It was almost 1 a.m. and most of Watertown was sleeping. Near the Dexter Avenue and Laurel Street, residents had settled in for the night, some drifting off to the lull of their television. But in the stillness, sometime between 12:45 to 12:50 Friday morning, there were loud popping sounds.
Residents couldn’t believe – or did not want to believe – that what they were hearing were gunshots and the start of an intensive, deadly manhunt for the suspects in Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.
There were more pops Friday morning, and terrifying explosions, that intensified for five to 10 minutes. Afterward, residents would feel battle worn, their houses pierced with bullets, panic still in their hearts.
“I had never heard gunshots before,’’ said a Laurel Street mother, who did not want her name published for fear of reprisals. “It just didn’t dawn on me that there would be a gun fight on my street. It was a very scary night.”
Beth Robinson and her husband, Paul, heard loud pop, pop, pop sounds around 12:45 a.m., and at first shrugged it off. But then came the explosions. Terrified, the couple corralled their four children and raced to the basement where they huddled on the basement steps, hoping to stay safe and waiting for the barrage of gunfire to end.
Through her darkened basement window, Beth Robinson said she saw people racing through her yard and the bright flashing lights of police cruisers. It was terrifying.
“My daughter was scared. She was crying,’’ said Beth Robinson. “We just huddled there together, waiting for it to stop.”
David LaRocca, a local sculptor, was in the kitchen of his Laurel Street studio, where he lives and works, when he heard the first series of pops.
Instead of ducking for cover, he went outside to see what was happening, certain that he was too far away to be hit.
“I heard the pop, pop, popping. I could see the activity,’’ LaRocca said, who stood on the sidewalk outside his house while looking down the street to site of the action. “I heard whizzing sounds. But then I later figured it was bullets going by me that I was hearing.”
Realizing it was dangerous, he went back inside, but as the commotion intensified, he came out again. Just as he opened his front door, a bright light froze on his chest and an officer glared at him.
“The officer had his rifle trained on me,’’ recalled LaRocca. “He said. ‘Close the door!’ Get back inside!’ ”
Not far away, another Laurel Street resident was coming to grips with what was transpiring on his street. He’d already called 911 and phoned his wife.
“I could hear the pelting and wasn’t sure if it was shrapnel from them tossing something out or bullets,’’ the resident said. “I heard crackling. Then it turned into a police state, a welcome one, pretty quickly.’’
Steven A. Rosenberg contributed to this report.