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Watertown police discuss terror shootout with residents at forum

Posted by Your Town  May 29, 2013 10:30 PM

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More than a month after two suspected terrorists drove into Watertown, sparked a gunfight with police that killed one of the suspects and a massive manhunt that eventually led to the other’s capture, residents in the community are still looking for answers about the choices law enforcement agencies made and how events unfolded on April 19.

Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau assured the more than 150 residents who attended a community forum on Wednesday night, organized by the Watertown Police Foundation, that the answers would eventually come after an investigation was completed. But he also tried to calm skittish residents who wondered why the Boston Marathon bombing suspects decided to drive to Watertown in the first place.

“I don’t think it was random,” Deveau said about why the suspects came to Watertown.

Law enforcements agencies are still trying to piece together the lives of suspected terrorists and brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Deveau told those gathered at Watertown High School.

But, “we’re a safe community,” Deveau said.

After 12 a.m. on April 19, the Tsarnaev brothers drove into Watertown after allegedly killing a police officer and carjacking a sport-utility vehicle in Cambridge. In the 18 hours that followed, Watertown police and other law enforcement agencies traded a volley of gunfire with the suspected terrorists, officers from tactical units knocked on doors throughout East Watertown looking for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and residents were asked to stay inside their homes.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died after being shot by police and then run over by his younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, while he was trying to escape. Dzhokhar was captured that evening in a boat parked behind a house on Franklin Street after a massive manhunt.

Residents had both praise and questions for local police. Those who had questions said they were disappointed that the police could not speak in more detail during Wednesday’s forum, but understood that there was still an active investigation.

Liza Ketchum lives about three blocks from where the shooting took place, but there was gunfire along her street, too, and she was not sure why. The answer to that question will have to wait, Ketchum said.

Still, the forum was “a nice chance to thank everybody,” she said.

Deveau said the Watertown Police Department is involved in a comprehensive national debriefing, funded entirely by Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to study officers’ ability to gather intelligence and pinpoint what went right, and what did not.

“Did everything go perfect?” Deveau said. “I’ll be the first one to say no. ... We got the job done.”

Officers were put in an unprecedented situation and had to make quick decisions, he pointed out.

“No police officer in America has ever been put in a situation like this -- where they were shot at and had bombs thrown at them,” Deveau said of the confrontation between authorities and the brothers. “We’ll use it as a guide, and learn from it.”

Among the questions still left unanswered, although not brought up at Wednesday’s forum, is how MBTA Transit Officer Richard H. Donohue Jr. was shot. Donohue was among the dozen officers from four departments initially on the scene in Watertown. He was struck in the right groin area by a bullet that severed his femoral artery.

Eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that he was shot and nearly killed by a fellow officer during an exchange of up to 300 rounds of gunfire with Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The shootout is under investigation. But Donohue, who still has the bullet inside him, has said that he is not bothered that the injury may be a case of friendly fire.

“If it was friendly fire, it was friendly fire,” Donohue has said. “We got the job done and the other suspect got captured shortly thereafter, so I’m just happy with that.”

As the entire region waits for answers, Deveau said Watertown police officers and their families still have plenty of healing to do.

National stress counselors from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives talked to local officers and their children and spouses for five days and will continue to have conversations with them, Deveau said.

“We still have a lot of healing to do, and will need your support in the coming weeks, months, and years,” Deveau told the community. “We would hate to lose this dialogue with the town six months from now.”

Deveau noted that residents’ kindness to officers and their wearing the police-specific “Watertown Strong” shirts has uplifted the department.

“We’re on the map, and we’re on the map for a good reason,” he said.

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