'We Cannot Continue to Lock Down an Entire City'

Boston lifts its "shelter in place" order with the remaining suspect still at large.

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Sommer Mathis

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Governor Deval Patrick announced shortly after 6 p.m. that Boston was suspending its unprecedented, day-long "shelter in place" order, even as law enforcement continued to search for a single man: 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the remaining suspect in Monday's bombing attack at the Boston Marathon.

"We cannot continue lock down an entire city and an entire state," Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben said at the evening press conference. The city also announced that it would resume transit service. "We are as committed as we were this morning to apprehending him."

By late Friday afternoon in the metro area, restless residents were already starting to emerge from their homes, where they'd been cooped up since early morning. The "shelter in place" order had been in effect since daybreak in the communities of Watertown, Newton, Belmont, Allston-Brighton, Cambridge, Waltham, and the city of Boston itself, with a particularly heavy police presence throughout the day in parts of Cambridge and Watertown, where law enforcement officials were still going door-to-door late Friday afternoon in search of Tsarnaev. By early evening, police said he had apparently eluded them on foot in an area where all car traffic had been halted.

Police cars were stationed on Harvard University campus Friday afternoon. (Sommer Mathis)

The magnitude of closures that led to eerily quiet streets Friday was unheard of outside of severe weather or natural disasters: Boston's City Hall was closed. The transit agency, MBTA, completely shut down service, as did Amtrak between Boston and Providence. Taxis were ordered to stop running (a prohibition that was lifted mid-afternoon to enable people at their offices to return home). Even Hubway, Boston’s bikeshare system, was offline. The city meanwhile suspended street cleaning and trash pickup, public schools and libraries were shuttered, and citizens due to report for jury duty were told not to turn up. The Boston Children’s Hospital also canceled appointments and only resumed discharging patients late in the afternoon.

(Emily Badger)

Only one government service unrelated to the manhunt seemed still in operation – locals reported receiving their mail.

Many Bostonites appeared to be growing weary of the stay-at-home order even before the city's evening announcement. On Cambridge Street not far from the home of the Tsarnaev brothers, a group of friends organized a front yard cookout. At the playgrounds on Cambridge Common, parents played with their children.

These Cambridge residents started grilling about an hour before the "shelter in place" order was lifted. (Sommer Mathis)

With Tsarnaev still at large, the city's evening decision raises the question of whether the all-day lockdown was entirely necessary. Officials continued to stress that they considered Tsarnaev armed and dangerous, and potentially wearing a suicide vest. But law enforcement evidently made the calculation that the costs (financial and emotional) of halting the city's daily routine for a dragnet outweighed the chance that putting the city on standstill would help keep people here safe.

Top image: Normally busy streets were largely empty in Cambridge Friday afternoon. (Sommer Mathis)

About the Authors

  • Sommer Mathis is editor of CityLab. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com.
  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.