When explosions rocked the Boston Marathon finish line six months ago today, it was hard to imagine the world would ever be the same. Since then, WGBH News has been taking a closer look at the events of that memorable and deadly Friday in Cambridge and Watertown. This is the first of four stories in an ongoing series.
Just past midnight on Friday, April 19, Watertown police spotted the Mercedes and green sedan driven by the Tsarnaev brothers in the vicinity of Dexter Avenue. They chased both cars as improvised bombs are being thrown. By 12:38 a.m., Watertown police engaged in a furious shootout with the suspects near the intersection of Dexter and Laurel Street.
Eight minutes later, Watertown resident Andrew Kitzenberg was watching the shootout from the third floor of 62 Laurel Street.
"I saw two men taking cover behind a dark SUV and they were shooting down Laurel Street towards officers and I couldn’t make out any true details because it was complete darkness out, but I could see two individuals kind of crouching and firing down the street, and I also had the vantage point of seeing at the end of the block the officers and there looked like there were about four or five vehicles at the end of Laurel Street,” Kitzenberg said of that night.
WGBH News has spoken with police — on and off the record — eyewitnesses, and a police policy expert trying to get answers of what happened that night, from Cambridge to Watertown.
Watertown resident Mike Doucette looked out from his house on Laurel Street just a few feet from where police were exchanging gunfire with the suspects on the night of April 19. He said officers that night saved lives.
"They’re heroes in my mind," he said.
But now, six months later Doucette wonders if the gunfight could have played out differently.
"The whole shoot out was pretty wild," he said. "Bullets were flying everywhere. Every one of these houses was hit by something. I mean, they could have had more control over what they were shooting at, maybe.”
Among the many unanswered questions: Why were so many bullets fired into homes — and should this have been avoided? At least a dozen homes were hit by bullets in Watertown that night, including that of Andy Fehlner and his wife, Michelle Smith, who woke up to the sound of explosions and gunfire.
“Something was dropping in the house and it was something I never heard before," Fehlner said. "And then we picked these items up that were flying in our house and we realized pretty quickly that they’re bullets. And all of them were coming from that side of the house, so we ran and grabbed the kids because the bullets were coming very close to their bed.”
Fehlner said one bullet came within 12 inches of his toddler’s bed.
Many of the bullets that struck homes were fired by police — most from departments outside Watertown, according to confidential law enforcement sources. The intended target: the stolen SUV driven by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he tried to escape.
Police argue the circumstances in Watertown necessitated extreme action, but we wondered whether proper police protocol was followed. Boston Police policy states: “Officers who find it necessary, under the provisions of this rule, to discharge firearms shall exercise due care for the safety of persons and property in the area and shall fire only when reasonably certain that there is no substantial risk to bystanders.” Similar policies apply to Watertown, Cambridge and the Massachusetts State Police
Kitzenberg said his roommate got up from his chair just moments before a bullet came through the wall of his apartment.
"It had penetrated the wall and the desk chair clean through,” he said.
Another lingering question: who shot MBTA police officer Richard Donohue?
It’s a question that is shrouded in complexity — like the circumstances of the night itself, where police were responding to dangerous individuals, yet, inadvertently, placed some residents in danger.
- Read Part II: 'Self-Deployment' may have caused confusion during Boston Marathon bombing
- Read Part III: How did Tsarnaev elude police for so long in Watertown?
- Read Part IV: Lessons for law enforcement
Watch Phillip Martin discuss this story on Greater Boston: