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Boston lockdown: Voices of Valley people caught up in manhunt

  • Heavily armed police officers do house to house searches in the neighborhoods of Watertown, Mass. Friday, April 19, 2013, as a massive search continued for one of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. A second suspect died in the early morning hours after an encounter with law enforcement. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

    Heavily armed police officers do house to house searches in the neighborhoods of Watertown, Mass. Friday, April 19, 2013, as a massive search continued for one of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. A second suspect died in the early morning hours after an encounter with law enforcement. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Heavily armed police officers do house to house searches in the neighborhoods of Watertown, Mass. Friday, April 19, 2013, as a massive search continued for one of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. A second suspect died in the early morning hours after an encounter with law enforcement. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gazette reporters and editors filed these reports based on phone interviews with Valley people in the Boston area on Friday as the manhunt continued.

Heartbroken by events

Holed up in her Watertown apartment a few blocks from the area where a massive armed police presence had assembled this morning, former longtime Hadley resident Marjorie Southworth said she oddly felt safe, though heartbroken, about the events unfolding this week.

That’s in part because her particular street was “dead quiet” Friday morning, and elsewhere in Watertown there were so many police amassed that it seemed likely Watertown residents would be OK in the end, she said.

It was a different story for her Monday, when, while working from home, she learned of the Boston Marathon bombings. Her 24-year-old son, Cooper, also a former Hadley resident, was working at the finish line for a company supplying electricity to the medical tent.

Southworth immediately tried to contact him, and luckily, she reached him immediately, finding out he was shaken up, but unharmed.

This morning, Southworth learned that a dangerous suspect was at large and the Boston area was in lockdown from her daughter, a Northampton resident, who texted her at 5 a.m. Her daughter had been enroute to the Midwest and had seen the news report on television in an airport.

Southworth, 63, said the random acts of violence are feeling all too familiar. When the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, she was in fear until she finally managed to track down her sister who was in the vicinity of the World Trade Towers. This time, she immediately reached out to her sister, so she wouldn’t be worried about her.

Meanwhile, a colleague who lives a few blocks away in Watertown, texted her a picture taken outside her apartment window showing an armed police officer splayed out on a car hood with his gun aimed. “She also told me she’s lying on her couch in case there’s an explosion,” said Southworth, who worked at Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges while she lived in Hadley. She resided in Hadley for 20 years, raising her children there, before moving to Watertown five years ago.

Southworth said the week’s events have put her on an emotional roller coaster. She has felt fear, anger and despair.

“This is one of my favorite cities in the world, so it breaks my heart,” said Southworth. “It’s been a little too close for comfort, and yet, I’m trying to remember my blessings.”

— Laurie Loisel

‘When house creaks, you jump’

Northampton native Michael O’Brien said he didn’t sleep much Thursday night in his Somerville home after hearing about the Boston Marathon bombings suspects robbing a 7-Eleven convenience store in Cambridge and shooting an MIT police officer.

“That’s right around the corner from me. I go to that 7-Eleven about once a week for Arnold Palmers,” O’Brien, 32, said. He lives in Somerville on Union Square.

“I was up until 4 or 5 a.m., I think I slept an hour and a half,” he said. “Every time the house creaks you jump. It was just freaky because you don’t know where he is. I just heard cop cars going by all night.”

O’Brien said he works as a chauffeur so he is familiar with all the streets he has been hearing about on the news as police search for the remaining suspect. He said it was a weird week to live in the Boston area, as he has on and off for seven years.

When the two bombs went off at the marathon finish line Monday afternoon, O’Brien was stuck in traffic on Huntington Street, just on the other side of the Boston Public Library from the blasts. “I knew immediately what it was, it was the loudest, strongest thing I ever felt in my life,” he said. “I was stuck in traffic and I couldn’t tell where it came from.”

He was eventually able to drive away from the area, but the shock of the blast stayed with him. He said his family back in Northampton has been checking in to see if he is OK.

