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From gunfire to cheering in Watertown

After spending a day inside their homes, listening to police search for a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, residents emerge to applaud his arrest.

April 19, 2013|By Alana Semuels and Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times
  • Spectators cheer as law enforcement members leave the arrest scene near Franklin Street in Watertown, Mass.
Spectators cheer as law enforcement members leave the arrest scene near… (Jared Wickerham, Getty…)

WATERTOWN, Mass. — The sounds were the most terrifying — the shots and the booms, the sirens and the whir of helicopter blades, and then, from time to time, the silence.

But as a very long Friday wore to a close, it was the sound of cheering and applause that surged through the streets of this small town.

"I'm so, so glad it's over," said Lori Toye, who lives with her husband and son in the house next door to the home where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found in a boat covered in a tarp. Someone drove by and yelled: "America! Woo!"

Toye, 40, was still wide-eyed. "I looked at that boat all day," she said, shaking her head. "Who knew he was right there?"

It had been a harrowing 21 hours for the Toyes and others in Watertown. Late Thursday night, people near Dexter Avenue heard explosions and shots fired. Police had exchanged gunfire with two men suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing, killing one. By early Friday morning, residents learned that the other suspect was on the loose. The Watertown chief of police urged everyone to stay inside.

The spotlight on sleepy Watertown, which sits next to more affluent Belmont and Cambridge, was strange for residents such as Dan Nystedt, 28, who lives in a house with roommates on Franklin.

After the marathon, he said, "I felt very vulnerable in Boston. All I wanted to do was get back to Watertown because Watertown was a safe place to be."

Olga and Dumitru Ciuc, who live two doors down from the house where the suspect was apprehended, stayed at home all day. Dumitru spent some time sitting in his backyard, which has a full view of the boat, with the couple's dog.

In the morning, the Ciucs saw police outside doing a sweep of the area but by afternoon, it seemed that the hunt had moved on. Just a few hours later, police would evacuate them and use their home to conduct their operation, taking out the windows in the upstairs bedrooms.

By late afternoon, Gov. Deval Patrick had lifted the stay-in-place ban, and many felt resigned that it could be a while before police caught the suspect, if they ever did.

Daniela and Richie Salerno headed outside to catch a breath of fresh air after the ban had been lifted. But the saga wasn't over yet. The Salernos hadn't gotten to the end of the driveway before they heard a series of quick shots. They ran back inside.

The action was taking place on Franklin Street, less than a mile from the intersection on Dexter Avenue where police had exchanged fire with the two suspects. The Ciucs and Toyes were evacuated by police.

A few houses away, after hearing shots, Deanna Finn led her son, Sean, 8, into the bathroom and lay beside him on the floor, terrified. She flushed the toilet repeatedly to distract him from the sounds outside, and the knowledge that something was happening a few homes away.

"I said, 'All right, buddy, we have to get down on the floor,'" she said, later, standing on the porch of her house, still a little shaky. "My motherly instincts just kicked in."

Then police announced they had apprehended the suspect, and Watertown breathed a sigh of relief. As SWAT officers passed by afterwards, Finn and her son yelled out praise. Down the street, people yelled, "USA!"

"Good thing they catch him. It's not very funny when you think he is hiding there and the night is coming, you never know what he has on his mind," said Dumitru, who is originally from Romania. "It's a little scary."

For many in Watertown, it was still hard to believe that the suspect who had eluded a manhunt for days had been so nearby.

Emmanuel Der Torossian noticed his sensor lights going on and off after the earlier shootout. His neighbor's did too.

"Dad, is there somebody around?" Julie, his 13-year-old daughter, asked. Nothing.

"Maybe he was here since last night," Julie said. "I had a feeling. But everyone said, no, nothing like that could happen here."

alana.semuels@latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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