Two Irish brothers living in the Boston suburbs consider themselves lucky to be alive.
One of them witnessed the marathon terror attack just minutes after crossing the finish line, and the other was evacuated from his Watertown home after his next-door neighbor, David Henneberry, notified authorities on Friday that one of the killers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was possibly hiding out in his boat.
“It has been an unbelievable time for us,” Brendan Morrissey, a native of Athenry, Co. Galway, who moved to Boston 20 years ago, told the Irish Voice. “We’re still in shock. We could have lost our lives.”
Brendan crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon minutes before the first of two bombs ripped through the heart of the city, killing three and wounding scores of others.
His brother Joe, a roofer who emigrated in 1986, was worried for his brother’s safety for several hours, but the roles were reversed four days later when reports emerged that Tsarnaev was possibly hiding in a boat on Franklin Street in Watertown in the backyard of the home next door to Joe’s.
Brendan recalls that Monday, April 15 couldn’t have started better, and weather conditions were perfect for marathon running. It was his second marathon, and he improved his time by 45 minutes this year, finishing in 3:44.
“It was great,” he says. “Last year it was really hot and the heat got to me.”
Brendan was joined by three of his friends who were runners, and after the race they had plans to meet at a restaurant on Boylston Street that was renovated by Brendan’s company Western Construction. Those plans quickly went awry when the bombs exploded.
“I finished the race and went to the finish area to get water. All was fine,” Brendan recalls. “I was waiting at the finish line for five or six minutes and lots of runners were starting to come in.
“The organizers asked me to move a bit to make space. They were very nice about it. As it turns out, they were moving me away from the attacks.”
The next thing Brendan recalls is that the first of the bombs went off, creating chaos everywhere. Brendan witnessed the explosion, with glass everywhere and people running for cover, but he figured the cause was possibly a gas leak.
The second explosion, however, convinced him and everyone nearby that Boston was under a terrorist attack.
“It was pandemonium. We didn’t know where to go or what to do,” Brendan says. “We were afraid that when we ran we were heading right into another bomb.”
He ran the marathon without his cellphone and was desperate to reach out to family to let them know he was safe. He also wanted to make contact with his three friends who joined him on the marathon run.
“We eventually all met up at Cheers [a bar], and I got a phone, though at first all the reception was cut off,” Brendan says.
“My wife came to pick me up and then we went home in the evening. It was completely frightening. My family in Ireland was terrified.”
The trauma of being so close to the attack started to wear off Brendan, but more horror was to come for the Morrisseys on Friday when the manhunt for Tsarnaev brought Boston and its suburbs to a halt.
Once the lockdown ended early Friday evening Joe Morrissey went outside his house and chatted with his neighbor Henneberry, hailed as a hero for guessing that Tsarnaev could be hiding under a tarp in his boat.
“Joe and Dave were both outside, talking, then they went about their business,” says Brendan. Joe’s wife Tricia and daughter Sarah were in Ireland, and Joe was planning to collect his son from a friend’s house.
“Then the news comes on and I see that the suspect is possibly hiding on Franklin Street in Watertown which is where Joe lives,” Brendan said.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The FBI took over his house and took him away down to another neighbor while everything was going on. My brother had no idea, it happened so fast.”
Brendan had six missed calls from Joe, and the close brothers eventually made contact.
“He didn’t know Tsarnaev was on Dave’s boat at first,” says Brendan. “He was completely shaken up. The houses on Franklin Street are very close together. This guy could just as easy have hopped into Joe’s garage.”
As it happens, Tsarnaev was surrounded by Irish while attempting to hide. Henneberry’s other next door neighbor, Brendan Toye, is a native of Donegal.
The homes on Franklin Street are still considered a crime scene. “I was at my brother’s on Monday and there were forensic people everywhere. I took a picture on my phone but I had to delete it,” Brendan says.
The Morrissey brothers are grateful that their brush with the killer Tsarnaev brothers ended as it did. And though they maintain close ties with Ireland – Brendan and his family travel there at least once a year – they’re glad they made the move to Boston, even after all that has happened.
“This is my second home,” Brendan says. “We have lots of friends here and our lives are here. And right now, we just feel very fortunate to be alive.”