“Shots fired! Shots fired! They said shots fired!,” she screamed, while firmly grasping an infant carrier and running from the apartment building.
A dozen heavily-armed Boston police officers had entered that building minutes earlier, searching for the escaped suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, Dzhokar Tsarnaev. His brother, Tamerlan, was killed hours earlier in a shootout on a nearby street. Dzhokar escaped and was now on foot — presumably in this neighborhood.
The fleeing woman confirmed the sounds we had heard moments earlier were indeed gunshots.
Pop! Pop! PopPopPop! PopPop! PopPopPopPop! Pop! PopPopPop! Pop! PopPopPopPop!
The popping sounds were muffled, as if coming from deep inside the apartment. Now across the street with a small group of media, the woman told us the baby wasn’t hers but was handed to her by a neighbor as she ran out of her building. I was recording the distraught woman with my iPhone when my editor called. She told me NBC was reporting that the suspect was found and surrounded. “I know, I think he’s here! I need to call you back” I responded.
It had been a frustrating day up to that point. Driving around Boston and Watertown was difficult due to the fluid nature of the road closures and blockades. My unfamiliarity with the neighborhoods didn’t help. Roads that were opened one minute were closed the next. And whole sections of town that were off limits one hour, were suddenly opened the next, with new streets blocked. At least the normally congested city streets were now empty of traffic, because most Bostonians took the advise of officials and stayed at home or at work during the search.
Now, for a few seconds I thought, all the hustling and sleuthing was about to pay off in significant photos of the capture of Tsarnaev.
Events continued to happen rapidly, but now were leading me to a different conclusion. The officers on the street weren’t skirmishing nor securing the scene. The other journalists on the scene started making and receiving calls. I called my editor back and was given an address of location of Tsarnaev’s capture. It was less than a mile away from where I stood. That explained the muffled sound of the shots we heard.
The realization was quick — the images I just made would be a minor footnote to the story, and the neighborhood Tsarnaev was hiding would be secured before I could start my car.
I was standing with a group of media and spectators when my wife called and told me NBC was now reporting Tsarnaev was in police custody. The photos I made are a tiny part of the search, but do help to illustrate the dramatic, high-strung edginess that held that great American city in its grip for a day — and those moments of stress and uncertainty at the sound of gunshots too close to home will be the strong personal memories that Boston’s citizens carry with them forever.