BOSTON — Amid the scattered community memorials and symbols of “Boston Strong” are the accidental monuments. A small, pleading note above a mailbox in Cambridge; a new boat parked beside an idyllic white house in Watertown.
They evoke lives once led by the Tsarnaev brothers, and the manhunt incited after they allegedly set off two pressure cooker bombs during last year’s Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding more than 260 others.
On Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the bombings, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about the city’s grief in hemispheres: “We endured the night. Violence came to our city. To Boylston Street and Copley Square. And it felt like we knew everyone who was hurt everyone who was suffering.”
“We hurt too. And that hurt follows familiar routes,” Walsh continued. Through Dorchester, Somerville, and Medford, and across Boston University and MIT, he said, where the four people who allegedly killed by the brothers lived and worked.
“Our grief drew us a painful map,” he said.
But the map Walsh described didn’t include Norfolk Street in Cambridge, where the two suspects — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — shared a third-floor apartment with their family. It didn’t include Laurel or Franklin Streets in Watertown, where the brothers engaged in tense standoffs with police, resulting in Tamerlan’s death and Dzhokhar’s capture.
Walsh’s map didn’t include the residential streets where helicopters hovered for days, where SWAT officers searched homes, and officials gave press conferences in shopping mall parking lots.
It didn’t account for the communities still haunted, not only by the marathon bombings, but by the fear and suspense that followed the explosions.
“The bombing was more of a discrete event. It happened and it was over,” said Jennifer Greif Green, a child clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Education. “But then there was this threat that something else might happen, without people knowing how they might protect themselves or what the outcome might be.”
Around 4 a.m. on Friday, April 19, 2013, residents of Watertown were asked to shelter in place — a request that would later be extended to all of Boston and surrounding areas by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, citing a “massive manhunt underway.” Residents were told to lock their doors and not open them for anyone but law enforcement. In Watertown, officers in military gear and street clothes walked with guns drawn through backyards and across driveways.
When the order was called off around 6 p.m., police were still searching for one of the men believed responsible for carrying out an act of terror on the city’s most festive day.
“I think it was surprising to people just how terrified they were,” said Natalie Robinson, a therapist with the Boston Area Trauma Recovery Network. “That was where we lived. That’s our neighborhood. That’s not like being attacked in a public arena, but it’s where we thought we were safe. We’re Americans, and we’re not used to being in war — and it was a lot like being in a war.”
“Please Go Away”
In black-marker handwriting, on white paper, pinned with three tacks in primary colors, above the mailbox, next to the front door: “Nobody in this building has anything to say to journalists/reporters. Please go away.”
The three-story building is pale brown, like diluted mud. It’s a house behind a house — easy to miss if you didn’t know it was right there, on Cambridge’s Norfolk Street, the entrance to its pathway laid out underneath a rust-red garden arbor. In the summer, the archway is green and bountiful. On this Wednesday in April, it’s covered in twists of bare thorns. It’s said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the fitness buff, used to do pull-ups on these bars.
On Wednesday, a petite woman with thin gray hair lugged buckets of fertilizer from the side of the building to her black hatchback parked in front. She used a cart to pull the buckets over and all her strength to hoist them into the trunk. When asked if she needed help, she politely declined. She offered that she was just getting ready to leave the city for a few days, “going to the country, before…” She casually trailed off, focusing more on fitting the buckets in her car than explaining her motives to this stranger. She closed the trunk and walked back into the building. When she came out again, with a purse under her arm, the stranger identified herself as a reporter, who’d “love to ask you just a few questions about —” The woman kept walking, expression unchanged. She’d heard the line before. She buckled in and drove off.
What’s publicly known about life inside the Tsarnaev home comes largely from Alyssa Lindley Kilzer, a writer and yoga teacher who used to get facials from Zubeidat, the Tsarnaev matriarch. Last year, Kilzer wrote a Tumblr post — now deleted, but republished all the way from Fox News to Salon — about her time inside the apartment.
“The staircase was crowded with their shoes, the house filled with noises of arguing, cooking, etc.,” Kilzer wrote. “[Zubeidat] told me that she had cried for days when her oldest son, Tamerlan, told her that he wanted to move out, going against her culture’s tradition of the son staying in the house with the mother until marriage.”
Her descriptions of the brothers aligned with the widely accepted narrative: Dzhokhar seemed “nice and normal” — “always friendly to me and seemed easy going.” Tamerlan “wasn’t friendly.”
