, Salem, MA

Local News

April 23, 2013

Inside the SWAT team search of Watertown


When nobody answered a knock, they checked around the house for signs of forced entry or anything that looked suspicious.

When the grid search was halted late in the day Friday, Saia briefly returned to the staging area. No sooner had he grabbed food and water than the call went out that the suspect had been spotted in a boat in a backyard just outside the search area. That was followed by gunfire.

The NEMLEC team jumped into an armored vehicle and headed to the scene. Saia and the others took up a position not far from the boat, in a neighbor’s yard on the other side of a fence.

There were still concerns. Was the suspect heavily armed? Was he wearing a suicide vest?

When word spread that the homeowner said there were 40 gallons of gasoline in the boat, other issues arose. Was the suspect going to light the boat on fire?

In addition to NEMLEC, ATF federal agents and a police dog were in the neighbor’s yard.

“If (Tsarnaev) jumped the fence, we were initially going to use the dog,” Saia said.

At one point, Saia could see part of Tsarnaev’s back. He could hear the voice of the FBI hostage negotiator, who was widely praised for keeping his cool. There was no missing the burst of sound from the diversionary devices, the so-called “flash-bangs” used to disorient the suspect.

When it was over, Saia said he doesn’t remember a lot of cheering among the rank-and-file. They started pulling back and winding down.

“I don’t know if it’s relief or elation. ... For us, the mission is over,” he said. “What comes next is always the question.”

What did he think of the cheering crowds and the people saluting them as heroes?

“Nobody ever thinks like that,” he said. “Honestly, it’s about as selfless as it gets. It’s about the job and keeping people safe from animals like that. I don’t think that’s a SWAT attitude. That’s a police attitude.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at

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