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Boston on 'Lock Down'

21/04/2013 22:54 BST | Updated 21/06/2013 10:12 BST
AP

"Thank God it's over".

I'd heard those words repeatedly since the tragedy of the two explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday. We all wanted to believe it was over, but deep down I think we all knew that it wasn't.

Those fears became reality around 1am on Friday morning. I heard police car after police car tear down Massachusetts Avenue outside my apartment. In my sleepy daze I initially failed to link what I was hearing to the events that had happened earlier in the week. The realisation dawned a few minutes later when the dog that was asleep at the foot of my bed crawled up to the top, whimpering, and turning her head towards the window. I could hear helicopters circling overhead and moments later, blue and red flashing lights lit up my bedroom. The noise from the sirens reached a deafening level.

"Not again", I thought as I sat myself up in bed and started to cradle Dot, the frightened little dog. Still in somewhat of a daze, I sighed and picked up my iPad to check the news and social media websites. Although squinting at the bright screen, my eyes managed to focus in on the key information: "suspects", "gunfire", "shoot-out", "car-chase". As I continued to read live newspaper blogs, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, I realised that we were in for a night of it.

Two or three hours of web-trawling later and I decided it was time to message my family in England. After all, it wouldn't be long before they turned the news channels on, assuming they hadn't already. On my way over to my desk, I picked up my mobile phone and checked my messages. Nine text messages from Harvard Alerts had arrived throughout the night and contained details of major developments in what the media had started to call 'a manhunt'. I sat at my desk, opened iMessages to instant chat with my mother, and wondered what I was going to say to her. Was I making too big a deal out of this? Would it all be over in an hour? Was I causing unnecessary worry? I imagined what my mother would say if I didn't get in touch with her and that exercise soon gave me an answer. I began to type...

Half way through that instant message conversation, the slightly-less-frightened dog started to paw my leg. I looked at her, and she tilted her head sideways. I knew what that meant. "I'll be back in a bit, Mum. I need to take the dog out". I pressed enter. "YOU CANNOT BE TAKING HER OUT FOR A WALK NOW, MILLY!" came the immediate response. "I'm just taking her outside for a few minutes... " I jumped up from my keyboard and rushed to the door, amazed at how my disobedience made me feel so juvenile despite being a 23 year old living 3000 miles away from home.

By the time we reached the grass outside, the dog was oblivious to what was developing around us. All she cared about was pulling as hard on the leash as she could, trying to chase the nearby squirrels. It was quiet; too quiet even for that point in the day. I could hear some faint sirens in the distance but there was little else going on. I looked around at the campus buildings. Usually, they would be bustling with caffeine-fuelled casebook-carrying law students by now. Instead, they stood still and silent, their doors decorated with hand-written 'closed' signs.

When I returned to my apartment, I was greeted by several 'incoming email' noises emanating from my MacBook. More Harvard Alerts. Of the two suspects, one had been killed. The other had escaped and was now at large in Watertown, a residential area of greater Boston a matter of minutes from my apartment in Cambridge. Residents of Watertown and the surrounding areas were advised to stay inside. Within an hour, that 'advice' had turned into a police order: "Shelter in place".

Having been 'legally' confined to my apartment, the remainder of the morning and most of the afternoon was spent obsessively scanning the Internet for new information. I must have checked nearly every major reliable news website, and plenty of unreliable ones in between. My Twitter feed was showing fresh Boston-related Tweets every few seconds and my Facebook account was awash with renewed, "Thanks for checking in - I'm safe" statuses from my Boston friends.

As I sat there poring over this wealth of information and trying to process it all, I was struck by how I was feeling about the events that were unfolding. I didn't really know how to deal with the fact that I didn't feel scared or panicked. I probably should have felt that way; in addition to the incessant sirens, I was being bombarded with emails and texts telling me to stay safe inside, to only open the door to law enforcement officials, to share food and supplies with neighbours. Everything I read was a warning.

At that point, I felt a little dog paw touch my leg again. I looked down at her and smiled. It was nice not to be alone. Dot span around and fetched her green rubber ball. Tossing it to my feet, her eyes were full of excitement and anticipation. I kicked the ball across the room and she bounded after it, ignorant of the sounds of helicopters getting louder overhead. Oh, to be a dog.

By the time 4pm came around, I couldn't keep the poor girl inside any longer. We were going to have to venture out. I put on her leash and started to walk downstairs, staring at the exit of the building as I did so. How strange it was to be feeling so apprehensive about walking out of a door that I walk in and out of several times a day. Was it because I feared I would get hurt outside? Or was it because there were bound to be Harvard University Police Department officers patrolling the campus outside? Quickening my pace, I charged at the door and stepped outside. We'd risked it.

This trip into the unknown was even more eerie than the first. As I walked further onto the campus, I glanced back at Massachusetts Avenue, usually one of the busiest and loudest roads in Boston. It was empty. No buses, no cars, no motorbikes. Facing forward, however, there was an abundance of squirrels and other fauna on the Harvard Law School campus; I couldn't keep this dog on leash any longer. Letting her loose, I watched as she charged across the abandoned walkways outside Langdell Library. I had never seen my campus look like this before. Even staggering home in the middle of the night, one usually finds someone else along the way.

As I watched this little dog chase anything that moved (including leaves), I noticed a figure in the distance. Not an unusual sight, of course, in a place as heavily populated as Cambridge. But today it was different. Today you needed a pretty decent reason to leave the house. Urgent medical needs? Acceptable. Desperately hungry child? Acceptable. Avoidance of dog-pee-carpets? ... kind of acceptable. But what was this guy doing? I stood up from the bench and moved towards the dog, taking her leash from my pocket. I fixed my eyes on him. He got closer and closer, and my sideways-stare got more intense as he did so.

Within a minute or two, he had walked straight past without so much as looking at me. My heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of my chest. I shook my head at my own reaction, this was just incredible.

Back at my room, my MacBook was still making noises as the emails continued to land in my inbox. I read them one by one, conversing with my mother as I did so: "They think he's in so-and-so." ... "They've searched 70% of the houses now." ... and my personal favourite, "What do you mean, 'I'm using the dog to rebel against authority?'"

By the time the evening came around, I had told and retold the stories of the week so many times that I was driving myself crazy. I'd become the latest in a long line of interactive news-machines. Thankfully, a Harvard-sponsored mass pizza delivery and the carb-coma that resulted made me feel human again.

But that respite wasn't to last for long. Police updates began to tell the story of how the BPD and FBI had the suspect surrounded. He was hiding underneath a tarpaulin on a boat in a Franklin Street resident's backyard, less than a mile away from my apartment. Helicopters, SWAT vans, police cars - they filled the skies and tore down Massachusetts Avenue once more.

By the time this story comes out, the events that followed will be plastered across the front pages of newspapers the world over. Well done, Boston, we kept 'wicked' calm and 'carried the hell on'. As exhausted and drained as we all are, we can now rejoice in the fact that our city is safe again and the dogs can pee in peace.