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Running on Adrenaline
by Noah Leavitt
A month before MBTA Police Sergeant Michael Adamson CE '13 walked across the stage as the valedictorian of Curry College's Division of Continuing and Graduate Studies, he stood in a Watertown backyard alongside dozens of other law enforcement officers, his gun trained on a 22-foot motorboat covered with a white tarp.
Within a couple of hours, accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev was in handcuffs, and Adamson had sustained a minor gunshot wound.
It capped the end of a whirlwind week that began on April 15 with one of the Boston area's greatest tragedies, and ended on April 19 with one of its largest manhunts.
Throughout that week, several members of the Curry community found themselves on the front lines; responding to the bombings, treating patients, or taking part in the manhunt that paralyzed the area for hours.
Boston Police Captain Robert Ciccolo MBA '13 was in Kenmore Square on the day of the attacks, and then spent the next week helping to coordinate the response by more than 100 law enforcement agencies.
Meantime, Registered Nurse Bee Potter CE Class of 2014 helped to treat nearly two dozen patients in the Emergency Room at Boston's Faulkner Hospital.
Despite their different experiences, one common thread binds these men and women: their desire to serve.
Chaos and Confusion
Boston Police Captain Robert Ciccolo heard the blasts and saw the white smoke rising from Copley Square while he patrolled in Kenmore Square. It was 2:49 p.m. on Monday, April 15 - Patriots Day and Marathon Monday in Boston.
"At first I wasn't really sure what it was," Ciccolo recalls, more than three months after the bombings killed three people, and injured nearly 150 others. "My first thought was that it was some type of colonial reenactment or something. Then of course, you started hearing people yelling on the radio, and you think ‘okay, that was a bomb.'"
Ciccolo normally works in the Boston Police Operations Center, as commander of the dispatchers for the 911 system and communications throughout the city.
But, on Marathon Monday, he was supervising more than two dozen officers who, at the moment of the blast, wanted to follow their instincts and run towards the danger.
"I had to stop them. I said, ‘if the incident commander wants us down there, he will call for us. Right now we have 5,000 people in Kenmore Square. and we have to maintain their safety.'"
Adding to the confusion, thousands of fans were also leaving the Red Sox game at nearby Fenway Park. And, as those fans scrambled to leave the area, they left plenty of bags behind.
"In that situation, every single piece of abandoned property is a potential device," Ciccolo explains. "In the hour after the bombs went off, at least half-adozen packages were examined by the bomb squad."
While Ciccolo worked to control a chaotic scene, nurse Bee Potter was bracing for a different kind of chaos five miles away in Jamaica Plain at Faulkner Hospital.
Potter wasn't even supposed to work on Marathon Monday, but had switched with a coworker, so she could be in the Emergency Room during what promised to be a busy day.
"I tend to work most of those holidays because I like the disaster management end of emergency nursing," Potter says. "We were prepared all day, our disaster management coordinator was on site. What we were preparing for was the inevitable onslaught of twisted ankles, heatstroke, dehydration; we have a protocol for that."
Potter and her coworkers were quickly forced to shift gears after the two bombs exploded at the Marathon's finish line. Even then, the staff was surprised when bombing victims were sent to their Emergency Room.
"Faulkner is not a trauma center, so we don't do a lot of trauma. Initially, I remember when the call went over our disaster radio; I think we were preparing for other ambulances. We thought that Boston EMS would send us all the other traffic; all the belly pains, the chest pains, so that the traumas could go to the trauma centers," Potter recalls. "We actually had over 20 [bombing] victims, several went to the OR [operating room] immediately. We had FBI on site, which felt a little surreal."
It may have been a surreal and nervous scene, but Potter says it was a sort of controlled chaos.
"The patients stuck out to me. Because when you hear that you're going to get this onslaught of people you think there will be hysteria, but they were actually much calmer than I expected."
While Potter and Ciccolo were in the midst of the bombing response, Sergeant Michael Adamson was strangely disconnected from it all.
"I was actually golfing, which is unusual because I always work the Boston Marathon," Adamson says. "It's a day that I enjoy to work because it's a fun day and its very family oriented, and I like being out in things like that during special events. This day I didn't work, I was in Plymouth golfing and we were coming off the 18th, we were done, we were returning the golf carts and the person who was collecting our bags told us there were two explosions at the Boston Marathon."
At that point, Adamson was like many of us-desperate for information, fearful, and powerless to help.
"I tried making some phone calls but all the phone lines were shut down and out everywhere. It wasn't until I got closer to home when I heard on the radio that it was a criminal act. The marathon is very family oriented, for someone to do that, I had a mixture of emotions. I was angry that someone would do that, and frightened, that with heightened security it could still happen. It's kind of like 9/11, it frightened all of us, you feel vulnerable. It gave me a little feeling of vulnerability.
Amid those feelings of anger and vulnerability, Adamson also felt something else as he watched footage of first responders rushing to help those in need.
"I was proud, just to see all the police officers, people that I worked with that were on scene as well as the Boston police and the State Police and all of the emergency and medical personnel that were on scene, just jump right into action. Without any real concern for their own safety, they just wanted to get to others and try to protect the area and minimize the injuries as much as possible. Since 9/11 we have been training for these mass casualty incidents. Up until now we never had to apply it."
It was a theme that echoed throughout Massachusetts in the days and weeks following the bombings, epitomized in the phrase "Boston Strong." Here on the Curry campus, students gathered for vigils and wore "Boston Strong" t-shirts, showing support for the victims and first responders.
That feeling of unity, and purpose, extended to the law enforcement officials who were responsible for hunting the bombers.