After the brothers’ names were released as suspects, hell broke loose on Norfolk Street. The New York Daily News released photos of the family’s “squalid existence” inside the apartment — there were messy piles of sports equipment and workout clothes, a door made of makeshift plywood, and unfinished meals on the kitchen table. And yet, “nothing overtly menacing was found,” the tabloid affirmed.
Over and over, neighbors told the swarming media they were shocked.
In one interview, Norfolk Street resident Larry Aaronson — a Cambridge Rindge and Latin School teacher who once taught Dzhokhar — described to Esquire’s Luke Dittrich — another former student — the chaos of the morning that police rapidly took over the block, evacuating him and all the other neighbors. There was fear the Tsarnaev apartment contained more explosive devices.
“The war hasn’t come home,” Aaronson told Dittrich. “It’s at my front fucking door.”
“It Was a Ghost Town”
One mile away, between two buildings on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly shot Sean Collier — the second stop on their manhunt tour. Later, the officer’s badge was etched onto a stone plaque and laid in a patch of grass and dirt, framed by flags and flowers and lanterns. The building next door has a “Collier Strong” or “MIT Strong” sign in every window on the first floor. Hundreds of people walk past the memorial every day; it’s become part of the campus landscape, however bizarre that landscape is, with MIT’s futuristic cartoon buildings, nondescript glass structures, and classic collegiate domes.
Cassie McLoud passes the memorial often on her way to work, a business on campus frequented by MIT Police. After Collier died, she said, the cops — normally upbeat and friendly with the staff — would come in “closed-mouthed, like they weren’t able to express their emotions.”
“I’m glad the memorial is here, but it’s also hard, because every day you walk by and remember, ‘Oh, the city was attacked,’” she said. A large, permanent memorial is set to be built in the newly named “Sean A. Collier Square” soon.
Emma Steinhardt, an sophomore who catches MIT’s shuttle bus near the memorial, said she doesn’t often think about what happened here last year.
“It’s not about the memory of a terrible thing that happened,” she said. “It’s about the memory of someone who gave their life to the school.”
Steinhardt grew up in Northern Virginia. Terrorism and other man-made disasters have been part of her life since childhood, she said; her dad was supposed to be on one of the planes hijacked on 9/11. When MIT enforced a lockdown, keeping Steinhardt in her dorm for three days, it reaffirmed her belief that “these things can happen anywhere.”
McLoud said she knew people who heard the gunshot that killed Collier. Steinhardt said she planned to take a run that night but changed her mind at the last minute; her normal route goes right through the area where he was shot. Though the two women felt the city’s grief over what happened at the marathon finish line, the bombings didn’t feel personal. And then the manhunt happened.
“There was just something unsettling about how the city shut down,” McLoud said. “It was a ghost town.”
Watching an “HBO Drama Starring My Neighborhood”
There are gawkers in Watertown, driving slowly to catch glimpses of the houses, making excruciating, uncertain turns down the narrow streets and up the hills of the New England city that calls itself a town.
They started coming the day after the manhunt ended, posing for photos beside stop signs. They still come today, to see the bullet holes and dried-up blood stains on Laurel Street and the house where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was caught on Franklin.
The influx of visitors slowed for a while, but the one-year anniversary has brought them back, Watertown Police Captain Raymond Dupuis said. David Henneberry, the man on Franklin Street who went out for a cigarette last April and found his boat cover sliced open by Tsarnaev, has been ordering reporters off his property this week.
Residents like Henneberry “just want to get back to normal,” Dupuis said. “They’ve kind of had enough of that. It’s all anyone’s talked about. I don’t think the town has really had a chance to heal yet.”
Right after the manhunt, Dupuis worked with neighbors on Laurel Street whose homes were damaged by the gunfight that ended with MBTA officer Dic Donohue shot — likely by friendly fire — and Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead, reportedly run over by his brother while he sped off in a stolen vehicle. Most insurance companies covered the damage to the homes, but residents still had to pay deductibles from $500 to $1,000, Dupuis said. The captain, a 31-year veteran of the force, organized the effort to get the city to pay between eight and 12 deductibles, he said.
Late last year, the National Lawyer’s Guild chapter in Massachusetts began hosting panels about the city’s response to the manhunt and the effect of the home searches and shelter-in-place order. Two of the four panels were held in Watertown — the first in November was attended by about 35 people, and the second in March was attended by about 55, said Urszula Masny-Latos, the chapter’s executive director.
