Catholics Caught in the Crossfire

How some residents of Watertown and other Boston-area communities were impacted by the police pursuit of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Statue of Jesus at the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown, Mass.
Statue of Jesus at the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown, Mass. (photo: Justin Bell)

WATERTOWN, Mass. — In a conclusion to an unforgettable and sometimes surreal week, events unfolded in the Boston area between Thursday and Friday evenings that would rival the popular show television show 24.

Yet the very real life of MIT officer Sean Collier was violently taken, MBTA transit officer Richard Donohue was seriously wounded, and terror-bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot and subsequently died — but another life was spared, that of his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also known as Suspect 2 in the Boston Marathon bombings.

With much of the Boston area under lockdown after a guerilla-warfare battle between armed authorities and the brothers Tsarnaev in the streets of suburban Watertown, local residents and the nation witnessed a narrative that eventually ended with the custody of Dzhokhar and, soon after, patriotic street celebrations.

People watched the day progress through eye and ear witness, television, radio and Internet, and they shared their experiences in real time via social-media networks.

By now, most know the milestones of April 18-19 in the Massachusetts communities of Cambridge and Watertown: The murder of the 26-year-old Collier in his police cruiser; a car-jacking by the fugitive Tsarnaevs and their pursuit by authorities; the subsequent firefight featuring an estimated 200 rounds fired, a malfunctioning pressure-cooker bomb and other improvised explosive devices; the death of Tamerlan and the house-by-house search for Dzhokhar after he escaped by driving away in the hijacked car over the fatally wounded body of his brother; the lifting of the shelter order; the discovery of a bloody body by a Watertown resident in his stored back-yard boat; the thermal imaging confirmation of a subject under the tarp and the eventual apprehension of Dzhokhar — taken alive — after a final exchange of gunfire; statements from law enforcement and then an address from President Barack Obama; ending with a collective feeling of relief, sorrowful remembrance and, for some, jubilation at the capture of the terror suspects.

The Register interviewed some Boston-area Catholics to document their experience of the day.


Home Alone in Watertown

Linda Russo, 28, describes her native Watertown as small, densely populated and tight-knit community. The suburb has both affluent and more working-class sections. Early Friday morning, before she was about to turn in, she checked the television for a weather report and then heard from an anchor that Watertown residents should get inside their homes.

From her parent’s house, she did not hear any of the gunfire, but did hear the pressure cooker explode. She stayed tuned into the events until about 5am and got up around 8:30am.

During the lockdown day, the police didn’t knock at her door, the house being outside of the 20-block perimeter zone that authorities had set up, but she did see National Guard troops a couple of streets away.

Russo monitored the situation and took breaks, including watching a televised Mass on EWTN — she said she particularly didn’t want to miss the Scripture reading about Ananias. Home alone, as her parents were out of state, she was buoyed by the 50 or 60 messages that came in from friends and family around the country checking in on her.

After the shelter advisory was lifted in the 6pm hour, she was outside praying a Rosary and later began packing up to move to a friend’s house. She then was alerted to the boat scene, which was only about three-quarters of a mile from her home. 

The incident over, Russo left the house and joined other Watertown residents cheering on law enforcement on a main street. People chanted “USA,” and she noted a motorcyclist driving by with Neil Diamond’s signature song playing, and people singing along to the song, which is a staple at Boston Red Sox games at Fenway Park.

Russo agreed with the sentiment that it was good Tsarnaev was captured alive for the sake of gathering information about his motives and possible ties to organizations, but she said it was harder for people not of faith and even those possessing faith to join also in affirming that “it’s valuable for his soul to be alive to grapple with the decisions he made.”


A Funeral Postponed

Like others in his community, Father Joe Curran got a call to his landline phone to stay indoors and subsequently heard the intense firefight from the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown.

He said some parishioners hid in their basements, adding that it was a “terrible” night for people who lived in the vicinity of the battle. He also comforted elderly parishioners over the phone, telling them the police were there to protect them during the house-by-house check. 

The 66-year-old pastor noted afterward that he did not receive training in ministering after terrorist attacks during his days at seminary. “I never thought I would live to see armored troop carriers unloading soldiers with machine guns and going through the yards here and up to people’s houses,” said Father Curran.

