On April 15, Ethan Long was at the Boylston street bar Forum, photographing Boston.com’s Marathon Monday party – the same party Chris Faraone was also en route to at the time of the bombings. The bar was just feet away from the explosions; in fact, the bar still closed now due to damage from the bombs. In Long’s final Staff Editorial for his college paper, the Suffolk Journal, he wrote, “It had never once crossed my mind that I would be spending my last night on the staff of the Suffolk Journal, as its editor-in-chief, after almost 100 issues, covering a terrorist attack which, if I was fifteen feet closer to the street…who knows.” Long’s Journal editorial ran on April 17, but even after it was published, he continued following the story: meticulously following the “find Boston Bombers” Reddit, jumping in a car with friends towards Watertown on the night of the manhunt, later waiting around with the Arsenal Mall with the national media, and then just generally trying to make sense of the psychological damage caused when one is so close to something so tragic. Here, Long picks up where he left off in his Journal piece, which you can read here.
On the night of April 15, I stayed at the Journal until 11pm, trying to find solace in the newspaper office in Beacon Hill.
“Today was a fucked up day so let’s make it right!” one of my roommates said when I got home, handing me a beer. I wasn’t ready to drink yet. I didn’t think I could emotionally handle it, plus I had work in the morning. But still, this was the healthiest thing that could have happened.
We stood out on the porch discussing the day’s events, corroborating stories and rumors. Connected fire at JFK/UMass, explosion at Boylston -- all rumors. Our electronic devices were mainly off. It was imperative that we look at each other and not our screens.
The dialogue from that night would become the groundwork for the various questions I would try to answer throughout the week. One question in particular would be answered when news broke that an apartment in Revere was being searched. “Do I want to watch more?” The news was turned on, and immediately a divide was created. Some didn’t want to watch anymore, while others were very curious. I was curious, but within minutes, ended up face-first on my bed only to awake hours later.
Tuesday April 16
I tried to force my eyes open. For the first time since I was at Forum, I put on music.
“Where do bad folks go when they die? They don’t go to heaven where the angels fly,”blasted the voice of Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets.
I rode the bus to work. The night before, I had to put together my final Suffolk Journal after five years and almost 100 issues. A day I had waited forever to get to.
I arrived on Beacon Hill around 12:30PM, with a meeting at 1PM. I walked into the Derne St. Deli like any other day and ordered an egg and cheese sandwich. I turned around and of course, on the television was either Deval Patrick or Ed Davis or – I can’t remember who, but you get the deal.
My body quickly started to heat up, so I stood in the corner of the room, with both index fingers plugged tightly trying not to hear the words “marathon,” “bombing,” or “Copley.” With sweat trickling down the sides of my face, I walked down Temple St before I heard my name being called.
“You were there, huh?” asked Suffolk’s Interfaith Center chaplain, Rev. Amy Fisher, who had seen my semi-freakout in the small restaurant.
This last production would start with a silent prayer, where the names of the three dead were mentioned. It was a solemn but nice way to start what would become our best issue.
That day, and eventual night/morning, was the most painful production night I had ever put myself through. It needed to happen, but at that point I was sick of seeing images of dismembered bodies and the faces of those who had yet been identified. We put it to bed around 6 a.m.
Wednesday, April 17.
The sub-Reddit /r/findbostonbombers had gone live.
I had fallen asleep four hours before as the sun peaked through my Eastern window. I could hear birds chirp as I tried to force my eyes open for the second time this week, resulting in physically using my fingers to hold the eyelids. I stared at my phone which had way too many messages to filter through, opting to answer only my mother and Alex Pearlman, who needed me at the Globe so I could upload my photos from Monday. I told her I had class -- a class which I had been in danger of failing. I had 40 minutes to get to the OneBeacon skyscraper downtown where “Boston’s Historic Houses” was being taught, and I made it with 10 minutes to spare.
It was within that hour that my brain first thought about potential damage -- but even now I haven’t had it checked. I really don’t think there’s a reason to -- although 80 percent of vets who had been close to IED explosions have received minor brain damage. Perhaps I’m arrogant in thinking I’m alright, but I had too many things to do. After five years of college, I needed to complete my work. I couldn’t fail now. I didn’t realize just how hard this would be over the next two weeks, where even putting in citations to a paper would take me at least triple the time it normally would. Focus would become the bane of my existence.
