried to maintain open lines of communication in a city where cell phone service had been suspended and where panicked people were trying to process what had happened.
"Our kids were at different locations in the city," said Brian Balke, assistant superintendent for SAU 19, who helped spearhead the effort to gather all of Mountain View's students and chaperones in one place and onto buses headed home. "It was a coordinated effort; everybody worked hard. It was a very frightening day, to say the least."
Dorothy O'Keefe Mills was one of the chaperones along for the ride with her daughter, Sydney. They were inside Quincy Market when they joined a crowd of people staring at a television. "We were all just in shock," said Mills. "The overall feeling of it was kind of scary."
But Mills refused to let fear grip her, and she made the decision - soon after being drawn into the news accounts - to get away from the television and go outside with her daughter to give their day together some semblance of normalcy. "I didn't want her to get worried and scared," Mills said. "She didn't grasp the whole thing until we got home and she started watching the TV."
With cell phone service spotty, it was difficult for Mills to get in touch with other chaperones around the city. The group of 270 students had broken up into smaller groups that had fanned out into different parts of Boston. And it was the students who chose the places they wanted to see. "The kids made the itineraries, so you followed where the kids went," Mills said. "It got to be a little stressful after a while."
But it was the students and their easy use of technology that kept the larger group communicating with itself. "The kids were texting all their friends and parents and chaperones," said Mills.
As this was happening, Balke was communicating with a Boston police lieutenant in a substation located at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where the U.S.S. Constitution is docked. Eventually, the message got to everyone that the Navy Yard was where they would meet and board the buses to head home.
"I think the teachers all did a great job," Mills said. "It's just something you don't plan for, so they did the best they could."
Mills said being with her daughter and acting as a chaperone likely eased much of her anxiety over the tragic events of the day. "If I wasn't there as a chaperone, I would have felt pretty scared," she said.
Ulcickas said the school department was good about keeping families informed throughout the day with emails. She said she gave her son's chaperones, Amy Lynch and Wendy Brown, "a great big hug" when they returned home. "I thanked them for keeping him safe," she said.