“In our opinion, there has not been too much debate in public about what happened, and that everyone assumes the story that comes from law enforcement and government and media,” Masny-Latos said. “People feel oppressed if they have some doubts — they feel that they are in the minority, that there is no place for their doubts.”
Masny-Latos said many of the attendees brought stories of trauma; “You couldn’t avoid it,” she said. “Those who lived there could see SWAT teams, they could see tanks, they could see searches, hear helicopters the whole day.”
“One woman said that she tried to leave her home but she couldn’t because when she opened the door, someone pointed a gun at her, motioning to go back inside,” she said. “It was very traumatizing for people who are just living their lives, and suddenly they have so many police officers in military gear acting like an occupying force.”
The final forum, Mansy-Latos said, concluded with a group of Watertown residents saying they wanted to file a formal request that police do an independent investigation on “what really happened, why such incredible force was needed, and why [Dzhokhar] wasn’t actually found by police.” Mansy-Latos said the lawyer’s guild will not be involved with any investigation request; she doesn’t know whether the residents will move forward with the plan.
Last year, on Franklin Street, near the home where Dzhokhar was captured, residents echoed some of these concerns to BuzzFeed — that the suspect was only found after the shelter-in-place order was lifted, when Henneberry was allowed outside to smoke. One Watertown resident, who asked to remain anonymous, sent BuzzFeed a list of 44 questions and concerns about the manhunt. They ranged from “Why wasn’t a thorough search done on Franklin?” to, “If the Government wanted to keep us safe, they would be protecting us from Monsanto,” followed by videos and photos often circulated by Boston “truthers.”
Mansy-Latos noted that not all the residents who attended the panels questioned the police; there were some who expressed explicit support for all the local governments involved in the manhunt. And according to Dupuis, the Watertown Police Department hasn’t received a single complaint about the manhunt.
Avi Paul Weinstein, an artist who lives three blocks from where Dzhokhar was eventually found, said he was grateful the officers had a presence outside his home. While the inside of his home was never actually searched, an officer in SWAT gear came to the front door to check in. Weinstein filmed the encounter and later wrote about it.
“Considering the way things turned out, I did not feel like a prisoner in my home because of the SWAT teams, I felt like a prisoner because of the actions of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” he said at the time.
In an email to BuzzFeed, Weinstein said he doesn’t think the manhunt changed Watertown at all. But he feels a little different.
“I did feel traumatized by what happened. Partly because I allowed it to traumatize me,” he said. “I obsessively listened to the police scanners, I stayed up for over 40 hours straight. It felt like the most thrilling action movie I had ever seen. It was like binge-watching a new HBO drama starring my neighborhood. Plainclothes men in my backyard pointing their guns up at my windows. Gunshots and explosions down the street. [SWAT] teams knocking on my door. I mostly try to avoid any news related to the manhunt; I’m startled by how little interest I have in the aftermath, like with Dzhokhar’s trial. I just want to move on.”
Weinstein isn’t alone in this kind of trauma — some residents of Watertown said they have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We know that watching images of traumatic events can in and of itself be traumatizing, even if we don’t witness them directly,” said BU’s Jennifer Greif Green. “We know people who have high extended media exposure are more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress.”
That’s not to say everyone affected by the manhunt has PTSD, especially considering the shelter-in-place order affected nearly one million people. But for the significant number of people feeling traumatized, there hasn’t been a clear place for them to turn. The Massachusetts Office of Victim’s Assistance, for example, received an $8.3 million grant from the federal government to assist victims of the marathon bombing with trauma counseling, as well as physical, vocational, and other recovery services. But MOVA doesn’t offer services to people affected by the manhunt in Watertown, an official told BuzzFeed. On Marathon Monday, the city will provide counseling options, both on a hotline and in-person in Copley Square. There are no in-person programs, however, being offered in Watertown or Cambridge.
“Whether people were in Cambridge or Watertown or Boston, what happened was this trauma really shook peoples’ sense of security and safety,” Greif Green said. “Being re-exposed to reminders of the trauma can be very difficult for people.”
In Watertown, it’s for that reason Dupuis is hoping the anniversary of the manhunt and Monday’s 118th Boston Marathon move by quickly.
“The whole year, it just hasn’t stopped,” Dupuis said. “Once this year’s marathon is over, I think the town will start to finally move on.”