View Mobile Site

Gainesville couple comes face to face with terror in Boston

Panters focus of media interviews after ordeal at marathon bombings

POSTED: April 21, 2013 1:06 a.m.

In the moments after the blast, everyone responded.

People knelt to apply pressure to others’ wounds. They jerked the dress belts from their pants to use as tourniquets.

Allan Panter of Gainesville was about 30 feet from the explosion Monday at the Boston Marathon, waiting for his wife Theresa to cross the finish line.

“When it goes off, it’s so loud. And the smoke and stuff — you kind of throw your shoulder up like this, and I kind of ducked instinctually,” he said, demonstrating while sitting in the dining room of his North Hall home. “And the lady to my right, she screamed and started running.”

He moved to the right with the crowd. Two to three steps later the second bomb went off.

He stood up, expecting more bombs to go off down the street. He looked to his left and saw a woman who had gone down and a man putting pressure on her leg. Panter, emergency room director at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, N.C., told the man exactly where to hold pressure.

He stood up again, turned and saw a pile of injured people. He got to work.

He pulled a man whose legs had blown off out from under a woman.

Others began jumping to action. A man started feeling for a pulse on the woman and said he was going to start CPR.

“I reached down and swung her back around so her head was at my feet,” Panter said. “I gave her a couple of mouth to mouth breaths, started screaming for an ambu bag, because I’m more in ER mode — I want tools to work with. And that’s when the Boston volunteers started pouring in. And literally out of nowhere someone handed me an ambu bag.”

He’s being called a hero, but he said he was just doing his job. The people who don’t deal with blood every day, but responded anyway — they are the heroes, he and his wife said.

Before the bombs

Allan Panter didn’t expect to be working Monday afternoon on the streets of Boston.

He and his wife flew up Saturday to enjoy a few days, eating decadent cannolis, visiting booths at the annual expo that features all kinds of running gear and stopping at the Dunkin’ Donuts, which Allan said are on every corner of the city. Theresa poked fun at him that the many doughnut shops drew him back to Boston again this year.

Theresa has been running the marathon off and on since 1999, running it with girl friends until more recently.

“Running the Boston for me is an accomplishment, but it also is a fun place to go,” Theresa said. “And Boston is a great city.”

Sunday night, they decided to have Theresa’s pre-race meal together. They were looking over a menu outside an Italian restaurant when the heavyset owner burst through the French doors, chef hat on, and demanded they come in, saying “I guarantee you like it,” Theresa said, feigning an Italian accent. Not knowing what else to do, they followed him and enjoyed a dinner of pasta and garlic bread.

The next morning, Theresa got on the bus with other racers at 7 a.m. Her wave started at 10:40.

“I had no idea when I said bye to (Allan) what I’d be coming back to,” she said.

It was perfect race weather, cool, but Theresa wasn’t doing as well as usual, she said. Her head started hurting during the second half and she was cramping. She knew her time was not where she wanted it to be. In fact, in 50 something marathons she’s run, she’s never run so slow, she said.

She decided to just enjoy herself.

“So I had gotten to mile 26 and was about to turn onto Boylston (Street) to see the balloons that I always see and take a picture of, but I had not gotten there yet,” she said.

Allan was monitoring her place in the race, with a chip on her shoe transmitting the time to his smartphone. As she neared the finish, he began pressing toward the barricade at the end of the course, getting his phone ready to take her photo as she ran by.

The two said Allan was probably waiting, muttering about what was taking her so long.

Then the blast hit

It was over in a split second, Allan said.

“I had my headphones in and I heard the first of what I thought was a cannon,” Theresa said. “And I thought, ‘Well, wow, I have never heard them shoot off cannons at the finish line before.’ But then seconds later, the second blast, which was closer to where I was coming into, I became more aware of my surroundings. ... People were coming towards me and they were panic stricken and immediately we were turned backwards.”

She and other runners were taken to an area five blocks away.

They weren’t sure what to be scared of yet, she said.

But she knew Allan was at the finish line, and she started panicking.

In fact, he was with Krystle Campbell, 29, one of the three people who died. Allan didn’t have a scratch on him.

He was also treating a man who had lost his legs, going back and forth between the two victims. A woman with a wheelchair came flying around his side.

“The guy on the other side, the guy with his legs blown off, punched me in the chest. ‘Help me. Help me.’”

He threw him into the wheelchair.

Allan said he’s gone through disaster drills in his hospital training. It’s something you “mumble and cuss about,” he said because your chances of having a disaster are low. But he knew what should take place.

“As far as what was going on out in the street, there is nothing there to prepare you,” he said. “That’s first responder mode, where you just have to do with what you’ve got. And basically every bystander just moved in to help the people who were down on the ground.”

