Watertown, a year after the Boston Marathon bombing

On the morning of Marathon Monday I woke up early, skipped the revelry and took the 57 bus to Watertown.

The Lowell Sun assigned me a story looking at the “mood” of the small city about a year after the Tsarnaev brothers led police officers on a manhunt and shootout through its narrow streets. The brothers had allegedly set off two bombs near the Marathon finish line a few days prior that killed three and wounded some 260 others.

This terrible incident brought Boston, the city I have called home for four years, together to mourn, to heal and to stay strong. But at the time I was 3,269 miles away in London watching it unfold on BBC, powerless and unable to grieve with my friends back home.

The following story was my way of finally healing. It was a way to talk with the people who were directly affected in the aftermath of the bombings. They have learned to move on and I have too.

After writing this story I headed with friends to the Marathon finish line to cheer on the charity runners that start filing through in the late afternoon. These are the people who have no chance of winning, but still decided to push their bodies to the limit to raise money for others. We should all hope to emulate them someday.

Year after Watertown chaos, life quietly goes on
By Chelsea Diana, Sun Correspondent


On the morning of Monday, April 21 Becky Hoffman plants peonies in her Franklin Street garden. Photo by Chelsea Diana.

WATERTOWN — While the world was turned toward Boston on Monday, life moved on in the quiet city of Watertown where, a year ago, SWAT teams and armored trucks moved through the neighborhood in search of the remaining Boston Marathon bombing suspect.

Becky Hoffman, a resident of Franklin Street where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was cornered and captured, spent the 118th Boston Marathon gardening, an annual tradition that she intends to continue.

“It really only affected our lives for a short time,” Hoffman said as she plotted plants. “And then they (the police and press) were gone.”

On April 19, 2013, four days after two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line killed three and wounded more than 260, suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev involved police in a gun battle in Watertown.

Tamerlan was killed, dragged under his brother’s car as he fled from police, but Dzhokhar escaped, leading to a daylong manhunt and shelter-in-place order for residents until he was captured that night in a boat stored in a Franklin Street backyard.

Hoffman, a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind, said while the neighborhood of restored 19th-century homes is more cautious and likely to lock their doors, day-to-day life continues.

“The neighborhood came together for a big block party to celebrate and from there I think we all moved on,” Hoffman said.

It was about a month before the FBI and the large press presence left, as media outlets from as far as Sweden and Russia convened on the neighborhood to capture atmosphere.

“The policemen didn’t bother you but they were there and that was weird,” Hoffman said. “We wanted it to go away.”

But soon after, life went back to normal, Hoffman said.

“We haven’t seen as many people go by lately,” Hoffman said. “At first we had people say, ‘Where’s the house, where’s the house’ (where Dzhokhar was captured) and some people got annoyed by that but we really weren’t.”

All was equally quiet along the shaded sidewalks of Laurel Street, where the Tsarnaev brothers led police on a manhunt and firefight last year.

The only memory of the struggle was a small patch of yellow flowers lined with American flags at the corner of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue.

Jim, a resident of Laurel Street, who asked to keep his last name anonymous, said the car chase shocked the small neighborhood.

“It was surprising,” he said “You don’t usually get this much excitement around here.”

Jim was forced to leave his home for nine days, which was directly in front of where Tamlerlan was dragged by his brother’s car, as the FBI conducted their investigation.

Mike, a friend of Jim’s who lived down the street and also asked to keep his last name anonymous, said he was woken up by the commotion and at first thought the gunfire was teens setting off firecrackers.

But once he heard the sirens and helicopters he knew something bigger was happening.

“A bullet went through the window and hit the TV in the first-floor apartment in my building,” Mike said. “We were lucky no one was hit.”

While the shellshock passed, it was the media circus after the events that halted the healing process.

“I was waiting for park rangers to come give tours,” Jim said.

Despite the calm on Laurel and Franklin streets, it was unusually busy Monday morning at The Diner at 11 North Beacon St. in Watertown. The cozy diner, which seats about 50 people, was bustling as families and friends ate breakfast before going to cheer on the Boston Marathon runners.

A woman in a “Boston Strong” T-shirt walked into the diner. “It’s a beautiful day,” she said as she took a seat at her usual table.

“It’s just such a nice neighborhood,” said Robert Vercollone, another resident of 21 Franklin St. “We’re really fortunate to be here.”

The house on Franklin Street where the younger Tsarnaev brother was found hiding in a covered boat similar to the new one that stands in the driveway. Photo by Chelsea Diana.

The house on Franklin Street where the younger Tsarnaev brother was found hiding in a covered boat similar to the new one that stands in the driveway. Photo by Chelsea Diana.

At a turn in the road toward the end of Franklin Street sits the white house where David Henneberry spotted Dzhokhar hiding out in his boat.

After the old one was ruined and confiscated by the FBI, a new boat stands in the driveway, thanks to a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign that helped Henneberry raise $50,000 to buy a new one.

“How the FBI didn’t find him (Dzhokhar) in the boat is a mystery to me,” said Hoffman, pointing to the wooded area where he likely ran through. “How is that possible?”

(This article originally appeared in The Lowell Sun and can be found online here.)