The priest was able to provide assistance to law enforcement on Friday morning, primarily by providing a bathroom, and the church was secured during the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

But the pastor and his parish staffer, Sister Mary Clare Kirkpatrick, had another situation requiring attention. There was a 10am funeral scheduled; the niece of the deceased told them that her house had taken five or six bullets during the fatal firefight with the suspects. 

Unsurprisingly, the police decided that the funeral was a no-go, adding that if Dzhokhar wasn’t captured, the church must remain closed indefinitely, lest the fugitive tried to slip inside during a service. As it turned out, the funeral was rescheduled for Saturday at 10am, hours after parishioners gathered for a Saturday morning Mass.


Catholic TV

Bonnie Rodgers, the director of marketing and programming at Watertown-based CatholicTV, couldn’t make it into work on Friday, as the roads into work were blocked off. Fortunately, Mark Quella, the master chief engineer, was already on site before the lockdown and successfully pulled the levers and pushed the buttons to keep the network’s broadcasts going for the day.

Typically, the network — affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston — has two live broadcasts on Fridays: The Mass and a talk show called This Is the Day. Both were replaced with earlier broadcasts, but Rodgers said Friday’s experience reminded her of the station’s origins broadcasting the Mass and its importance not only sacramentally, but as a consolation to those in times of distress.

Rodgers was also grateful for messages of support and prayers sent in from viewers who knew of the network’s Watertown location.

“TV is such an anonymous medium; it just really touches your heart when people think of your physical location in that regard — that just really means a lot,” said Rodgers.


Social-Media Solidarity

Though television can still be a shared experience of viewing in the same room, social media allows friends, acquaintances and strangers the chance to watch something collectively through multiple sources and multiple locations. 

With the intensity of the week and Friday’s drama, Facebook postings flourished in the region, offering commentary of the events, prayers, status check-ins of personal safety, criticism of media coverage and even direct appeals to “Suspect 2” to give himself up.

Some promoted a Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3pm, while others turned to wit and humor to alleviate the accumulated tension.

One Facebook friend of this Register correspondent, who wished to be identified only as Matt, observed that “[law-enforcement authorities are] sweeping houses a mile away … I wish someone would sweep my apartment.” Angel Fleming strongly suggested that if President Obama would publicly pray to St. Anthony, then the suspect would be found. Another friend in Cambridge, Kristin Williams, posted a recipe titled “Boston Lockdown Brownie,” complete with a picture of the dessert.

In the 8pm hour, as attention became laser-focused on the suspect as he lay bleeding and trapped in the back-yard boat, Oblate of the Virgin Mary Father John Wykes, who had tried to administer the anointing of the sick on Monday after the bombing, addressed the young man directly.

“Dzhokhar, I just finished another Divine Mercy Chaplet for you, that the Lord will reach into your heart and convert you and that you will turn yourself in immediately to the authorities. Surely you realize by now that your way of life has gone nowhere. Turn yourself in,” posted Father Wykes.

And then, 12 minutes later, he posted: “IN CUSTODY!!!”


Celebration and Remembrance

But amidst the celebration of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture and the end to the bloody pursuit of the terror-bombing suspects, the Boston Police Dept. tweeted a sober reminder at about 9:10pm: “In our time of rejoicing, let us not forget the families of Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campell and Officer Sean Collier.”

WCVB Channel 5 posted a photo collage of the four deceased victims, striking for their youthful faces. Campbell, the oldest of the four victims, was to turn 30 in May.

“Please remember those murdered and all the people injured during this horrible week. We will not forget #BOSTON STRONG,” the post read.

In a press conference shortly after the suspect’s capture, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis described Monday’s attack as “ruthless” and that there was no explaining the “savagery” involved. He said that he reviewed hundreds of hours of videotape over the previous days.

“I got to see how brutal an attack was — over and over and over again,” said Davis.

He said that, more importantly, he saw the response of officers and what other first responders “did to put people back together.”

“Tourniquets. Stemming the bleeding with their hands. Putting a man who was on fire out with their hands,” said Davis. 

“These are the kind of things that came out of this savagery,” he said. “Makes me proud to be a Boston police officer; it makes me proud to be part of this team.”

Father Curran had turned off the television when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured in the boat. He didn’t expect to see him come out alive.

Said Father Curran, “He has the rest of his life ahead of him, and there’s always the chance that he will understand the terrible nature of what he and his brother were involved in and, you know, have a change of heart and know and rejoin the human race.”

Justin Bell writes from the Boston area.