I awoke to the sound of “ping, ping, ping” on the early hours of April 19, 2013. Not the sound of gunfire, but the ringing of the email alert on my iPhone.
After days of tragedy following the bombing I was emotionally pooped. That day I watched the inspiring words of President Obama during the Church Service for the bombing victims, and after days of knowing nothing about who had done this awful deed the FBI had released photos of the two men. There seemed to be some hope that they might catch the bombers, but no one seemed to know where they were.
I live too far from the site of the shootout between Watertown Police and the Boston Marathon Bombing suspects to hear the sound of the guns over my TV. I had fallen asleep on the couch, but the rapid fire emails going back and fourth between my Patch colleagues (with me CC’d) ended my slumber.
It quickly became clear that our generally quiet little Watertown was under assault from two people authorities wanted for the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. But after the initial rush of adrenaline, rest of the night seemed endless.
I remember watching TV and listening to the police radio trying to find out what was going on. I felt helpless just sitting there, but not safe enough to go out and get a closer look.
I hoped that none of the Watertown officers had been hurt, or worse. I also wondered if I knew any of them.
My editor told me to get some sleep so I could get ready to report in the morning, but there no way I could sleep, nor did I want to do so.
I sat with my eyes glued to the TV, ear on the police scanner while also trying to find info online. I got some details from emails and messages from people in the area of East Watertown where the guns and bombs had been used. (I also met people later who lived feet away from the shooting but slept through it!) For hours, I listened to police scanner boradcasts about a movement or strange noise. It was spooky.
Daybreak was a welcome relief. At 6 a.m. Gov. Deval Patrick came on TV and said that the MBTA would be shut down and people should shelter in place while law enforcement searched for the suspect. At the time it didn’t feel like “martial law,” but rather a logical move.
The contrast of the bright sunny day with the empty streets was disorienting. I have only seen the streets that empty during daylight when there is a blizzard.
My wife and I live too far from the area of the shootout to have our home searched, but we got an idea of what was going on by watching TV. Those images along with the sound of low flying helicopters gave the feeling that we were in a war zone. (The sound of a helicopter still makes me feel uneasy.)
Being able to work – talking to people, writing stories and being interviewed on the HuffPo Live internet news channel – helped me get through the day, but it still seemed like an eternity being cooped up, waiting and hoping they would get this guy.
Around 6 p.m. the lockdown was lifted. It was great to be able to go outside, but my wife and I wondered whether the guy was still out there.
We cooked and sat down to dinner, but kept the police scanner on. I heard some chatter about something strange with a boat on Franklin Street and then a call to get Lt. Michael Lawn – the head of Watertown’s Detectives – to the area. At that point I started to collect my camera and put on my shoes. A minute later the scanner blared “shots fired.”
Both of us jumped up, tore down the stairs and got into the car. I zoomed off toward the area, but only got two blocks before the street was shut off by police. We hurried to the corner of Mt. Auburn and Common streets and waited.
I could only get vague details from the scanner, which I listened to with an earphone. We heard what sounded like another volley of gunfire, but what turned out to be flash grenades. People watching on TV had a better view of what was going on, but being out there, just a couple blocks away, you could feel the intensity.
Vehicle after vehicle filled with police officers whizzed by, just feet from where we were standing. I remember just hoping they had arrested the suspect. Finally I heard calls of “suspect in custody” coming over the radios of the officers standing at the road block.
The voices were clearly audible, but even police barely reacted. I wondered if we had misheard, but my wife heard the same thing. Perhaps everyone was still in shock or did not want to celebrate before they were absolutely sure it was over.
The crowd began with about a dozen people, but had grown to around 100. Dozens more ran to the area when word went out that police had caught the suspect. Finally, a few police cars, fire vehicles and even the armored vehicles began rolling down Mt. Auburn Street.
The applause were polite at first, but finally a police officer in one of the passing cars yelled “God Bless America! God Bless America!” Suddenly the crowd erupted and began cheering and giving police high fives.
Strangely I felt like both part of the cheering crowd and also the throng of photographers capturing the scene. Twenty minutes later I rushed home and typed up a first-person account of the evening (see the story here).
That night I had trouble sleeping. The emotions of a crazy day and awful week poured out. I worked seemingly every waking hour over the next two days trying to capture the aftermath of the mayhem that hit Watertown. It helped being able to talk to people about their experiences.
By Monday morning, my boss told me I had to take a couple days off to rest and recover. It took weeks before I really felt back to normal. Getting out of reporting mode was difficult. I had so many ideas for stories, some of which I never could get to. One story I had to pass on to a colleague was interviewing the two Watertown Firefighters who saved the life of MBTA Police Officer Dic Donohue.
This Thursday I finally got to meet one of the firefighters, Patrick Menton. Like others involved in the action on the night of April 19 who I have been met and interviewed, he was friendly, willing to talk about his experience, but also very humble about his role.
Those reaction seem to capture the personality of Watertown as whole. Watertown Strong has become the unofficial motto for our town. However, that spirit was not born during events of April 19, they only helped Watertown residents recognize something that was always inside of us.