Watertown Family Describes Minutes Leading to Marathon Suspect’s Arrest

A SWAT team prepares to conduct door to door searches across the street from Baikar Association. (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian, The Armenian Weekly)

From The Armenian Weekly

WATERTOWN—There was heavy police and military presence in Watertown on Fri., April 19, as police searched for 19-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev. The suspect, a resident of Cambridge, had gone on a violent rampage the night of April 18, together with his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan. After gunning down an MIT police officer and seriously wounding a transit police officer, the brothers carjacked an SUV and drove to Watertown. An exchange of gunfire near the Weekly offices ensued between police and the two suspects, during which Tamerlane was shot and killed. The brothers, who are reportedly ethnic Chechens, were suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings that took the lives of 3 and injured over 160 others.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev escaped that exchange with police, and remained at large throughout most of the day. As SWAT teams conducted door-to-door searches in a 20-block radius in Watertown, authorities advised residents to stay indoors. Businesses remained closed and streets were eerily deserted while police cruisers, bomb squads, armored vehicles whizzed through the streets, and black hawks hovered overhead. At around 8:45 p.m. on April 19, the manhunt for Tsarnaev came to an end when he was found hiding in a boat behind a house on Franklin St.

Emmanuel Der Torossian and his daughter Julie, 13, whose back porch overlooks Franklin St., ventured into the streets for a stroll soon after the police lifted the curfew in the neighborhood at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, a neighbor spotted a body in a boat behind his house and notified the police. “The police came running through. They told everyone to get off the streets and to go into their homes, but we couldn’t go home… [the police] stopped us from going back,” Emmanuel told the Weekly that night, as police officers worked to apprehend the suspect. The police blocked off the street, preventing the Der Torossians from returning home. Officers evacuated the neighborhood, escorting Emmanuel and Julie to another street, where they waited anxiously for hours. In the midst of the chaos, Emmanuel’s wife Marina and son Joey were taken out of their home and onto a different street.

That part of town, added Emmanuel, is populated mostly by Armenians. “It’s a quiet area and so it’s easy to hide. No one would suspect something like this. He was behind my house this whole time,” said Julie, anxiously looking in the direction of the flashing blue lights down the street. Minutes later, the family was reunited, and together saw the end to an unnerving ordeal.

Marina had a different story to tell. With a father, 83, and a brother in Aleppo, Syria—the site of an escalating human rights crisis—Marina has long been fearing for their safety. When her sister called her on Marathon Monday, asking if she had heard about the bombs, Marina thought her worse fears had come true.

“I thought she meant my father’s apartment in Aleppo had been hit by a bomb. I hadn’t been following the news. My legs got week, until she told me that she was talking about Boston. I turned to the news on TV and couldn’t believe my eyes… All day I was like a zombie,” Marina told the Weekly.

Late on April 18, she heard gunshots, and saw police officers searching her driveway. That night, she and her kids did not sleep. They didn’t the following day, either. Marina was about to leave her house when she saw soldiers rushing down her street towards her house. Her neighbor informed her that the suspect had been located one street over. Marina picked up her phone and called her husband.

The Der Torossian family, moments after being reunited (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo, The Armenian Weekly)

“I was on the phone with my husband, when suddenly there were gunshots. I lay flat on the ground and I made my son do the same. I did not know where the gunshots were coming from. Two minutes later there were knocks on our door. There were officers. They told us to leave the house immediately. I grabbed what was there, a pair of snow-boots and a heavy winter coat, and ran outside,” said Marina. The officers then used their back porch as a perch to watch the suspect’s movements.

“My back porch overlooks Franklin St., and I could see the officers advancing. There were five officers behind our house. There were numerous officers on Franklin St., and I couldn’t find my husband and daughter. I was shaking, my entire body was shaking,” she said, adding, “I hope today brings an end to this.”

After hours of being under lockdown, hundreds of Watertown residents came out of their homes. Some cheered, others thanked police officers, and many waived American flags. Tsarnaev was taken to a Boston hospital, and reportedly is in serious but stable condition.

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