“The seemingly quiet overnight shift suddenly turned into a warzone… Police officers were attacked with guns and bombs and it happened on a quiet backstreet in my community.”
That’s how Watertown Chief of Police Edward Deveau described the early hours of April 19, four days after three people were killed in a dual bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A few hours before, the FBI had released images of two men they suspected were behind the bombing, later identified as brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Authorities say after their photos were splashed across news outlets worldwide, the Tsarnaevs panicked. The brothers had already allegedly murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier, but now they hijacked a car, keeping the driver hostage for a time and made their way to Watertown, a suburb to Boston’s west.
Watertown Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese said he first realized there was trouble when he heard over the radio that his fellow officers were on the trail of a carjacking. A few minutes later, he learned from a radio call that the first shots had been fired at officers pursuing the stolen car.
Deveau said that another one of his officers, Joseph Reynolds, was the first to confront the carjackers. No one in the Watertown police department – all 65 officers total -- knew the call they were answering was linked to the Boston bombing.
Reynolds, Deveau said, “had no idea what he was up against.”
Deveau, along with Pugliese, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and Harvard Professor Herman Leonard, gave his account today as he testified before the House Homeland Security Committee, days ahead of the first anniversary of the marathon bombing.
Reynolds took fire, as did the next officer on the scene, who arrived just in time to meet a bullet flying through his windshield and right by his ear, Deveau said. The next officer too was immediately shot at.
By the time Pugliese, a cop of more than 30 years and an Army veteran, arrived on the scene he “heard gunfire and exited my vehicle.”
“Within moments, I heard an explosion,” Pugliese said. Authorities would later say that the Tsarnaevs had fashioned several homemade explosive devices, which they lobbed at police through the firefight. The NY Post reported some 250 bullets were fired in the exchange.
“I advanced to the area where the other officers were taking cover and returning gunfire. The suspects were eventually taken into custody. I’m not at liberty to go into minute detail into the incident, as one of the suspects is still awaiting trial,” Pugliese said.
Pugliese had skipped over perhaps the most dramatic part – that somehow in the chaos Pugliese became the one who was attempting to physically detain Tamerlan Tsarnaev when Dzhokhar ran his brother over in a car during his escape.
“After a grueling exchange of fire, he came within six feet of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and eventually chased the suspect, tackles him to the ground, leaving him time to rush those hurt in the scene to the hospital,” Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., said, describing Pugliese’s actions.
Medical examiners would later say Tamerlan Tsarnaev died of blunt trauma to the head and torso as well as multiple gunshot wounds.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wounded in the firefight but managed to escape temporarily. He was later caught hiding in a boat, injured and bleeding.
Dzhokhar has been charged with 30 counts related to the marathon bombing and Collier’s death and could face the death penalty if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Chief Deveau said that had the brothers not been stopped in Watertown, they were planning to head to Times Square in New York City to detonate more explosive devices.
“The handful of Watertown officers on duty that night acted heroically and defended Watertown without regard for their personal safety,” Deveau said. “For eight and a half minutes, we were the best damn police department in the world.”