Two Watertown police officers involved in the April 19 pursuit and capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects received a dose of warm Southern hospitality in a trip to Georgia arranged by police there.
It was the first out-of-state visit the officers have made in relation to the terrorism events.
Officers Miguel Colon and Richard Munger were flown to Georgia on May 31 and stayed through June 2 on funds raised by the LaGrange Police Department in Troup County, where the Watertown officers were the guests of honor at a charity run benefiting the One Fund Boston. The fund was created to help the victims of the April 15 bombings near the Boston Marathon finish line, including those who were injured and the families of the bystanders who were killed.
While in Georgia, the two Watertown officers visited various local police departments and the county sheriff’s headquarters; boated across a local lake that covers half the county; and received a tour of Turner Field, where they watched an Atlanta Braves game.
Colon was reportedly involved in the gunfight between police and the bombing suspects, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. After Tamerlan was captured at the site of the shootout in Watertown, law enforcement authorities embarked on a daylong search for Dzhokhar that brought area communities to a standstill before he was found hiding in a boat behind a Franklin Street home. Munger was on the scene when Dzhokhar was found, said Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau.
Garrett Pressley, an officer with the LaGrange Police Department who helped organize the trip to Georgia for the Watertown officers, said his department used a combination of donated funds and discounted airfare packages from a local travel agent to pay for their flights.
The Watertown pair stayed for free at the local Best Western, and meals — which ranged from beloved local burger joints to the premier restaurants in Troup County — were also donated, he said.
“Our goal was for them not to have to spend a dime while down here,” Pressley said.
He noted that the union president representing the Watertown officers helped connect the two departments after Pressley put the word out that he was looking for officers involved in the capture of the two bombing suspects who could make the trip to Georgia.
Deveau said Colon and Munger were chosen to go because they were both involved in the day’s events, and also had room in their schedule for the trip to represent the department. Munger said the two had to use a combination of time off and vacation days.
“It was to help benefit the One Fund, so I said if I can help out in any way, I can definitely do it,” Munger said.
The trip to Turner Field for a National League baseball game was a special event.
“We told them we had a surprise, and then took them to the Braves game. We wanted to make sure they had a memorable trip down here,” Pressley said. “They gave the team’s manager, Fredi Gonzalez, a Watertown Strong T-shirt.”
It turned out to be a well-liked gift: “While I was watching a Braves postgame program the other day, there was an interview with Fredi Gonzalez and he was wearing the shirt,” Pressley said.
The T-shirts are also a main fund-raising tool for the Watertown Police Foundation, which was started immediately following the manhunt to help support the cash-strapped department. As of Wednesday , the foundation had sold about 5,000 T-shirts and had about $100,000 in proceeds in the bank, said Joseph Darby III, the foundation’s president. The total is from a combination of T-shirt sales and private donations, including a $25,000 check from multimillionaire Frank McCourt, a Watertown native who formerly owned the Los Angeles Dodgers, Darby said.
While in Georgia, Colon and Munger also gave a PowerPoint presentation to law enforcement officials at the Troup County sheriff’s headquarters and the LaGrange Police Department, Pressley said.
Although certain details from the presentation were for police eyes only, Pressley said, Colon and Munger showed maps of what happened and how close they were to the action.
Colon “reconstructed the events that happened in his own words, since he was one of the officers at the shooting,” Pressley said. “He said they exchanged about 200 rounds of gunfire, and the brothers threw five IEDs at police, and that three of them detonated. He also said there were a few times where there was a pause, but that’s when they began throwing bombs.”
When Colon and Munger toured the police departments, they received gifts such as plaques honoring them and the Watertown department; police caps; and a proclamation from a local mayor, Pressley said.
“We were basically treated like celebrities down there, which was unexpected,” Munger said. “Everyone wanted to take pictures with us, which was kind of strange.”
Their appearance at the charity road race also drew a record crowd: Nearly 200 runners took part, and another 500 people came to watch and meet the Watertown officers. In total, the LaGrange Police Department expects to donate about $6,000 to the One Fund .
More than 20 businesses sponsored the event, donating about $200 each, including a company run by comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
“That was the main reason we wanted to get somebody from up there down here,” Pressley said, who also noted a LaGrange police officer who originally hailed from Boston helped inspire the event.
“In the first week, we raised $150 from preregistration. Once the announcement was made that they were coming, online registration made over $1,000,’' Pressley said, “and people kept calling the station to tell us how proud they were.”
Pressley said he hopes his department will fly a LaGrange officer to Massachusetts to present the donation to One Fund officials.
One thing the Georgia officers really enjoyed was Colon’s and Munger’s thick Boston accents. Pressley, who speaks in a distinctive Southern drawl, laughed as he recalled how a local reporter misheard Colon’s description of Franklin Street — where Dzhokhar was found — as a “main street” of Watertown; in the reporter’s story, it became a “mean street.”
“We loved the Boston accents,” Pressley said.
During their visit to Georgia, he said, Colon and Munger made lasting friendships.
“We stay in touch — we text each other, we’re real close now,” Pressley said, also noting that they’re friends on Facebook, too. “We would like to come up there and spend time with those guys, with the new friends we met.”