— Rebecca Everett

FBI agents at the door

Florence native Hannah Chandler, 21, who lives in Brookline while she attends Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, said at 6:30 a.m., uniformed FBI agents knocked on her apartment asking to search it.

“It was very frightening,” said Chandler. She said two of her roommates were home; one had gone to work at Massachusetts General Hospital before the lockdown was implemented.

She shares an apartment with three other women.

After a late night spent watching the news following the release of the photographs of the bombing suspects, Friday started early with a 4 a.m. phone call from her school, announcing the campus was closed. “But they didn’t say why,” she said.

It wasn’t until an hour later that the school provided a reason, specifying the shooting at MIT and the apprehension of one of the suspects. She said the FBI agents, who may have been armed although no weapons were visible, searched rooms throughout the apartment building and talked with residents.

The agents said they were searching the building because a person on the first floor, who works at a Boston night club, had reported that she may have previously seen one of the suspects.

“I’m feeling a little shaken,” said Chandler. “I feel better knowing they’re doing such an intense sweep, how far they’re willing to go to catch these people.”

She said since the bombings Monday, everyday life has changed “absolutely.”

— Phoebe Mitchell

Wanting to know why

Debra Bradley Ruder, a former Northampton resident who now lives in Newton, described the experience of being in lockdown as “creepy, disturbing, frightening, nerve-wracking.”

Ruder, a freelance journalist and former Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter, said she and her husband, Eric, and their 16-year-old son were “hunkered down” at home, keeping in touch with friends, and following news of the manhunt on TV, radio and the Internet. She’d been in touch with friends in Watertown, she said, who had described hearing explosions and gunfire during the first shootout between police and the two suspects.

Ruder said that she and her family live about 7 miles from Watertown — far enough away not to feel in imminent danger, but close enough to feel “really rattled.

“It’s hard to focus. A million things go through your mind, first of all, of course, is everyone we know safe,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking about who these guys were, and why would they want to inflict” this suffering on people.

The widespread, unprecedented lockdown seemed appropriate, Ruder said: “I’m not going to second-guess the authorities.” At least at the start, she said, “they didn’t know where he was, and you don’t want to be in the way. I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Ruder, 54, said the events of this extraordinary, almost surreal week made her feel as though Monday’s marathon was ages ago. Ruder said that as a former employee at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, she’d participated in disaster emergency drills and training at the hospital. As soon as the bombings happened, she said, she remembered everyone going through that training and knew that her former colleagues were prepared to deal with whatever came their way. “I felt grateful, but also saddened that Boston was prepared to handle that — what a sad commentary,” she said.

— Suzanne Wilson

Glued to TV —
and iPhone

Katie Coffey, 26, woke up in her Back Bay Boston apartment Friday morning to a series of texts from friends telling her the city was under lockdown and she should stay home.

Soon afterwards, the Northampton native received an automated voicemail from the Boston Alert System that explained why: It said a “massive manhunt” was under way for a second suspect in the Boston marathon bombings. The first had been killed by police early Friday.

Coffey, who works as a digital media planner for Havas Edge, on Huntington Avenue across from where the bombings went off at the marathon finish line Monday, was in Northampton when the explosions occurred. Wednesday was the first day she’d been able to return to her office, which she said is now part of the bombing crime scene.

“Last night, I left work around 9 p.m. and heard the sirens going,” said Coffey, who grew up in Northampton and graduated from the Williston Northampton School in 2004. “This morning, I looked out on my street and the entire Back Bay was empty. It’s been an absolutely insane morning.”

Coffey said in a phone interview Friday that she’d been glued to the TV and her iPhone since waking. “I’ve heard from people I haven’t heard from in years,” she said. “Social media is where I’m getting my news first.”

While waiting for another call from the Alert System or an announcement on TV about when the lockdown would end, Coffey said she was trying to stay calm and process the flood of information coming in about the hunt for the bombing suspects.

“It’s hard,” she said. “Everyone I know is somehow linked to someone affected by the bombing.”

Coffey said she has been impressed with the way Boston Police handled security. “I was impressed with how they handled things when Obama was in town yesterday,” she said, referring to the President’s appearance at a memorial service Thursday. “They’ve been helping people feel safe at this very scary time.”

