April 22, 2013
My Midnight Encounter with the Boston Bombers
The story of a pastor caught in the crossfire of the Watertown shootout.
Last Friday, at about 12:40 A.M., my wife Emily and I awoke in our bedroom to a sudden, loud pop. This was followed by several more pops. They sounded like fireworks to us. When Emily looked out the window, she saw an orange gun flash and a bunch of commotion. Immediately we dropped to the ground, with our dog, Taco. She handed me her phone and said, “Call 911!” All the while, the gunshots kept coming.
The 911 operators told there was a car chase and gunfight in progress. I told the operator our home address and hung up the phone to get to cover. I realized, This is happening right outside our windows. We were in immense danger, so I looked at my wife and said, “Emily, we have to get out of this bedroom.”
Taking Taco by his collar, we crawled from our bedroom through the hallway into our kitchen. As we inched through the hallway, the gunshots sounded closer and we saw an explosion—a bright flash—through our front door window. There was a much louder and thicker boom, and we heard glass shatter. People outside our home were screaming frantically at each other. I shouted, “Get under the kitchen table!” We needed to get away from the windows into a safer place.
As we got under the kitchen table, the gunshots continued, and I put my arms around my wife. We held onto our dog together. We were trapped, with active gunfire on three sides of our home. I was terrified; things were completely out of our control. There was nothing I could do to save us. I looked at my wife and said, “Emily, I love you,” and then I prayed:
God, thank you for the life you’ve given us together. Thank you for your grace. Oh God, protect us. Jesus, we need you. Save us! You’re our only hope. Please surround us with your angels. Protect our neighbors, and show them your grace.
A peace came over us. My thoughts grew calm. Even our normally playful dog was calm during the crisis. Amidst the chaos and fear of death, we actually felt joy at the idea of finally being home together with our God. It felt like God was wrapping his arms around us, covering us. That peace was otherworldly.
After several long minutes under the kitchen table, things got a little quieter outside. We crawled down the hallway into the bathroom, and the three of us got into our antique bathtub. It seemed like the safest place to be. Every other room in our home had windows on all sides, and we weren’t sure if there would be more gunfire or explosions.
Our time in the bathtub was a blur. Shock was starting to set in, and we were trying to figure out what was happening. Still, we kept holding one another and praying. I remember we thanked God for his protection thus far and asked him to bring it all to a quick end. Our time praying together, both under the kitchen table and in the bathtub, was an incredibly sweet and satisfying experience. We were able to worship our God together in the midst of fearful moments, when evil and death threatened us. God proved that we could have a meaningful, joyful life of hope in any experience when we worship him. Emily and I are grateful to have experienced him like that together. Those moments of worship changed us forever.
We stayed in the bathtub for about 30 minutes. Then the police came by our home to check on us, knocking on the front door until I opened it.
Surveying the damage
As the police worked their way through our home, we were amazed by what they showed us. We learned that seven bullets had hit our home, and one had hit our SUV. Of the bullets that hit our home, one had penetrated our living room wall, passed through a picture, and lodged in our television, keeping it out of the bedroom. Many of the other bullets had hit the outside wall of our bedroom, around the window, but had not come through. We were told that one of the bullets had gone into our upstairs neighbors’ apartment, narrowly missing the bunk beds where their children were sleeping.
When we looked outside, we saw carnage. Bullets and shell casings were everywhere. It was like nothing we’d ever seen. Our normally safe home and neighborhood had turned into a warzone. Police and military began setting up a base on our street. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of officers and vehicles around us. The police in our home said they would be disarming explosives outside and instructed us to stay low in our kitchen and away from windows and doors.
We were overwhelmingly grateful to be alive, and grateful that God had answered our prayers. But we were left confused, exhausted, terrified, and unsure of what might happen next. The whole experience was terrifying and utterly unexpected, like a nightmare. We spent the entire day, into the evening, on lockdown in our home as we waited for authorities to apprehend the terrorist who’d escaped the gunfight outside our home. We spent much of the time praying for our neighbors and city. We reached out and shared our story with as many people as possible to challenge others to share our hope in Jesus.
When the authorities finally caught the second terrorist, it was a relief. It felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off our shoulders. The enemy had been overcome, and there was reason to rejoice. But then another emotion crept in: we felt bitter and victimized. We started to think of ourselves as the “innocents” deserved God’s saving grace, something the young man who had caused this crisis didn’t deserve. We recognized the change in attitude and repented. We prayed for the young man. We prayed that he would repent and encounter Christ, that he would recover and apologize to everyone hurt by his evil deeds.
Ministry in the aftermath
Ultimately our reaction—and we hope the reaction of others—was to thank God that justice had been served. We believe that God was at work during that dark time in the Boston area, revealing himself in unique ways.
After this episode, there’s no return to normal. It’s surreal, like waking up from a nightmare. We’re still shaken. Nothing feels or looks the same. We’ve often found ourselves viewing the world through the lens of these evil events. But by God’s grace we are trying to move on. He has guided us with the light of his hope. We’re continually praying for God to give us new eyes of faith to see the world.
My main focus at this time is to minister to my wife. The experience has been hard on her, emotionally and physically. She has some health issues related to surviving thyroid cancer, and she just had knee surgery a couple weeks ago, so crawling around and not sleeping for almost 50 hours has been tough. As her husband, I’ve been reminding her of how cherished she is, praying for and with her, and finding regular, everyday things we can do together. She even got a massage to help relax and feel a little better. And she has helped me to heal, too.
One lesson we’ve learned is that our lives are exceedingly precious and should be defined by our worship. An event like this simply brings the reality of death into sharper focus. We've been challenged to cultivate a living hope in Jesus at all times, even in times of relative safety. We’re praying that God will continue to do incredible work in the lives of our neighbors, and even in the lives of our enemies. We hope he will show our city a common grace and give it peace and welfare. We’re reaching out to our neighbors, trying to learn how they’re doing, letting them know we’re praying for them, and asking if there are any things we can do to help them. As we’ve tried to faithfully minister to our community, we've been amazed at the response. Sharing our hope in Jesus during this dark time is impacting our neighbors, our city, and people around the world.
Stephen McAlpin is Church Planting Resident at Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.