Sam Zimmerman heard the sirens of about a dozen police cars as they flew past his home in suburban Boston late Thursday night. Then, he heard a loud bang.
For the second time in less than a week, terrorism hit too close to home for the Somerset County native.
A shooting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the ensuing police chase of two brothers suspected of planting bombs at the Boston Marathon brought the case, almost literally, to Zimmerman's doorstep.
A Stoystown native and 2008 North Star graduate, Zimmerman lives in Cambridge, a suburb of Boston that is located between MIT and Watertown, where the chase ended. Zimmerman’s late-night commute took him through the area where a shootout occurred between police and suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Zimmerman, who was on the subway just blocks from the marathon’s finish line when the bombs went off on Monday, was unaware of the shooting of a police officer at MIT until he got home Thursday night. Shortly afterward, the suspects raced through his neighborhood with police in pursuit.
“Within a minute or two, there were cop cars, just siren after siren after siren on my road,” he said. “I heard something – I couldn’t tell if it was a high-powered assault rifle or grenade or what. Something went through my area.”
Zimmerman thinks the sound might have been an improvised explosive device, which various reports have said the brothers tossed from the car during the chase.
“I feel like I know what a gun sounds like or an assault rife,” he said.” It didn’t sound as sharp. It sounded muffled, kind of a like a firework.”
Zimmerman said that there might have been other gunshots or explosions as well, but that one stood out to him.
“One I heard clearly,” he said. “I wasn’t listening for it, and over the sirens it was hard to hear. There was a break in the sirens and it was loud and clear. An explosion sound.”
Zimmerman spoke via cellphone from his home, which was part of a mandatory lockdown all day Friday as police searched for the remaining suspect as well as any possible IEDs.
“I thought, wow, I cut that one a little close,” Zimmerman said of Thursday night. “It was very difficult to go to sleep. Not only was there tons and tons of sirens, but there was a really loud beeping sound, like a cop was on his radio. There were sirens all night long, there were helicopters all night long. I was definitely in the thick of things – and still am.”
Johnstown native Bryan Lynch wasn’t quite that close to the action even though he has been working at MIT. Lynch, who is a professor of chemistry at the University of Evansville in Indiana, is spending the semester at MIT while he is on sabbatical.
“I didn’t hear a thing,” said Lynch, who was at choir practice near Boston Common at about 9:30 p.m., then headed back to his home in Cambridge.
As the world watched what was happening in his neighborhood, Lynch slept in a bedroom he is renting for the semester. It wasn’t until he went to get breakfast Friday morning that he found out the entire city was on lockdown.
“My landlady said, ‘You know the MBTA is closed, you can’t go anywhere today?’ ” he recalled. “(She said) ‘They want everyone to stay in their homes.’ ”
Lynch was at the Boston Marathon on Monday but left about a half hour before the bombings.
He said that it’s hard to believe events like Thursday night’s could happen in Cambridge, which is home to Harvard and MIT.
“It’s a special place. There’s always something going on,” he said. “Anywhere you go, especially on campus, you’ll hear people speaking other languages, French, Russian German, all the languages are spoken here.”
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