They got a stretcher for Campbell, the woman he was treating, but when they got to the medical tent, her pulse was gone.

With the nature of the disaster, they had to move on to other victims. Allan could see no obvious reason why she died.

“There’s two things that bother Allan Panter,” his wife said. “Losing something — and he lost me that day. And the other thing is not being able to fix something.”

The woman had leg wounds, but nothing that would kill her. He pulled her shirt up but couldn’t find any signs of anything he could fix.

Allan continued to work, as others ran around him at the medical tent.

The sheer number of personnel was astounding, he said. The medical tent was well-equipped, with cots lined up and IVs waiting for dehydrated runners. At one point he remembers someone running up with a box of gauze, probably planned to treat blisters, but throwing it out for people to use to make tourniquets.

Allan said he has little concept of time from that day, but after helping, he eventually told someone that if he wasn’t needed, he was going to look for his wife.

He had received texts from random phone numbers saying: “I’m OK, are you OK?”

Theresa doesn’t run with her phone so she had asked to borrow others’ phones to get a message to him.

In the chaos, she never thought to identify herself. And she never heard back from Allan.

The couple has four children, the youngest who attends Gainesville High School, and the others in college or law school. The children received the random messages as well.

Haley Panter, who is a nursing student at Brenau University, had been tracking her mother’s time on her phone, and thought she should have finished. A friend called to tell her she had better call her dad because there had been an explosion.

“So then I called Dad and asked what was going on,” she said. “And Dad was calm, but he said that there were two explosions and that he was helping people, and that somebody had died and that he couldn’t find mom. And then he had to get off the phone.”

That sent her over the edge, Allan said.

She and her siblings began texting each other. Finally Haley’s sister, Brittany, got a response from one of the numbers that said their mom was OK.

Allan, too, texted one of the numbers back, and the person on the other end told him she wasn’t there, but she was fine.

Freezing after the run, without the normal food and blanket handed to her at the end of the race, Theresa was moving around just to warm up. They were finally given mylar blankets and allowed to leave the area, Theresa said, after about an hour and a half of waiting.

They were instructed not to get on the buses where their bags were, but Theresa and another runner squeezed through the slats of fencing and she grabbed her bag and cellphone.

She got off the bus and called Allan, leaving him “a terrible voicemail, crying.”

Allan called her back and told her to run down the middle of the road, don’t go near trash cans and meet him.

Reunited and safe

“We met up in Boston Commons, and of course Allan was covered in blood,” Theresa said. “Our reunion was quite a tearful one. One thing I have to say — after 30 years of marriage, I realized how much I’ve taken for granted. I appreciate his presence in my life and who he is to me, so we’ve had a lot of crying.”

Then they got their first call from the media.

Lee Ferran of ABC News, whose father is a doctor in Gainesville, called the couple and told Theresa to post something on social media to let everyone back home know she was OK. And the two gave their first of what turned out to be countless interviews.

Once their names were out there, Allan said, the calls just kept coming — Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer — and Allan became the face of the responders. That night they gave one interview before shuffling a few feet to the next TV media setup and giving another. When they stepped away for a moment, another producer would approach, asking them to go on camera, Allan said.

“You’re trying to be nice. You’re a Southerner,” Allan said of continuing to agree to requests.

They got about four hours of sleep that night. The morning shows came calling at 5:15 a.m. the next morning.

“We kept saying, ‘We’re not anybody. We just want to get back home,’” Theresa said.

They were just starting to process what had happened.

They gave more on-camera interviews, and Theresa, laughing, said her children were texting her, critiquing her.

At some point, though, the Panters decided they had to get home to their children.

Haley said she’s not going to let her parents go on trips together anymore.

Theresa plans to run the marathon next year, though. Haley told her dad, half joking, that she’ll make sure he has to work.

“Yes, I would go back,” Theresa said. “If anything to help support the very people who helped us. And then sadly enough it’s the spectators that make the race that were affected and injured. So I’ve just got to qualify first.”

The two say the experience changed their life, but not like those who were maimed.

After surviving the injury, they face multiple surgeries, rehabilitation with a prosthesis and then life, “totally, absolutely different,” Allan said. “You can’t prepare for that. I mean it’s just one minute you’re walking, the next minute you’re not.”

They both said the emergency response was just incredible, though.

“You had to almost fight to get your spot to help somebody,” Allan said. And the workers didn’t try to restrict help; if it made sense, they allowed it, he added.

“I’m no different than every person that was responding,” Allan said. “I mean every person there was doing the same thing I was doing.”

“I do believe that God had Allan Panter right where he wanted him,” Theresa said. “And he made me run a slow race, but regardless of that, I’m thankful we’re here.”


Contents of this site are © Copyright 2010 The Times, Gainesville, GA. All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...