THE BLOG
10/24/2013 09:50 am ET Updated Dec 24, 2013

18 Hours: Lingering Questions Surround Boston Marathon Watertown Shootout

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When explosions rocked the Boston Marathon finish line six months ago this month, it was hard for many in this area to imagine the world would ever be the same. Since then, WGBH News has been taking a closer look at the events of that memorable and deadly Friday in Cambridge and Watertown. This is the first of four stories in an ongoing series.

In between the Marathon bombings and the arrest of a suspect hiding in a boat, 18 hours will be frozen in our collective memories. This timeline tells just part of the story:

On Thursday April 18th at 5:07pm, the FBI release photographs of bombing suspects number one and number two with a warning to the public from Richard DesLauriers, FBI Special Agent in Charge: "We consider them to be armed and extremely dangerous. No one should approach them. No one should attempt apprehend them except law enforcement."

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At 10:10 pm a Seven Eleven store in Cambridge is robbed. Ten minutes later Cambridge police respond to a report of shots fired on the MIT campus followed by a frantic cry over the police scanner.

"Officer down, officer down".

At 10:31pm, MIT Officer Sean Collier is fighting for his life after being shot multiple times while sitting in his cruiser. Fellow officers rush to his side trying to stem the bleeding.
Initially, Police think the 7/11 robbery and MIT shooting are related. It turns out they are not. But the immediate question: could either crime be connected to the marathon bombing manhunt?

Just past midnight on Friday, April 19, Watertown police spot the Mercedes and a green sedan driven by the Tsarnaev brothers in the vicinity of Dexter Avenue. They chase both cars as improvised bombs are being thrown. By 12:38 a.m., Watertown police are engaged in a furious shootout with the suspects near the intersection of Dexter and Laurel Streets. Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau calls for backup.

Eight minutes later, local resident Andrew Kitzenberg is watching the shootout from the third floor of 62 Laurel Street. He documents the gunfight with his smartphone.

"I saw two men taking cover behind a dark SUV and they were shooting down Laurel Street towards officers and I couldn't make out any true details because it was complete darkness out, but I could see two individuals kind of crouching and firing down the street, and I also had the vantage point of seeing at the end of the block the officers and there looked like there were about four or five vehicles at the end of Laurel Street,"Kitzenberg said of that night.

2013-10-24-IMG_1471.JPG Suspects firing behind stolen Mercedes SUV, photo by Andrew Kitzenberg

WGBH News has spoken with police -- on and off the record -- eyewitnesses, and a police policy expert trying to get answers to what happened that night, from Cambridge to Watertown.

Watertown resident Mike Doucette looked out from his house on Laurel Street just a few feet from where police were exchanging gunfire with the suspects on the night of April 19. He said officers that night saved lives.

"They're heroes in my mind," he said.

But now, six months later Doucette wonders if the gunfight could have played out differently.
"The whole shoot out was pretty wild,"he said. "Bullets were flying everywhere. Every one of these houses was hit by something. I mean, they could have had more control over what they were shooting at, maybe."

Among the many unanswered questions: Why were so many bullets fired into homes -- and could this have been avoided? At least a dozen homes were hit by bullets in Watertown that night, including that of Andy Fehlner and his wife, Michelle Smith, who woke up to the sound of explosions and gunfire.

"Something was dropping in the house and it was something I never heard before," Fehlner said. "And then we picked these items up that were flying in our house and we realized pretty quickly that they're bullets. And all of them were coming from that side of the house, so we ran and grabbed the kids because the bullets were coming very close to their bed."

Fehlner said one bullet came within 12 inches of his toddler's bed. WGBH--mapping out the area where Fehlner's house is located and where police stood that evening-- determined that the bullets could only have come from police firing from behind squad cars near the intersection at Dexter and from behind a thin tree on Laurel.

Many of the bullets that struck homes after Tamerlan Tsarnaev went down were fired by police -- most from departments outside Watertown, according to confidential law enforcement sources. The intended target: the stolen SUV driven by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he tried to escape.

Police argue the circumstances in Watertown necessitated extreme action, but we wondered whether proper police protocol was followed. Boston Police policy states:

"Officers who find it necessary, under the provisions of this rule, to discharge firearms shall exercise due care for the safety of persons and property in the area and shall fire only when reasonably certain that there is no substantial risk to bystanders." Similar policies apply to Watertown, Cambridge and the Massachusetts State Police

Kitzenberg said his roommate got up from his desk chair just moments before a bullet came through the wall of his apartment. "It had penetrated the wall and the desk chair clean through," he said.

Another lingering question: Who shot Massachusetts Transit police officer Richard Donohue?

It's a question that is shrouded in complexity -- like the circumstances of the night itself, where police were responding to dangerous individuals, yet, through their actions, albeit inadvertently, placed scores of residents in danger.

We will examine that in Part Two of our series:
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Next: Self-Deployment' may have caused confusion during Boston Marathon bombing
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Series co-produced by James Edwards and Hilary Sargent

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Standing guard in Boston following bombing
Photo by Phillip Martin

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Richard DesLauriers of the FBI
Photo by Phillip Martin

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