I spoke to a classmate of mine who had served two tours in Afghanistan and had held his friend’s dead body after a mission went south. Along with ways he’s dealt with post-traumatic stress, he told me “I can promise you, it will get better.”
This wouldn’t be the last time somebody would tell me this.
Halfway through class my mind was going in every direction. I had started freewriting before receiving a text that Pearlman and Carly Carioli were en route to bring me to the Globe. We sat in Carly’s car as news broke that a suspect was being transported to the federal court by Fan Pier. I plugged the aux cable for the car’s stereo system into my phone and launched the police scanner app I would become so fond of over the next few days.
Eventually, one officer spoke: “There is a rumor that we have a suspect in custody, know that this is false information.”
My first experience being in the Globe building down by BC High would be during one of the paper’s most trying weeks. The newsroom was in full swing, and while my photos were being processed and looked through, I sat at the front desk with my former roommate Jeff. Jeff’s job is to answer the phones.
“Yes sir, we’re aware. No sir, we don’t think that’s anything to look into,” he spoke before hanging up. Jeff turned to me with eyes rolling, before telling me that the caller “saw ‘silhouette man.’” Yes, silhouette man was one of the various “suspects” that Reddit had turned up. Look at any roof in Boston where someone is standing. There -- you have “silhouette man,” an average Bostonian breaking the law and standing on their building’s roof to get a better view. Not much follow-up there. Speculative calls were being fielded all day.
Thursday, April 18.
I don’t remember much of anything before the press conference. I remember browsing Reddit, since /r/findbostonbombers had become a huge resource where image-dumps were being searched by users from all ends of the world; their own experiences and points-of-view giving extra knowledge towards “suspects” (i.e. anyone with a backpack.) Collectively, these people had more manpower and ideas than the FBI, although the FBI would be making an announcement shortly with their findings.
There were a few people over my house grilling in the backyard, including Alex Pearlman. Her roommate and longtime friend had a conversation with me on Tuesday where I had mentioned that I felt like popping in The Empire Strikes Back to lift my mood. To her, this became a mission. To me, it became an annoyance as I continued to work, trying to find anything I could before the FBI released photos of the suspects.
“I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself.”
We sat on my bed watching the live feed as I started to scour every photo, every background, every face, and every piece of clothing.
In the foreground, a woman rings a marathon bell from the Forum patio. Above her wrist, in the deep background, was “Suspect #1” walking from the second blast site, to the first. This photo would be taken eight minutes before the blast. My hands shook. To add to the list of people I have taken photos of: Barack Obama, Fat History Month, Sufjan Stevens, Ed Davis, and now, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
We called the Globe and then I decided to post the photo to Reddit. It would be the first user-generated image of one of the suspects. Karma ensued, but what really mattered to me at that point was that these fuckers be caught. In the end, all that came out of that photo was the brand of hat Tamerlan was wearing. It does prove, however, that he and his brother at one point distanced themselves from each other. Jahar was right behind me when I took that photo, most likely watching his brother in the distance. Martin Richard was to my right.
“It’s only a matter of hours now before they get them,” I told Alex Pearlman and my roommate Mark Florentine.
Pearlman drove off as I watched Reddit blow up. The night drew on, and at about 11:00 PM, I had received a tip that the two suspects were living on the corner of Linden Street and Brighton Avenue in Allston, a couple blocks from my house. Florentine and I walked as fast as we could, deciding to go through Highgate Street, and, at 11:30PM ended up in front of the Hess station, pretending to wait for the 57 bus while we awaited police action. That never came. It was a false report. However, this has now been timed out to around the same time that the Tsarnaev brothers carjacked a vehicle two blocks away from this spot.
We walked to the Silhouette Lounge, where Florentine scrounged up enough money to buy a pitcher. My phone was dying, so I looked around the room. I spoke to Liz Pelly and Ali Carter for a bit before going outside to smoke a cigarette. Waiting in line were two nurses from the children’s hospital, who stated that they had never seen anything like they did on Monday. I thanked them before going back inside. During the next cigarette break, Florentine and I leaned up against the world’s only Joe Piscopo mural. Sirens became louder as 15 or so cars, some unmarked, some state, and some BPD, raced through Union Square and down North Beacon Street.
Something had happened.
I quickly turned on my dying phone to see that there was a car chase happening from Kendall, where an MIT police officer had been shot, to Watertown, where they were throwing grenades out of a car.
