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Arrest capped an extraordinary day for Watertown police

After a tense day of searching for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, officers were empty-handed. Then a boat owner called 911.

April 21, 2013|By Alana Semuels and Devin Kelly, Los Angeles Times
  • Federal agents check Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for explosives while giving him medical attention after a daylong manhunt in Watertown, Mass.
Federal agents check Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for explosives while giving him… (Uncredited, AP )

By 6 p.m. Friday, Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau was discouraged.

Six of his officers had battled heavily armed Boston Marathon bombing suspects early that morning. None of the six were hurt, but one suspect got away. Authorities had spent all day scouring 20 blocks of Watertown for 19-year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Nothing.

Figuring they couldn't keep the town locked down any longer, police told the public they were free to leave their homes. Some of Deveau's officers started to head home.

About 6:15 p.m. everything changed.

A 911 call came into his police station. A homeowner on Franklin Street reported that the tarp covering his boat was loose. When he tried to fix it, he peeked inside and saw some blood, and a body huddled in the corner.

Watertown police had received hundreds of calls throughout the day from homeowners concerned about noises in their basements or open doors, but this one was specific. Police radioed out the address to the hundreds of law enforcement officials searching for the suspect.

"I took my car and I shot up there," said Watertown Police Capt. Ray Dupuis. A helicopter overhead took photos with a heat-seeking camera, revealing a person moving around in the boat.

Bob Glatz, 46, who lives in a third-floor condominium on Franklin Street, saw police cars race past his house, sirens off. He looked out his window and saw Watertown police officers, federal agents and National Guard troops running down the street, their guns drawn, according to a video and account he posted online. Some moved into his yard. Others jumped fences.

But they stopped short of yanking Tsarnaev out of the boat. In the gunfight with Watertown officers, police said, the brothers were armed with a long gun and handguns and threw a pressure cooker bomb that exploded like those bombs at the marathon finish line.

They believed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been injured in the gun battle because they had found a pool of blood in the car he was driving, but they didn't know how badly he was hurt. And night was falling. If they waited too long, Tsarnaev could use the cover of darkness to escape.

"We didn't know if he could take us on. We didn't know if we're going to get in another gunfight, or have more bombs thrown at us," Deveau said in an interview with The Times.

Authorities discussed using a robot to peer into the boat and see whether Tsarnaev had a bomb or any explosive devices. While they readied that, a FBI negotiator began calling to Tsarnaev from the second floor of the boat owner's house, ordering him to stand up with his hands raised.

At one point, police said, they saw Tsarnaev poking through the tarp on the boat with what appeared to be a sword. This may have been what initiated the gunfire that resounded through the darkening neighborhood, Deveau says.

When Tsarnaev didn't respond to the negotiator, police began to throw in "flashbangs," which are explosive devices used to stun or disorient people.

"We continued to lob those in, at least three to four times," Deveau said. "Eventually it worked, because after about 20 minutes, he showed himself."

Afraid that Tsarnaev was going to detonate a suicide vest, authorities told him to lift his shirt. When he did, they saw he wasn't wearing any explosives.

From his porch, Glatz saw police begin to move in.

"You hear them barking instructions: 'Boston police back up! FBI move in!' At one point everybody moved back, and they're hiding behind cars, trees and houses," Glatz told The Times in a written account. "Every once in a while they'd say, 'Weapons out! Take cover!'"

He said officers seemed to blend into the landscape. "Then they'd say, 'Approach!' and you'd see 40 or 50 people move in. It was crazy stuff."

Onlookers convened at roadblocks, watching the flashing lights, waiting for some news of what was going on. Some enterprising residents listened to the police scanner, looking tense.

Then the word came: "CAPTURED" some read on a Boston police Twitter message. Others heard from police holding back journalists at the scene. The crowd broke into applause.

Tsarnaev was loaded onto a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance. Deveau said he looked "lethargic, but conscious; he had lost a significant amount of blood."

The capture ended an extraordinary day for the Watertown department that had begun with one officer single-handedly taking on the suspects after they got out of their car and began shooting at him, police said. Six other officers reportedly battled with Tamerlan Tsarnaev as he walked down the middle of the street, shooting at them, while one aided a transit officer who was bleeding heavily after being shot in the groin.

On Saturday, Watertown residents and others expressed their thanks. They brought cakes, cookies, pizzas and flowers to the station. The U.S. Customs and Enforcement office in Seattle sent a pizza.

"All the things that could have went bad down there didn't because of what our guys did," Deveau said, struggling to hold back tears. "I've been in law enforcement for 30 years and I can't be prouder of my profession than I am in the last 48 hours."

alana.semuels@latimes.com

devin.kelly@latimes.com

Semuels reported from Boston and Kelly from Los Angeles.

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