Year after bombing, military race comes back stronger
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) Organizers of a Marine Corps charity race in New Jersey marred by terrorism a year ago say they were forced to move Saturday's event to a neighboring town because of a sharp increase in registrants.
The race's resumption a year after a bomb went off shortly before hundreds of runners were about to take off shows the region's resiliency, organizers say. But this year's Seaside Semper Five race will also have increased security, with trash cans removed along the race route in Seaside Heights and manhole covers sealed.
''It was a jolt at first, but then it got me angry thinking that lots of people could have been hurt,'' said Tommy Leopold, 46, of Old Bridge, who was lined up to run in last year's event before it was canceled. ''We had a good crowd of runners and their families out there that day, and we will again this year. It'll be a show of strength. We're ready to rock.''
The increase in runners comes as both a response to the bombing and shows people's support for the military, said race organizer Frank Costello.
The bomb was planted by Ahmad Khan Rahimi as the start of a two-day reign of terror in the region, authorities say.
Several hours after the blast, another bomb exploded in New York's Chelsea section, wounding 29 people. The next night, a homeless man and his friend alerted authorities after they found a backpack full of explosives in a trash can near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Five devices were in the bag, including one that exploded while a bomb squad robot attempted to disarm it.
Rahimi, an Afghanistan-born man living in Elizabeth, was arrested the next morning after he was seriously injured in a shootout with police in Linden. He has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the bombings and is being held without bail while awaiting his trial , which is scheduled to start Oct. 2.
No one was injured in the Seaside Park explosion, mostly because the start of the race had been delayed because of a large number of late entrants, or by the devices found in Elizabeth. But the situation frightened many in a region where the Sept. 11 attacks still reverberate strongly.
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, a Democrat, said there's ''definitely a heightened sense of awareness,'' even though no similar incidents have occurred in the past year.
''Garbage cans, autos can now be used for very dangerous missions, where in the past no one would have given a second thought about them,'' he said. ''It's scary for many people, but it's made them more vigilant.''
Contact Shipkowski at https://www.twitter.com/BruceShipkowski