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Boston manhunt too close to home for some New Hampshire natives

Jessica Weil switched on her television shortly after 1 a.m. yesterday morning to what she described as a shocking, surreal image: a massive police shootout taking place at the end of her street.

The 26-year-old Peterborough native has lived for a year in Watertown, Mass., which yesterday became the epicenter of a deadly manhunt for the second suspect in Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon. She had just been woken by a phone call from a friend who said she’d heard authorities were pursuing two armed suspects near Weil’s apartment, just west of Cambridge.

Drowsy and uncertain of what was going on, Weil and her housemate got up and made sure the doors to their apartment were locked, sliding a chair under the doorknob of one to be safe. They then turned on their television and flipped to a news channel showing live coverage of the event.

“And I was looking at it and I realized, ‘Okay, I recognize that restaurant,’ ” Weil said yesterday morning. A funeral home depicted on the screen also seemed familiar. Soon, she realized that the chaos unfolding before her was roughly a three-minute walk from her home.

“It was just sort of a terrifying moment to wake up and see this was happening so close by,” Weil said in a phone interview from Watertown, where she and others had been under lockdown all morning and into the afternoon.

Sitting, waiting in fear

Realizing her close proximity to the shootout, Weil went to a nearby window and peered out. She couldn’t hear much but could see flashing lights from what she assumed were police vehicles in the distance.

By that point authorities had not publicly linked the shootout suspects to the bombings, Weil said. When they did, her perception of what was developing around her changed. She could envision the two young men, armed with guns and explosives, running through neighboring backyards.

“Once I found out it was the bombers, it made everything a lot scarier because I knew what they were capable of,” she said. “There were conflicting reports coming out at the time, some saying there might be bombs on the streets in Watertown. It was definitely really scary.”

At about 3 a.m., Weil posted a message on her Twitter account to let friends and family know she was okay. Within minutes she received a dozen replies, she said, many from people who she didn’t know, people from across the country sending thoughts and prayers, telling her to stay safe.

“That really put things in perspective for me, the scale of this whole thing,” she said.

She fell asleep about 6 a.m. and woke up two hours later, a slew of text messages and voicemails waiting on her phone. An email from a boss in Boston instructed Weil, a web content writer, and others to work from home for the day.

Though the police were searching homes nearby, Weil said they had not yet approached her apartment. She had not been in touch with any of her neighbors. She described her experience as “a lot of sitting and waiting.”

A friend on Facebook

Mary Hewitt was on Facebook early yesterday morning because she couldn’t sleep. The owner of an embroidery business in Concord, Hewitt was scrolling through her newsfeed on the website when she stumbled across a disturbing post from a friend.

“Something about explosions all around her and gunfire,” Hewitt said. The friend, Kathy Hadlock, lives in Newton, Mass., close to the Watertown border and the heart of yesterday’s search.

Concerned, Hewitt sent Hadlock a brief message, urging her to stay safe. When news reports later linked the shootout suspects to the bombings, she grew more concerned.

“When you know this kind of stuff is going on, you want the people close to you to be safe,” she said, adding that her niece lives in Boston and had been near the site of one of Monday’s explosions.

Hewitt was able to stay in touch with her friend and niece throughout the morning primarily through text messages and social media outlets such as Facebook, highlighting the significant role technology played in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s bombings and throughout the investigation for its perpetrators.

“Because I’m not always sitting in front of a TV, through a computer or iPhone and social media I’m getting the most up-to-date reports on what’s going on,” she said.

Concord resident Holly Ares Snyder said she, too, had relied heavily on text messaging and social media to monitor the safety of several friends who live in and around Boston. One friend who lives in Waltham, which neighbors Watertown, told her she’d heard repeated gunshots throughout the night.

But Snyder noted that the aid and convenience of technology only goes so far.

“I’ve been worried about my Boston friends for the last several days,” she said. “This all just feels really close to home.”

Meanwhile, Hadlock, who grew up with Hewitt in Hanover, said yesterday while still under lockdown that she’d been awake all night following the search developments. She said she remembered hearing a loud boom about 1:40 a.m., which she guessed was the sound of a grenade exploding.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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