EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 21, 2013

After hectic day, night Watertown neighborhood returning to normal

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — WATERTOWN — Steve Hinojosa, 29, was sleeping at home on Dexter Street here early Friday morning when a bang woke him up.

“I kind of thought it was thunder,” he said. But after the second bang and a rapid chattering of gunfire, he knew it wasn’t the weather.

“I saw the smoke, and police cars were flying up the street,” said April Montcrieff, 29, who lives with Hinojosa.

They flipped on the TV and realized what was going on outside their door. They also realized they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Police, federal agents and National Guard troops flooded their east Watertown neighborhood, the epicenter of Friday’s massive manhunt, after a deadly and violent chase from Cambridge to Dexter Street left an MIT campus policeman dead, one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing dead, an MBTA policeman seriously wounded and much of the metro area in virtual lockdown as police searched for the second suspect.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was shot by police in that confrontation, in which more than 200 rounds of ammunition were fired and explosives were lobbed at police. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, also may have been wounded, but drove the Mercedes they had carjacked in Cambridge over his brother during his escape before fleeing on foot, police said.

Hinojosa and Montcrieff didn’t sleep that night and kept the TV on, hoping to hear word that police apprehended the surviving suspect. But night turned to day, and the search intensified in their neighborhood.

The FBI and SWAT first visited at about 10:30 a.m. They knocked on the door, but when Hinojosa and Montcrieff answered, they were greeted by five rifle barrels.

“They were very friendly, but seeing the guns pointed at you is very nerve wracking,” Montcrieff said. Agents searched their home and yard, even bringing in a dog, and then left, on to the next house.

“There was a sense of relief (when agents left) because we knew he wasn’t in our yard or in our house,” she said.

But the day wore on, the visits repeated, and they waited for good news.

Anna Burke, who lives on School Street a few blocks from the fire fight, said the day was scary and unnerving, but credited SWAT and FBI agents with making her feel secure.

“I feel safe because these folks are here with us doing their jobs to the best of their ability, and I thank them for it,” she said Friday evening just before Tsarnaev was captured. SWAT was “professional, courteous and clearly concerned for our safety.”

On Franklin Street, about 100 yards from where Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat on a trailer Friday evening, Bill Chosiad said he could not hear the fire fight early Friday, but received an emergency text message from his employer, Harvard University. MIT police officer Sean Collier had just been shot to death. He did not sleep.

A neighbor, Rob Vercollone, said SWAT visited him also at about 10:30 Friday morning. They checked houses partway down Franklin Street, he said, but stopped at Center Street, within eye shot of the boat where Tsarnaev was captured later on. Police, though, do not believe he was hiding in that boat the whole time between his shoot out with police and his capture.

Rena Baskin, who was at home on Franklin Street with her son Alec, said she tried to project calm for Alec, even while she fielded several phone interviews about the lock down. “I wanted to have a sense that things were under control,” she said. They did not watch TV, but instead read together in his room.

Amy McCreath, a pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd on Franklin and Mount Auburn streets, said the church called their elderly parishioners to make sure they were OK. “A couple in the apartment building across the street was rattled because they lived alone,” she said.

By noon, Vercollone became restless after being cooped up inside. His normally active neighborhood was still. “Even during a blizzard people will walk their dogs. But not (Friday). It was very surreal day,” he said.

So he started tearing down wallpaper in an apartment he was renovating in his house. At 4, he watched a movie, and by 6, Gov. Deval Patrick announced his request for everyone to stay inside was lifted and police tactical units would pull back.

Minutes later, he and his neighbors ventured outside. “Then all of a sudden there was a scream of cruisers down the street, State Police, Boston Police, unmarked cars,” he said. “Troopers ran (from Mount Auburn Street) down the street, telling everyone to get back inside.”

Vercollone ran back inside and watched from his house’s attic until the gunfire started, when he ducked back into the interior.

Chosiad had walked to a neighbor’s house on another street, and was stuck when the shooting erupted. “I didn’t want to run through back yards,” he said. “That wouldn’t look good from a helicopter.” He waited at another house on Mount Auburn Street.

A homeowner down the street had discovered blood on and near his boat, wrapped up for the winter and parked in his backyard. He peeled back the cover and saw a pool of blood. Immediately he called 911.

Police swarmed and exchanged gunfire with Tsarnaev. After two hours, police, waiting in case Tsarnaev wore an explosive vest or had other bombs, persuaded the wounded suspect to give himself up.

Yesterday, things were returning mostly to normal here. Watertown Square was choked with traffic, neighbors came out to say hello, a Franklin Street family prepared to leave for one son’s bar mitzvah. The helicopters were gone.

But Franklin Street, and nearby Central Street, took on a bit of a carnival air, as streams of people filed down the narrow street to get a look at the infamous house, and maybe even the boat. Television crews set up a small tent for their cameras. Reporters and residents chatted to each other and among themselves. State Police working the Franklin Street barricade at Walnut Street posed for pictures and carefully answered residents’ questions. TV cameras sprung up on yards as residents repeated their practiced stories. Satellite trucks hummed on the corner. A man rode by on a unicycle with a baby on his back.

On Dexter Street, people chatted with residents on their porches and with Watertown Police standing next to their cruisers.

Boston also began returning to normal, as people streamed down Commonwealth Avenue Friday night to celebrate Tsarnaev’s capture on Boston Common. The Bruins played their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday, and the Red Sox played an afternoon game against the Kansas City Royals. Traffic returned to streets that had been vacant 24 hours before.

Reminders lingered in a jittery city, though, as Boylston Street was still closed off for forensic investigators to continue their work, police checked vehicles parking at North Station and South Station was temporarily evacuated for a bomb scare.

Patrick told reporters before the Red Sox game yesterday that Tsarnaev was still in critical condition and unable to communicate, but said that residents would want answers to why this happened to their neighborhoods and to their city.

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