A Town Under Siege: Watertown Residents Describe Life Under Lockdown

  • Share
  • Read Later

Police and SWAT teams search neighborhoods yard by yard in Watertown, Mass., on April 19.

The sleepy Boston suburb of Watertown woke up in a state of panic in the wee hours of Friday morning, after the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers, now determined to be brothers, drove a stolen Mercedes into the town of 30,000 just west of Boston. Trailed by a convoy of police cars, the brothers in the car, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, reportedly engaged in a shootout with authorities in which they also allegedly hurled “explosive devices.” Tamerlan, 26, was killed in the firefight, but Dzhokhar, 19, remains on the run, triggering a massive manhunt around Watertown that has left many residents barricaded in their homes. TIME spoke to some fearful residents who are dealing with the possible Boston Marathon bomber in their neighborhoods.

When the Police Barge In: A Pounding on the Door

Jennifer Sartori, 43, is a professor of Jewish studies at Northeastern University.

I’ve lived in Watertown for almost nine years. It’s a nice and pleasant community with lots of kids, and I never feel unsafe. Last night we were awoken at 2:30 a.m. by an automated call from the town of Watertown with a message saying that due to police action, we needed to stay inside.

At around 6:45 a.m., a house kitty-corner from us was swarmed by a huge group of what looked like police or soldiers with guns drawn. They left, but a police car has been at our corner all day.

At 1:45 this afternoon, there was a pounding on our door. I was shaking and asked, “Who is it?” They said it was the police, but I was still scared to open the door. I sent my 6-year-old daughter to the third floor. I didn’t want her to see any of this. She knows there were explosions at the marathon on Monday and that people were hurt. She knows that the police think they know who did it, and lots of people are looking for them and keeping us safe. Still, when the police banged on the door, I hustled her out. I don’t want her to see her neighborhood swarming with guns.

When I opened the door, there were three police officers in fatigues standing there with huge guns, pointing into our house and at me. I know these people are here to protect me, but I have never stared into the barrel of a gun before, and I hope I never have to again.

They asked, “Is everything O.K. upstairs?” When I told them yes, they said to stay inside and keep our doors locked. They swarmed all around the house; they looked into our garage and every garbage can on the street. Then they moved on to the next house and the next one. When they finished our block, they drove off in a big, black armored vehicle.

It’s been relatively quiet since then, besides the constant sound of helicopters. We are just sitting tight, feeling antsy. My fear is that they don’t find him today. We can’t go on living in lockdown indefinitely. How can you find one person in a whole city? On the other hand, they did find them on grainy security images.

Watertown is a small community, and people have lived here for decades. It’s frightening because the places on the news are spots I go every day. I was at the Arsenal Mall last night at 8:30. The neighborhood they were in last night is four blocks away from my daughter’s elementary school. I hope the authorities do whatever they think is going to keep us safe.

Gunshots and Explosions Scare Residents into Taking Cover

Joan Kraus, who grew up in Watertown, works at Tufts Health Plan Medicare Preferred in Watertown

I was dozing off for the night when my husband and I suddenly heard explosions and gunshots. One of sons who is in his 30s was visiting us, but wasn’t home. I called him right away and told him not to come back because something awful was happening.

Ten minutes later he called me back and shouted, “Get down in the basement right now. I am listening to a police scanner, and there is something serious going on.” As we went to the basement, I was listening to a scanner and heard an officer say, “get out of your car! Get out of your car!”

We stayed in the basement for three hours, not knowing what the sounds were coming from. Around 4:30 a.m. we started watching the television, and things really started to unravel. The SWAT teams surrounded the homes in our neighborhood. We thought they were going to evacuate us, but they told us to stay inside.

The anxiety is the worst part. It’s strange seeing all the convoys in my neighborhood, we feel like we are in a war zone. I haven’t slept, but I don’t want to in case something happens. I keep feeling paranoid. I wish the police would check in with us on a more personal level. When they show up and are looking in your neighborhood, your suspicions rise. Is he under that tree? I am a sitting duck?

I know the chief of police of Watertown, and I have no doubts about him. I have to trust that they’re doing the best for public safety, but it’s overwhelming. I don’t think it’s overkill, but how can one person cause all this.

I can’t imagine what how people in other parts of the world live like this every day with all the bombs, guns and uncertainty. Hopefully this can be ended peacefully, because there is no winning in killing this kid. I want to know why he did it. There is a reason these things happen, and sometimes there is a story that is deeper than we want to deal with.

A Sleepy Town Woken by SWAT Teams: Driving at 70 m.p.h.

Kristin Sullivan, 45, is the manager of Instructional Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

I live at the Cambridge-Watertown border, about a mile outside the blocked-off area of Watertown. At 1 a.m., I woke to the sound of about 30 to 40 police cars with sirens blaring, driving at what seemed like 70 miles an hour down our residential streets. My 4-year-old son was sleeping next me.

We are all jumpy after everything that happened at the Boston Marathon, so I turned on the TV and found out from my friends via Twitter and Facebook that a chase was happening. When the first suspect was apprehended, it was only a mile away from our house — right near the local hardware store.

I texted my friend who lives in Watertown. He said the police had dogs in all the yards and were going door to door. As the night progressed, I watched from my window as police cars and ambulances drove down Mt. Auburn Street, which is the main road that goes through Cambridge and Watertown. I could hear the helicopters. At one point, I saw a bus driving into Watertown. I thought it was odd, but I found out they were bringing them in to evacuate people. I don’t know if that ever happened.

A friend that works at Twitter told me which feeds to follow, I found a police scanner to listen to, and I texted with my neighbors all night long. I live on two busy streets, but it’s very much a ghost town right now. Everyone is listening and staying inside.

I’m keeping my 4-year-old distracted. He is listening a little bit, but I’m trying to keep the news on in different rooms. There’s no school, because everything is closed, so I told him we are having a “home” day.

A Former War Correspondent’s View from Cambridge

Christina Asquith is author of Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family and Survival in the New Iraq.

As war correspondents, my husband and I were no stranger to terrorism and bomb attacks. For two years we lived in Baghdad and had reported on our share of bloodied faces and missing limbs and grieving survivors.

But this was Boston– A neat, proud, European-like little city, with its charming cobblestone streets, its bobbing white sailboats on the Charles River, and and its passion for all sporting events. We had come here for peace, to heal, and raise our young daughters. We still followed the news in Iraq, and wrote about it occasionally, but had just last month turned down job opportunities to go back to the region as “too dangerous.” Our street has been eerily quiet, with schools, cafes and convenience stores all shuttered. When I watch national television images of the manhunt, I see the Target where I buy my daughter’s ballet leotard, the 7-11 I drive past and the MIT campus where we go swimming.

As more details poured in, the story grew even closer. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school, just a block away. My daughter’s babysitter was in the same high school class as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. She said everyone called him Jahar. My neighbor had hosted a party for her nephew which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had attended. He was in her house. On my street. Attending the school where I want to send my daughters.

It’s chilling. And yet, as stunned as I am to see terrorism here in my newly adopted Home, I know in my heart that I am safe. That I will never experience here the kind of terrorism I saw in Baghdad, where coordinated suicide bombs went off often 4 times a day, killing hundreds of people and provoking revenge attacks that spiraled the country into civil war. The attacks have brought out the best in the city- showcasing its amazing doctors, its incredible police force and the kindness of its residents.

MORE: How Boston’s School Websites are Reacting to the Manhunt