It was nearing 8:30 on a Friday night and Revere Police Chief Joseph Cafarelli gripped his M4 rifle and ducked behind a porch in a Watertown driveway. He had been staring at a shrouded boat for a couple of hours, and the radio crackled with instructions from the FBI.
Nearby were more than a dozen other Revere and Everett police officers, members of the North Metro SWAT Team. Also in the
driveway were several officers from Malden. Farther away were hundreds of other law enforcement personnel who had converged on the Franklin Street home.
Just a couple of hours earlier, there had been a sense of exhaustion and frustration outside of the Bigelow Avenue apartment complex the group had searched. The officers had been on their feet since they rushed to Watertown some 14 hours earlier on April 19 after the shoot-out between police and Boston Marathon suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Armed with rifles and submachine guns and protected by bulletproof vests, the North Metro team had trained twice a month for years for a situation like this. But, like the thousands of other police searching hundreds of apartments and backyards in the perimeter, they were ready to call it a day.
Cafarelli was talking to the leader of a Boston Police SWAT group when the call went out sometime after 6 p.m. to get to Franklin Street. “He said he was going, and I said, ‘We’ll come with you,’ and he said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”
Revere’s Mike Trovato, who has been a patrolman for seven years and joined the North Metro SWAT Team 18 months ago, hopped into the driver’s seat of an unmarked panel van. The rest of the Everett, Revere, and Malden officers on the scene piled into Trovato’s van, another unmarked van, and an armored Humvee.
Trovato, who had served in the Army in Iraq and driven tanks in the desert, swung left out of Bigelow and raced down Mt. Auburn Street. A mile later he saw the sign for Franklin and left the van in the middle of Mt. Auburn.
“I shouted to somebody that it’s going to need to be moved and that the keys are in it,” Trovato said.
The officers from Revere, Everett, and Malden ran the last quarter of a mile to the Franklin Street house, where they were told that the suspect might be hiding in a boat. When they reached the modest home, Boston SWAT Team members took the right side and the local officers, along with MBTA SWAT police and FBI agents, filled in the driveway facing the boat.
Matt Cunningham, an Everett patrolman and trained sniper, entered the house, went upstairs, and found a window that overlooked the boat.
“I got to the second-floor window and had a perfect view of the boat,” he said.
In the driveway, Cafarelli and the rest of the teams listened to instructions from the FBI. They used cars in the driveway for cover and waited.
Cafarelli said he tried to remain focused as he stared at the boat. There was no noise coming from the vessel. He watched “flash bang” stun grenades as they hit the boat. Still, there was no confirmation that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was inside.
“At one point, I’m thinking, ‘I hope this isn’t some guy who was working on his boat and had a heart attack or an accident, or something like that,’ ’’ said Cafarelli. “Obviously, it wasn’t. But you can’t help but think, ‘Is this all some false alarm?’ ”
Nearing 8:30, there were signs that Tsarnaev was preparing to surrender.
“He was asking for help,” said Cunningham, who watched from the second-floor window as Tsarnaev poked his head up from the boat and tried to stand. “The guy next to me was the FBI hostage negotiator and he was telling the kid: ‘You got to get out, you’ve got to do it on your own.’ He said ‘Just keep your hands visible’ and he did, and he climbed up and got one leg up on the boat.”
In the driveway, the FBI called for the SWAT group to form an arrest team.
Cafarelli, Trovato, and three other Revere officers, Joseph Internicola, James Rose, and Sergeant David Pressley — along with several Malden and MBTA officers and FBI agents — began to move toward the boat. Some had Kevlar shields, and all kept their eyes on Tsarnaev, who was illuminated by several spotlights.
When the suspect had one leg dangling off the side of the boat, the officers pulled him down. Tsarnaev landed on his back, and Cafarelli pulled up the suspect’s sweatshirt. He found no weapons or suicide vest, a possibility that he said had been on his mind.
“That was the focus of my attention. If he’s got a suicide vest, we’re all dead,” said Cafarelli.
Cafarelli moved away, and Trovato and an MBTA officer frisked Tsarnaev one more time and flipped him on his stomach. Tsarnaev was not moving or talking when Trovato reached for his handcuffs.
“I had my handcuffs out and I had started to put a handcuff on him when I looked up and noticed that an MBTA SWAT officer already had one handcuff on his left hand,” said Trovato. The Revere officer dropped his handcuffs, swung his right arm into the small of Tsarnaev’s back, and held it there while the other hand was cuffed.
Trovato and the MBTA officer then lifted Tsarnaev by his belt and carried him about 25 feet from the boat. When they placed him on the ground, medics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives began to treat the 19-year-old suspect.
Meanwhile, Cafarelli found the wooden ladder that Tsarnaev had used to enter the boat. The Revere chief leaned it against the boat and started climbing. The SWAT teams had not been briefed on any of the thermal imagery gleaned from a State Police helicopter.
Cafarelli stood on the boat and saw no weapons or explosives, only Tsarnaev’s blood streaked along its inside, and then climbed down.
Minutes later, the SWAT teams left the grounds. As they began to drive out of Watertown to the applause of its residents, the officers started to realize they had taken part in a historic arrest.
Said Trovato, “You knew you had been a major part of arresting one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, and walking away from the scene you were still cognizant of the fact that there were casualties and people in the hospital fighting for their lives. But you couldn’t help being jubilant.”
Before he left town, Trovato said, he realized he had some of the suspect’s blood on his forearms and gloves. At the Arsenal Mall, the Watertown Fire Department cleaned him off and sent him on his way.
“I lost one of the gloves, probably at the scene, but I’ll likely hang on to the other for some time,” he said.