Maine natives holed up in the Boston area during Friday morning’s regional lockdown said the normally active major metropolitan area has become an “eerie” ghost town, while police conduct a massive search for a man they believe played a role in Monday’s terror attack at the Boston Marathon.
Law enforcement officials have ordered people in Boston and several suburb communities to stay inside where they are while agents go door-to-door searching for Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, 19, a Cambridge resident with roots in a Russian region near Chechnya. Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, 26, was reportedly killed in a shootout with police early Friday morning in Watertown, Mass.
The Tsarnaev brothers are believed to have been responsible for the twin bomb explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon, killing three people and wounding nearly 180 others.
Freeport native Amy Kearns, who now lives in Waltham, Mass., said a friend used to work out with the younger Tsarnaev brother at a nearby mixed martial arts gym and told her the suspect “was not someone you’d want to mess with.”
She described the current lockdown as “surreal.”
“There are police cars at every corner — telling people to stay off the streets,” Kearns told the BDN. “I’m honestly in shock. Doesn’t feel like this is America anymore. [You hear] these stories of people feeling unsafe leaving their home, and never in my wildest dreams [did I think] I could ever relate. And here I am sick to my stomach about even thinking about leaving my house.
“Everyone is in a state of fear,” she continued. “No one likes to admit it because we want to stand strong. But everyone is in a funk.”
Hillary Knight, a Cumberland native who attends Northeastern University School of Law, lives three blocks away from a Cambridge residence police have identified as the home of the Tsarnaev brothers.
“I may very well have [passed them in the street at some point],” she said Friday morning. “The thing about them is that they look like college students and this is a city of college students. Young guys carrying backpacks, you wouldn’t have thought twice about seeing people like that around here.”
Knight said police evacuated the homes in the immediate proximity to the suspects’ alleged house, concerned that there may still be explosives stored there. She said the evacuation order did not extend as far as where she lives.
“It’s a beautiful day here. It’s like 70 degrees outside. We haven’t had a day this nice yet [this spring], and there would definitely be tons of people out in the streets if we weren’t on lockdown,” she said. “There’s no real sense of fear or terror on our street, but it’s surreal to see our neighborhood on the news, to see the liquor store we go to, or the hardware store in our neighborhood, on the television.”
Brandon Crafts — who grew up in Lisbon, attended Lisbon High School and now lives in Cambridge — told the BDN on Friday morning, “The overall feeling around here is a mix of concern and frustration.”
“We all just want to know what is going on in our city. Cambridge, which should be bustling with students prepping for finals at coffee shops and going for their morning run, is vacant and effectively paused,” Crafts wrote in an email. “The corner store that I stopped at this morning had a very vocal and upset owner loudly lamenting the loss of business, which is significant as mid-Cambridge is a commuter stopover between Tufts, Harvard and MIT.”
Crafts said many in his neighborhood are angry about “the amount of pre-emptive misinformation” they feel has been disseminated through media organizations. The cable news network CNN, among others, reported Wednesday that unnamed law enforcement sources said a suspect was in custody, a report which was later refuted on the record by Boston police.
“Many of us have turned toward Twitter, Facebook and live online police scanners to get us to the facts,” Crafts said.
The Lisbon native said neighborhood residents are organizing “cash mobs” — planned group shopping events intended to drive a concentrated amount of business to particular stores — “to replenish and flush the businesses around Boylston in Boston and through Cambridge and Watertown.
“Resilience and strength, to not sound cliche, is strong here — Bostonians are proud people,” he continued. “The Walk For Hunger is in three weeks, the first big walk since the marathon. The event usually brings out [around] 45,000 people. However, the rumblings are that many, many more are going to use this event to show the city’s togetherness and strength.”
Limestone native and former Bangor Daily News environmental reporter Misty Edgecomb lives in East Boston, where she said she’s close to the city’s airport.
“Traffic is crawling on the overpass to the airport, and [police] are searching cars with dogs,” she said in a brief telephone interview Friday morning.
Edgecomb said she went into the city’s downtown Friday morning intending to get some paperwork from her office at The Nature Conservancy, where she now works.
“For about three blocks around South Station, there were police officers with rifles on every corner, and they won’t let people even walk on the sidewalk in front of South Station,” she said. “The downtown is spooky. There’s nobody around, and I’ve never seen it like that.”
Former University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College student Rachel Brents, who now lives in the Allston section of Boston, said, “The lockdown was a bit shocking, but it made perfect sense” given the circumstances.
“Honestly, it’s very eerie,” she continued in an email. “All that I hear are sirens. I really haven’t had time to process this. It’s been a crazy, well, very scary week.”
Cape Elizabeth native Alison Mehlsak said she lives in Cambridge near the Watertown border, and that she and her roommates could “faintly hear what we thought were some of the booms from the police intervention last night.”
“It’s one of those things that’s definitely nerve-wracking all around, because of the wide breadth of the lockdown order,” she said. “We’re watching the news and Twitter, but we just don’t know what’s happening out there.”
Lori Fineman, a French teacher at Mount Desert Island High School and Trenton Elementary School, took a bus to Boston with her husband Thursday with plans to visit her son and daughter-in-law, who live in the area.
But she said the lockdown has confined the couple to their Kenmore Square hotel.
“My son texted us this morning, saying we can’t meet for lunch because we’re on lockdown,” she said early Friday afternoon. “All night I heard sirens, dogs barking, and then, because we’re from rural Maine, I didn’t know if that was normal city activity or not. Then, after my son’s text, I realized why we were really hearing all those sirens.”