Just after midnight on April 19, Watertown Police Officer Joe Reynolds received a BOLO (be on the lookout) order for a carjacked black Mercedes SUV. When he passed a car matching that description a few minutes later on Dexter Ave., making eye contact with the driver, he called it in, turned around, and began a cautious pursuit. He knew from the dispatch that the suspect had a gun.
Reynold’s sergeant had informed him not to stop the vehicle until backup arrived, so when the Mercedes turned left down Laurel St. he followed–but at a slow pace. He tried not to spook the driver, but the suspect apparently knew he was being followed.
“He stopped his vehicle, and I was about 10-15 yards away,” Reynolds recalled to msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word Tuesday. “And Tamerlan [Tsarnaev] jumped out and he just started walking toward my cruiser and started firing at me.”
Officer Reynolds knows only in hindsight that the suspect was Tamerlan Tsarnaev. At the time, the man was only a nameless carjacker shooting at his cruiser. Reynolds put his car in reverse and backed 30 yards away from the barrage.
That’s when Sergeant John Macellan arrived on scene. As he put his own cruiser in park, a round burst through the windshield. He ducked down behind the console and tried to unlock the container which held his AR15, but, as he discovered, high adrenaline can impair fine motor skills, and his attempts to retrieve the long-arm from its cage were unsuccessful. Macellan did the next best thing: he put the cruiser in drive, got out, and let the vehicle roll toward the Tsarnaevs, hoping they would waste rounds on the decoy. That’s exactly what Tamerlan did.
Between Officer Reynolds and Sergeant Macellan, they had 67 bullets. Reynolds expended his first magazine of 13 rounds in ”about eight seconds.” The rest of their ammo was dwindling. Macellan took cover behind a tree that barely covered him, and verbally coordinated with Reynolds, who was behind a nearby fence.
They were waiting for backup when Reynolds saw an object coming at them through the air. “Sarge, we have to move!” he said. Seconds later, the object exploded.
“I’ll never forget that big explosion that went off there,” said Officer Miguel Colon, who arrived on the scene in the middle of the chaotic exchange. “It’s a dark street as it is, and the whole area just lit up. And everything–a huge cloud of white smoke covered the whole area…My only fear was that they were using [the bombs] to advance on us.”
But the Tsarnaevs remained at their position by the car.
The next on the scene was Sergeant Jeff Pugliese, who was finishing paperwork at the precinct when he heard news of the pursuit. He left to aid in what he thought was a routine chase. On his way to Laurel St., he heard the dispatch which reported shots fired. “I covered the last mile and a half in thirty seconds,” he said.
Pugliese arrived during the firefight and quickly identified his fellow sergeant and two officers. He made the decision to flank the suspects, and cut across Laurel St. backyards, hopping over fences, to arrive about 25 feet to the left of the Tsarnaevs. He took careful aim and fired; nothing connected. From his vantage, he could see feet moving under the Mercedes on its opposite side. He tried ricocheting some bullets off the ground; still nothing. Then Tamerlan spotted him.
The older Tsarnaev brother ran toward Pugliese, coming within 6-8 feet, according to the sergeant. Both men fired at each other. Both men had to pause: Pugliese for a reload, Tamerlan because of some kind of malfunction.
Pugliese recalled what happened next: “[Tamerlan] looked at his gun, then threw it at me–hit me in the left bicep here–turned, ran back down the driveway to the street, took a left, running toward the other officers that were on scene. And I holstered up and chased after him and tackled him.”
Miraculously, not one of Tamerlan’s rounds hit Sergeant Pugliese. No one can be sure who hit Tamerlan Tsarnaev, or when, but after Pugliese cuffed him with the help of Sergeant Macellan and Officer Reynolds, they found out he had been hit by nine rounds.
“It’s not like the movies where you shoot somebody and they get thrown ten, fifteen feet back,” says Pugliese. “That’s not reality. People can take the bullets and keep on fighting.”
As Pugliese held his suspect on the ground (who had been run over by his brother, Dzhokhar, in his escape), a fifth Watertown officer, Tim Menton, called out to Sergeant Macellan that MBTA Transit Officer Richard Donahue, who arrived on scene to help in the firefight, had been hit by a bullet in the groin. Menton applied pressure to the wound as Donahue’s blood poured out. Officer Reynolds arrived shortly after with a pump-bag to give Donahue oxygen.
When medical help arrived, it was Menton’s brother, a firefighter, who jumped out of the ambulance. Menton, Reynolds, and the medical team carried Donahue into the back of the ambulance; he was losing blood fast and had already lost consciousness. His condition was so severe that everyone who could help treat him jumped into the back with him. It was left to Officer Menton to drive the ambulance.
This final scene, Sergeant Macellan recalled with a special pride:
“That’s what I take out of all of this. I call for help. We’re in a small town, four cruisers on the street, one supervisor. I call for help during a firefight and by the end of the firefight we have officers from different communities in our community helping us. So [Officer Donahue] comes to save our lives, and [Officers Reynolds and Menton] end up saving his life, which is a perfect circle as far as I’m concerned. That’s the Super Bowl of police work: saving another officer’s life.”