A journalist’s first instinct is usually to head toward a story, even if the story could be dangerous. Which is why I found myself walking in west Watertown late Friday, chasing down reports that the police had cornered Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old second suspect in the Boston marathon bombings.
At around 6:45 p.m., I was about a quarter-mile from where Tsarnaev was pinned down, when I heard shots. Now, I am all for getting a story, but walking into a police shootout does nobody any good. So, I turned around, planning to fall back. And that’s when I met Arthur, whose last name I won’t use, because I know he wouldn’t like it.
Arthur, who is a middle-aged man of Italian descent, lives about two blocks from the where the shootout was happening and was just coming home from getting his first cup of coffee of the day. The police locked down his entire neighborhood early Thursday morning when the manhunt for Tsarnaev began. The restrictions had just been lifted when one of Arthur’s neighbor’s reported suspicious activity in a boat parked behind his house. Just as most of Watertown’s residents were enjoying some fresh air, hundreds of police came storming back in. “It was unreal,” said Mark Aviem, who lives around the corner from 67 Franklin Street, where the suspect was hiding. Aviem and his girlfriend were taking a walk, stretching their legs when “cops were everywhere. I saw two police officers with their guns drawn,” he says. The couple ducked into the lobby of a nearby apartment building to wait out the siege.
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Arthur missed all of this on his coffee run and was disgruntled to find that the police had returned to his neighborhood during his brief absence. When I bumped into him, he wasn’t wearing his glasses and first mistook me for his neighbor—an opening I used to invite myself to walk back down the street with him. Somehow walking with someone I knew had refuge nearby gave me courage.
Arthur was surprised to learn that the shooter had turned up so close to his home. He viewed my card somewhat suspiciously, but graciously invited me to join his on his porch, which turned out to have a great view of the siege. By that time, the shooting had stopped and we watched as more and more police arrived. Ever the host, he offered me some pineapple juice and cheese crackers. The police helicopter that had been circling overheard soon disappeared and the night was almost peaceful. “Look at that tree,” he said, pointing across the street. It’s white blossoms glowed baby blue under the flash of police lights. “Yesterday it was all buds and now it’s bloomed.”
Though it might seem strange to sit on a porch and watch the potentially violent end to one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history, Arthur reassured me that if there were any danger, he’d let me inside. And, besides, most of his neighbors were also gathered outside, watching.
When word came that the suspect had been taken into custody the small crowd swelled and people started cheering and thanking the officers as they returned to their vehicles. Similar celebrations soon lined Watertown’s shopping streets, and later, Boston Commons and Commonwealth Avenue. But Watertown, in particular, was grateful for its freedom after spending much of the day under siege.
Sandra J. Pinzara, 40, a disbursement analyst for a credit company, was dancing in front of her house to The Standells’ ‘Dirty Water’ blasting out her open windows and doors. She was taking swigs of a bottle of Riesling wine she said she’d opened during the gunfire to calm her nerves. Pinzara’s friend, Mary Alice Montoya danced with her. Montoya tried to watch the firefight from a window in the home she shares with her parents, but her mother begged her to come away. “’I don’t want to lose you,’ she cried. So I came inside,” Montoya says. “The silence [between exchanges of fire] was almost more scary because you didn’t know what was going on.”
Not everyone, though, was in the mood to cheer. Lani Gerson, 65, a recently retired teacher, said she informed the police that her garage was open and the suspect could be hiding there. Gerson’s pretty sure they never checked it. “They focused more on east Watertown, which is more densely settled,” Gerson says. “But I always thought that this side of Watertown was equally close.” Others complained that the police had allowed residents to walk freely outside before authorities knew it was safe.
Back on the porch, Arthur wondered out loud about the young man now in custody. “It makes me sad,” he said. “My youngest is 22 and I think of him as a baby, this boy is younger still.”
“I hardly have had a parking ticket to worry about. And this boy has done such wrong — killed children, that 8-year-old —that all of the Boston police is here tonight for him.”