April 20, 2013

Mainers in Boston: Too close – and too eerie – for comfort

By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Morning Sentinel

A man from Maine who now lives in Watertown, Mass., spent a harrowing night and day as police exchanged gunfire with the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

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Logan Leavitt, 20, of Portland is a student at Emerson College. He tried to leave the city Friday but had to turn back when train service was shut down.

Photo courtesy of Logan Leavitt

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Law enforcement search for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, Friday, April 19, 2013, in Watertown, Mass., where he was ultimately captured after a lengthy shootout. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Joseph Gagnepain, 32, who grew up in New Vineyard, said he and his three roommates spent most of Thursday night holding swords -- which he had won in ju-jitsu competitions -- while standing watch at the three entrances to their home on Lincoln Street, just three or four blocks from the gun battle.

Gagnepain said he tried to go out to a convenience store about 11:30 Thursday night and saw more than 100 police cruisers go by. He said it took them more than a minute to pass at about 45 mph.

Seeing the size of the police presence, he returned home, where he and his roommates tuned in to a police scanner to monitor the situation. They were concerned about the house's three doors, he said, which have glass panes.

"Anyone could come in," he said. "We had a person posted at each door, watching out the window."

Gagnepain acknowledged that the swords weren't an ideal defense against a potential intruder with a gun.

"But I don't have a firearm in the house," he said. "We each had a sword at a doorway, which feels ridiculous. It's scary."

Early Friday morning, about 50 SWAT team members did a door-to-door search in the area. Gagnepain and his roommates allowed five officers to search their house, including the basement, which Gagnepain said was a particular concern because it has an exterior door and could have been an entry point.

"They were going into every single home and checking every room," he said. "There were armed SWAT guys combing every single backyard and going through every trash can."

Any resident who tried to leave a home during the lockdown was quickly confronted by officers, Gagnepain said.

"One of the people tried to bring them coffee, but they weren't having it," he said. "They'd yell at you and tell you to get back indoors."

After the confrontation ended with one of the suspects dead, Watertown became the focus of a manhunt for the other, 19-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

The manhunt prompted authorities to take security measures that disrupted everyday life for thousands, including several Maine natives.

Logan Leavitt, 20, of Portland, was supposed to be on a train to New York City Friday morning. Alex Lowe, of Saco, should have been in a politics class at Bentley University. Danielle Tourigny, of Biddeford, had a final exam to take. And when Seth Robertson, a UMaine graduate, heard the news, he was getting ready to go to work.

Instead, the Mainers -- like most Boston residents Friday morning -- waited anxiously as law enforcement sought the surviving suspect.

"People have a sense of fear, and a sense of the unknown," said Leavitt, a 20-year-old Portland resident who is studying journalism at Emerson College. "The city is (on) complete lockdown."

Leavitt had planned to board an Amtrak train about 5:30 a.m., but watched as police methodically shut down the city's transit system and ushered him and scores of others into taxis to return home.

He described an eerie scene near Boston's South Station, steps from the usually bustling financial district. After police ordered residents to stay indoors and businesses to shut down, the streets were empty, Leavitt said. "There's literally no cars on the road."

Michelle LaPointe, a former Hallowell resident, said she heard helicopters over her home in Cambridge, Mass., on Thursday night, but didn't realize until Friday morning that they were involved in the manhunt.

LaPointe, a graduate of Hall-Dale High School and Bowdoin College, said the bombing suspects lived two streets away from her, about half-mile from her home, which is about a half-mile from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a campus police officer was shot and killed by the suspects.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Terrorism in Maine

How worried are you about terrorism in Maine?

Very worried

Somewhat worried

Not worried at all

View Results