Coordinating a Manhunt
In the hours after the bombings, dozens of different law enforcement agencies swarmed into Boston-from the FBI and DEA to local police departments. It represented the start of an intense dragnet to catch the bombers.
When Captain Ciccolo walked into the Boston Police Operations Center on Tuesday, April 16 at 6:00 a.m. he had a very simple job: making sure all those thousands of law enforcement officers could talk to each other.
"Working up here with my dispatchers and with our telecommunications staff we were able to set up a communi-cations net so that it was like they were all on the same channel," Ciccolo says. "The biggest piece was making sure that information flowed where it needed to be. Making sure that the various command staff from all these different agencies, all these officers on the street knew what was going on."
It may sound like a daunting and difficult challenge, but it was one that Boston was uniquely equipped to handle.
"Boston, over the last 10 years in particular, has developed enormous experience with these inter-agency operations. Starting in 2004 with the DNC and the Red Sox Championship, we have had to deal with these large scale events almost every year. So, when the time comes when you have to do it with no warning, you've done it before, you just have to make it work faster than in the past.
At Faulkner Hospital, Bee Potter had a first hand look at the investigation, thanks to one woman in particular-someone Potter dubbed a "reluctant hero."
"When she came in she didn't want to give her name, because she was the first to arrive and she didn't know, ‘will they [the bombers] track me, will they get me?' Her injuries were minor enough that she was able to go home afterwards. I remember afterwards [an] FBI agent said to me, ‘She gave the most accurate, best interview, we got some great information from her.'"
As you would expect, Potter wouldn't call herself, or other staffers in the Faulkner Emergency Room, heroes for what they did on Marathon Monday. But, they were honored days after the bombing, along with hundreds of other first responders, by receiving invitations to an interfaith service featuring President Obama. Potter called it a humbling and inspiring experience.
For Adamson, and many other patrol officers, the days after the bombing were exhausting, and also humbling.
"Days off were cancelled of course, we were working 12-16 hour days, but it was again a sense of pride that I was a part of something bigger, that it was an active investigation that we were kept in the loop. The FBI were great, the State Police were great, they always look upon the transit system as a possible target, so we were always kept in the loop with what was going on and the information just kept getting filtered down, so it felt like you were a part of something big."
Adamson didn't know it in the hours following the bombing, but he would shortly become involved in one of the most harrowing 24-hour periods the Boston area has ever seen.
Sergeant Adamson heard it all unfold over his police radio.
Late on Thursday, April 18, Adamson heard about the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, the hijacking of a car in Cambridge, and the wild shootout on a quiet Watertown street that left fellow MBTA Police Officer Richard Donahue seriously wounded.
Initially, Adamson wasn't sure how all the violence was connected, but it soon became clear that it was related to the Marathon bombings. Once he knew that another MBTA officer was involved, he and several other officers drove right to Watertown.
Adamson spent the rest of the night at that scene, searching for evidence and cleaning up after the violent confrontation between police and the bombing suspects.
While Adamson and his fellow officers surveyed the damage, the rest of the region was waking up to the news of the shootout that had killed one bombing suspect, and the unprecedented lockdown that had been put in place to catch the surviving suspect.
After grabbing a few hours of rest, Adamson returned to Watertown where he joined other law enforcement officers sweeping through homes and backyards as part of the massive manhunt. It was another long and tiring day in a week that had been full of them.
But that all changed when police received a report about a suspicious person in a boat.
"Honestly, oh boy here we go," Adamson admits he thought at the time. "We were chasing ghosts all day, somebody running through the backyard, somebody here, it was frightening. It was well organized, but it was probably the tenth call of a possible suspect sighting."
After the call came in, Adamson joined several other officers for the short drive to the Franklin Street home where the sighting had been reported. Eventually, nearly two dozen officers arrived, their guns pointed at the boat. They anxiously waited for SWAT and tactical teams to arrive.
"Something hit me from the time the call came in, and from the time after we set up ground near the boat," Adamson says. "There was definitely somebody in the boat, I could see somebody in the boat, and then it went from just another call to this is the kid. It was a gut instinct that it was him."
At some point, gunfire errupted and Adamson suffered a minor hip wound caused by a ricocheting bullet. He doesn't say much about the injury and recalls he wasn't concerned about himself at the time.
"My concern was my officers and keeping them safe and getting them out of there when it was time to do so."
And that time came after an hour of tension. Eventually, Adamson's colleagues, an MBTA Transit Police SWAT made the arrest, ending the backyard standoff.
Several miles away, Captain Ciccolo heard the arrest on his radio. He remembers feeling a sense of relief-and pride.
"I was extremely pleased that we got him alive. That in itself was a sort of a testament to the professionalism of all the organizations involved. We weren't just running around, saying ‘we're going to shoot him on sight.'"
If you watched the arrest unfold live on television, then you probably witnessed the incredible scene that played out on the streets of Watertown-crowds of people lining the streets to cheer for law enforcement officers and first responders. Boston Strong became a popular catchphrase in the days after the bombing, and first responders like Adamson, Ciccolo, and Potter are the embodiment of that phrase.
While their actions were certainly special and heroic during that harrowing week back in April, Ciccolo says it's no surprise that law enforcement officers and first responders stepped up the way they did.
"It's what we do. This is our job. The nature of emergency services, whether it's police, fire or EMS, is that we spend a lot of time standing around waiting for things to happen, at the same time we're hoping that nothing happens."
And when things happen-they are ready to respond.
That sense of urgency, service, and duty is something Potter also feels.
"I just hope that this City of Boston knows that we will take care of them. And I wouldn't be afraid to go in again. If there is a disaster, I would go," she says.
"You always wonder if you'll belly up, if you'll crack when you're afraid, and I think being a nurse is a decision that you won't be afraid. I like being a nurse."