We immediately agreed to get out there, and as Florentine dashed to a car, I, slowly, went to urinate behind Harvard Avenue. As I walked in front of O’Briens, I stopped and heard the blasts in the distance. You could hear them getting louder and louder.
I was being heckled but didn’t notice it, as some drunk dude and a few women laughed. I looked at them, and asked, “can you hear that?”
They heard it too.
“They’re bombing Watertown,” I shouted. “Tell the bartender to turn on the news.”
I heard a ‘beep’ behind me, and before long we were going 65MPH down Arsenal Street as I tried to learn how to use my roommate’s fully charged iPhone.
Of course, by the time we reached the Arsenal Mall area, the police had already set up a perimeter and asked us to turn around, which we of course were forced to comply with.
The adrenaline was in full effect as I felt normal for the first time since Tuesday night -- I was doing what I knew, trying to report the news. I started to message Carioli through Facebook with anything I could really. I also dictated a lot of information to the Suffolk Journal staff through our Facebook chat room. They relayed it all over Twitter.
We parked right on Nichols Street and walked to the perimeter at Quimby, a block away from the shootout on Dexter Avenue. The police had at least one suspect in custody, although we had no clue his status at the time.
As we stood there, a person on the street was told to put his hands up and against a parked car. A police officer told the media to get back because he could have explosives on him. As we stood waiting, a group of kids told me that they knew him, his name was Manny, and that they were on their way home from a bar downtown before being stopped on the way. This was the extent of it -- of course the police officers were paranoid. It would be a few days before they revealed that there wasn’t enough manpower to hold the perimeter.
The next hour or so was a waiting game before they told the media to meet at the State Police Barracks on Soldiers Field Road.
Florentine and I didn’t quite know where we were going, but the detour of driving around Watertown offered up a sight that was unmatched in our lives at that point. There was a full-on manhunt happening, with police vehicles speeding 80MPH up and down the Memorial Drive bike path and through Watertown Square. There were checkpoints being set up as we blew right past them to the barracks. Once there, we were told to head to the lamest place possible: The Watertown Mall. Yes, the Target with a three-store “mall” attached to it would normally only be visited if you’re trying to get your driver’s license renewed at the oddly-placed RMV, was now populated by the national media. Countless cameras, technicians, journalists, and police populated Arsenal Street. MBTA busses full of officers were staged at the Arsenal Mall across the street. It was madness.
Ed Davis crossed the parking lot and the lights went up. Every person raced to be in front while CNN and Fox News cameramen rudely smashed their heavy equipment onto local journalists’ heads while yelling “you’re in my fucking way! I’m trying to get a clear shot!”
I was on my knees under all the others with a piece of paper and pencil out. I was most likely the youngest person there at 22, and learned quickly that, yes, this is what happens when the national media invades your territory.
I couldn’t even find Garrett Quinn, who had been at the perimeter when the media was still in double digits, instead of the thousands seemingly in the parking lot. Now, the money-hungry hippos of cable news were having shouting matches over Commissioner Davis.
This is when I called it quits. I needed out. I needed to get my mind off of the entire week, and I had done as much as I could.
I had work in the morning, albeit from home.
While on the way home, we were stopped at more checkpoints than at any other point that night. By this time, the sun was rising and the city had been put into a shelter-in-place, which is not Marshall Law. The warning was more of that when Blizzard Nemo stopped by: “Hey...you can go out, no one’s gonna stop you -- there’s really nothing to do except be in danger...”
We got home and the owner of the iPhone I had been using yelled at us. “You were supposed to be back in fifteen minutes, not seven hours! I have work in an hour!”
“No you don’t dude,” I said to him, a Home Depot at the Arsenal Mall employee. “Your work is the country’s largest staging area right now.”
Friday, April 19
The next day, I had pretty much the same experience as everyone else. I was able to grab Dunkin’ Donuts before it became cop-only. I sat at my computer figuring out whether or not our synagogue would have services that night. We sat around until the shelter-in-place was lifted.
In true Boston fashion, everyone went to the beer store. And, it seems, as soon as residents returned to their homes, shots were fired in Watertown. It was like a prime time television event.
We listened to the FBI on the police scanners. As I understand it, they wanted to blow-up the boat, but the BPD officers on the scanner were strictly against that. The people of Boston wanted answers. We wanted him alive to be able to tell his side of this story.
People celebrated, like Florentine, who went to Mission Hill with thousands of others. I walked down Harvard Ave, which seemed like any other night. I came home, played NBA2K13, and passed out for the first full night’s sleep all week.