'We're not getting bullied anymore'
The eyes of the world were on the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, and Manchester Police Department's SWAT team was right in the thick of it.
The call came around 11 a.m. Friday from Boston police, according to Officer Nate Boudreau, who is co-leader of the Manchester SWAT team and training coordinator for the New Hampshire Tactical Officers Association.
"This isn't your everyday SWAT call," he said. "This was something you don't say no to."
Greater Boston was on the alert for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who along with his brother, Tamerlan, was suspected of setting off two bombs at the finish line of Monday's Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 170. Tamerlan died early Friday after a shootout with police in Watertown, Mass., but Dzhokhar was able to get away.
For three years, the Manchester team has trained with Boston police to respond to major incidents through the "Urban Shield" program.
This time the emergency was real: a manhunt was under way in Watertown and Boston needed Manchester's help. On the way down, Boudreau told his team they were a part of history.
"Not too many people in the United States get to defend their own turf like we did," he said. "Normally, that's a military function. We were able to participate in that and succeed at that."
Sgt. Brandon Murphy, co-leader of the Manchester SWAT team, had Friday off and was getting ready to stain his deck when he got the call.
By 1 p.m., 12 Manchester SWAT team members and three vehicles were in Watertown. "We went down there to do whatever was asked of us," Boudreau said. "I would have handed out water to other SWAT guys."
They were tasked with searching for the alleged bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
"Boston P.D. had been working for 18 hours straight and they needed relief, so we took over for Boston P.D. and they gave us a grid," Boudreau said. "They called it the 'hot zone.'"
"This was the zone where Suspect 2 had abandoned his vehicle and fled ... he was hunkered down."
Their mission: To search every house in seven city blocks, looking for the 19-year-old accused with his older brother of bombing the marathon last Monday. "We probably checked between 50 to 60 houses or more," Boudreau said.
With each knock on a door, they braced for a gunfight, he said. "That was the expectation, every house we went to: He was going to be there."
And each time, "We were surprised and disappointed that he wasn't."
Why disappointed? "Because ... anybody there would have liked to have been the guy or the team who found the person who destroyed so many lives and basically put a city on its knees for a brief moment."
Murphy said the area they were searching was close to where the two suspects had been in a shootout with police Thursday night. "We had a good idea there was a strong possibility he was hunkered in a back yard," he said. "The intel was that he was wounded."
Then there was the fact that the Marathon bombers had already used explosives to kill and maim innocent civilians.
"You have to consider that if you come into contact with him, he's going to have a charge on him, and how are you going to deal with that," Murphy said.
"You think about the larger things, too; if they had a vehicle that was full of fertilizer. There's a lot of things that go through your head."
But he said, "Ultimately, you're going to go out there and you're going to search and try to find this guy. You put the rest of the stuff in the back of your mind and go do it."
The Manchester team leaders coordinated the efforts of their own officers and SWAT team members from Lawrence, Mass., and, later on, the Seacoast (N.H.) Emergency Response Team. They had just finished clearing the last street when they heard gunshots very close by.
Then came word the suspect was pinned down in a boat in a back yard, just outside the search grid.
Murphy said that news actually had "a calming effect" on him. "At least you have him in a location now. He's not in this huge area that you've been searching."
And with all the police in the area, he said, "He's not going anywhere."
The Manchester team headed at once to the command center; the Boston SWAT team was back on duty and had responded to the boat. A special Hostage Rescue Team from the FBI out of Quantico was also dispatched to the scene, Boudreau said.
"They got a high vantage point of him through helicopters, so they constantly could see the person in the boat," he said. The suspect was alive and moving, he said, but "had a substantial injury."
"He never stood up. He never challenged anybody, per se," Boudreau said.
"They did a great deal of negotiation with him."
Police cleared all radio traffic while the negotiations were going on, Boudreau said. "But it was probably about 20 minutes and we got the 'suspect in custody' call."
There were hugs and handshakes among the officers at the command center. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino stopped by to congratulate them all, and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis personally thanked the Manchester team.
Boudreau said he's glad the suspect was captured alive; he may be able to answer questions surrounding the allegations against the brothers, including those pertaining to possible motives, and whether they were working with a terror group.
"There's so many pieces, having this guy alive, that are so crucial to national security, New England security, and peace of mind for a victim."
On the way home, the Manchester officers stopped for dinner at the Chateau Restaurant off Interstate 93.
"There was a standing ovation for us," Boudreau said. "Multiple people came up to us, thanked us, hugged us."
The other diners also picked up their tab. "It was pretty humbling," he said.
"Just being acknowledged by people. We weren't even in New Hampshire yet. It was Massachusetts people that took it on themselves to personally thank us and hug us."
Team members were also touched by how residents of Watertown responded to the police searching their neighborhood. One elderly woman told the Manchester officers she had been hiding behind her couch for hours.
"We went in, we cleared her apartment, her basement," Boudreau said. "She didn't want us to leave. She wanted to make us dinner. It was so amazing."
Murphy said the threat of terrorism has always been real to him; he has a brother in the military who's on his third tour in Afghanistan. But he said, "This personalizes it because it's so close.
"There's people from this state who were there at the Boston Marathon who had been the victims of that violence. It personalizes it because now you've been summoned and you're looking for the guy."
For Boudreau, the experience was life-changing. "For us to have been able to defend our own area of the country, and the country, on something like this was huge," he said.
It also made the threat of terrorism very real, he said. "It is right here living amongst us, even in little New England."
But just as important, he said, is how law enforcement and civilians alike responded to what happened.
"We're not getting bullied anymore. We know it's here and people are doing the right things, making the phone calls.
"And basically, we've taken that stand now."