WATERTOWN, Mass. — Hundreds of rounds were exchanged in a deadly gun battle, a suspected terrorist’s body was dragged under a stolen SUV, and a bomb blast rattled residents.
“Now I know what it must be like to be in a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan. When my house shook, I said ‘I better get in.’ We never went to sleep all night,” said resident Anna Lanzo.
Watertown, a usually placid middle-class suburb where joggers and bikers share a path along the Charles River, children sell lemonade outside, and residents meet for eggs at a classic chrome diner, was turned into a combat zone last week.
Relief was palpable here Saturday, a day after 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev surrendered from his hiding place in a covered boat in a Watertown backyard. Authorities said Tsarnaev and his alleged conspirator and older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed an MIT police officer Thursday night, then carjacked an SUV before heading to Watertown.
Officers knew the stolen car was coming to Watertown because they were tracking its movement through the victim’s cellphone. The suspects took $800 from an ATM in Watertown Square from the victim’s account before an officer spotted the car. The brothers — one in the stolen car, the other in a second car — jumped out of the cars and started shooting at the lone officer even as backup rushed to the scene, said Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau.
“We’re in a gunfight, a serious gunfight. Rounds are going and then all of the sudden they see something being thrown at them and there’s a huge explosion,” Deveau said. “I’m told it’s exactly the same type of explosive that we’d seen … at the Boston Marathon. The pressure cooker lid was found embedded in a car down the street.”
The suspects tossed grenades. Tamerlan Tsarnaev got within 10 feet of officers involved in the shootout before he ran out of ammunition and was tackled. Police put him down and began to handcuff him when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev drove the stolen car at them.
“They dove out of the way at the last second and he ran over his brother, dragged him down the street and then fled,” Deveau said.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died. Though bleeding, his younger brother fled the car and eluded the officers. Police locked down the region and searched house to house in Watertown.
Christie Majocha described heavily armed police and helicopters with M16s circling her neighborhood. “Everybody saw them on TV, but as I saw them on TV, they were driving on my street. As we heard the helicopters on TV, they were over our heads,” she said.
Lauren Kelleher said she saw State Police with massive automatic weapons in her backyard, walking past her children’s swing set and a plastic silver castle.
“The troopers went through. They looked in our yard, they looked in our garage,” she said.
“It was crazy,” said her husband, Tim Kelleher. “We had SWAT teams, ATF on our lawn.”
Deveau said a resident was checking his boat after the lockdown was lifted Friday evening and noticed the straps weren’t the way he left them. He looked in the boat, saw blood and someone huddled in a corner and quickly called police. The discovery set up the final confrontation and capture with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Officials used Dumitru Ciuc’s home as a staging area, taking out the windows and ripping down curtains and window blinds to monitor the boat.
“They didn’t say nothing,” about why they were there. “They just said leave the house and go up the street.”
On Saturday, Ciuc’s home was cordoned off by police tape, and his Nissan Xterra remained underneath a tarp. The street where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found was still closed down and roped off by police tape. An agent typing on a computer sat on the steps of the home where the owner of the boat lived, and authorities erected a white tent in the middle of the street.
Nearby at the Watertown police station, a stream of grateful residents dropped off more cookies, cupcakes, pizzas and chicken than the small force could eat. Children dropped off handmade cards, which were quickly pinned up. On Saturday evening, at least 250 people gathered at the town’s Victory Field to pay tribute to victims of the Boston Marathon bombers and to thank law enforcement and emergency workers.
“These policemen, the FBI, everyone who’s been involved, they deserve our support. They deserve our applause,” Majocha said. “We can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”