Joel Obermayer is a former NPR contributor who lives and works near the scene of the overnight showdown in Watertown, Mass.
While the manhunt for a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings continued Thursday night into Friday morning, residents of Watertown, Mass., and surrounding communities were hiding in bedrooms, looking out from roofs and peering from behind locked doors.
Susan Musinsky awoke at 1 a.m. when her 17-year-old daughter, Rebecca, came into her bedroom to warn her about a suspected terrorist on the loose. Rebecca, Susan and her husband, David Krieger, spent the next two hours hunkering down in bed checking news sites, Twitter and Facebook. By morning, Musinsky still had not slept much.
“I’ve been sitting in my bed looking out the window. I have the shades nearly drawn and there’s just an eight-inch sliver I can see though,” says Musinsky, 53. “We’ve heard helicopters, then there’s the National Guard have come through, and the guys in the SWAT uniforms keep coming down our street.”
While Watertown is officially a suburb of Boston, it doesn’t feel like it. The roads are short and thin. On most every street, early 20th century single-family homes and stacked duplexes are clumped close together with tiny yards, as if someone took a larger sized town and picked up the corners so that everything slid together.
Watertown’s 30,000 residents are hemmed in on all sides. On the south side near the site of the early morning firefight, the town is bordered by the Charles River and a giant brick warehouse that used to hold a munitions factory. (It has since been converted to offices.) Running through the center is its main artery, Mt. Auburn St., which heads straight to Cambridge and marks the epicenter of one of the United States’ largest communities of the Armenian diaspora, with Middle Eastern markets and eateries. The north side is bordered by the suburb of Belmont with its stately Victorian houses.
Musinksy, like other residents, was on edge all morning.
“I’m afraid to let the dog out,” she says. “When they say there’s a guy on the loose you have no idea what direction he’s headed. You have no idea if he’s hiding in someone’s backyard. You just don’t know.”
A half mile away, Shelly Levy had been awoken in the early morning by gunfire and explosions. She checked a stream of updates from neighbors online. Around 9 a.m., after she had been up all night, a man in a SWAT uniform stopped by the house to make sure she and her family were safe and not being held against their will. “I was afraid at first,” she says. “Now there are so many police around, it’s hard to imagine anything happening.”
Sarah Ryan lives next to the neighborhood where the firefight unfolded. She has neighbors who hid in their basements. Instead, she and her husband opted for extra vigilance. “We’ve been constantly scanning out our windows,” Ryan says.
Watertown is the last place you’d expect to see a mini-war zone.
“I can’t believe this is happening in our little town,” says Ryan. “We don’t lock our car doors. We often forget to lock our front doors. It feels very strange to be so insecure. We don’t feel safe at all.”