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Watertown Police Officer Recalls ‘Chaotic’ Shootout With Bombing Suspects

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Jim Armstrong is an Emmy-award winning reporter who joined WBZ-TV in...
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WATERTOWN (CBS) – Not a day goes by that Watertown Police officers don’t think about what happened last April. Many of them came face to face with the Boston Marathon bombing suspects during a shootout on the city’s streets.

“Every day, I think about the different things my brother and sister officers did to save my life,” Watertown Police Sgt. John MacLellan said.

A full year’s worth of reliving that night has kept it fresh in the mind of Watertown Police Sgt. John MacLellan. He was the second officer on Laurel Street the night of April 18th pulling over a black Mercedes not knowing who or what was inside.

“When I came around the corner, the older brother takes one shot at me,” MacLellan said. “I knew it hit the windshield because I got sprayed with glass. And we know now it ended up in my headrest right behind me.”

MacLellan’s SUV took that bullet and many more. Moments later, it also absorbed the massive blast of a pressure cooker bomb, saving MacLellan’s life. That sound still rings in his ears.

Watertown Police SUV after shootout with bombing suspects. (WBZ-TV)

Watertown Police SUV after shootout with bombing suspects. (WBZ-TV)

“It was just so chaotic, people screaming, car alarms going off, officers yelling back and forth to each other,” MacLellan recalls.

These days, Sgt. MacLellan carries three extra clips for his weapon – because of what happened next. In the midst of the firefight, he ran out of ammunition.

“I’m never going to let that happen again; it’s the worst feeling of my life,” MacLellan said. “When I stood in the middle of that street with an empty gun, pointing it at someone running at me that I was 100% sure was strapped with explosives.”

That someone he says was Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He had also run out of ammo, but MacLellan had no way to know that. In a heartbeat, another Watertown sergeant tackled Tamerlan – leaving MacLellan with a choice.

“I had to get on top of him. I was like, you know, this is it, I just hope it’s quick because I know he’s going to blow us up,” MacLellan said. “And I couldn’t let an officer that came to help me take that and then me stand by. And we were very lucky, very lucky that he wasn’t.”

Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau said, “For the first few weeks and months we would sit around and say did this really happen? Did it really happen in Watertown?”

To this day, when Watertown police reflect on that night, they have no idea how one of their own wasn’t killed.

“There’s some luck involved,” Chief Edward Deveau said. “We’ve talked, sat around in small groups and said, guys, we do this ten times, and 9 out of 10 times one or two of you guys aren’t going to make it through.”

MacLellan drives a new SUV around Watertown now and says he’s humbled when people still come up to him to say thank you. But the truth is, the split-second calls he and fellow officers made, will have long-lasting echoes.

“My guys just made some incredible decisions under tough circumstances,” said Chief Deveau. “What they did, some of them, will be taught in police academies around the world, moving forward. And they just thought about it under fire, which is just incredible.”

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