— Barbara Solow

Impressed by police

Living only a couple of blocks from the scene of the shootout between the marathon bombings suspects and police, Ashfield native Aaron Pollen remained safely inside his Watertown home Friday afternoon. “We were advised not to leave our apartments or even stand near windows,” Pollen said. “That is kind of unnerving.”

Pollen said he got a warning call during the night from his brother-in-law, who lives even closer to the scene of the shootout.

Even in Maynard, almost 20 miles west of the scene of the massive manhunt, Jared Alvord, a Plainfield native, said the stepped-up police presence was obvious.

During a drive to purchase tools Friday morning, Alvord said he noticed all of Maynard’s police officers on the streets, and as he approached Route 2 a number of National Guard and state police were on patrol.

For Alvord, the biggest impact was a mass email from the owner of his employer, Sunbug Solar, telling workers not to come to work at the Arlington office. Alvord said as difficult as this week has been for those who live and work in Boston, standing up for and taking care of others shows that human compassion remains strong. “It’s a pretty awful time and a pretty amazing time to see the love for each other,” he said.

— Scott Merzbach

A journey interrupted

Sherri Waslick and her daughter, Emma Waslick, 14, were supposed to drive from Hatfield to Boston Friday to visit Waslick’s other daughters, Lauren Waslick, 22, and Jennifer Pinard, 30, both of whom live in the Boston area and are graduates of Northampton High School. It was to have been Waslick’s first chance to see her older daughters in person since Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.

But, with the city and surrounding area in lockdown Friday, she had to postpone plans and settle for phone calls. “We need to get together and hug each other,” Waslick said Friday.

Waslick said when she first heard about Monday’s bombings, she wondered where her daughters were. Lauren, who lives near the Boston University campus, called in shortly to say she was at work outside the city and was OK. But, she was very frightened, her mother said, and uncertain how and when she would be able to return to her apartment.

In a phone interview Friday, Lauren said the bombings were terrifying. She knows people who were at the marathon, and spent many of the first moments after she heard about the blasts trying to find out if they were OK. In particular, she was worried about a friend who was working at the marathon. “My first thought was to text her. It took about five minutes for her to get back to me. I couldn’t really breathe for that time,” Lauren said.

Sherri Waslick says she had trouble getting in touch with Jennifer, who lives in Medway and works in Newton, and she started to worry. “As a parent, I kept wondering, ‘Where is she? Is she safe?’ Why isn’t she answering?’ ”

When she did finally hear from Jennifer, and found out she was safe, she also learned that her son-in-law was at the marathon, helping out at the finish line after the bombings.

Jennifer’s husband, who works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and whose name cannot be used because of his work, was at the marathon with coworkers, cheering on friends who were running.

After Jennifer learned about the blasts, she says, it took at least 20 minutes to get in touch with him. “It was excruciating. I knew he was close by, and I know him: If something’s wrong, he wouldn’t run away from it, she said. “I kept calling; his phone wouldn’t even ring — it was blank. So many thoughts ran through my mind: Is his phone blown to pieces? You just don’t know.”

After hearing on Monday that her daughters and her son-in-law were safe, and with plans in place for Friday’s trip to see them, Waslick says, she began to relax. But then, Friday morning, she heard about the shoot-out and the Boston-area lockdown and the fear set in again. She knew Jennifer was flying into Logan International Airport Friday morning and worried about her safety there. She landed safely.

Since Monday, Lauren said, she had been able to follow her usual routine — going to work and to a class she takes at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, although the mood in Boston, she added, has been somber. But, since she woke Friday to the news that the city was in lock-down, she has stayed at home, and will, she says, until she gets the all-clear. “I’m feeling pretty safe in my apartment,” she said Friday.

Even so, her mother says, she is anxious to see her daughters in person.

“It makes you think: If you love someone, tell them every day that you love them. I definitely did — a billion times,” said Sherri Waslick. “You can’t leave things unsaid.”

— Kathy Mellen

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