Witnesses: Officer Shot in Watertown May Have Been Hit By Friendly Fire

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 7 2013 12:46 PM

Was the Officer Who Was Nearly Killed in Watertown Hit by Friendly Fire?

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A police officer with gun drawn and flashlight searches for a suspect on April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Mass.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Boston Globe brings us its latest scoop from the aftermath of the gunfight and manhunt that ultimately ended with the death of one of the Boston bombing suspects, and the capture of the other:

Eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard H. Donohue Jr. was shot and nearly killed by a fellow officer in Watertown April 19 during the hail of gunfire unleashed on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as the suspected terrorist made a getaway in a carjacked sport utility vehicle.
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In all, there are three possible "accidental fire" incidents that the district attorney’s office and Massachusetts State Police are currently looking into as part of their larger investigation, the most serious of which is definitely Donohue's near death. (The second involves damage to a vehicle, and the third involves a slightly wounded officer.) Given the hundreds of shots believed to have been fired by officials from at least four different law enforcement agencies—and possibly as many as six—during the early-morning Watertown gunfight alone, it's not hard to see how such a chaotic scene could have involved friendly fire.

In any case, here's the eyewitness account at the center of the Globe story. It comes from Jane Dyson, who lives close to the scene of the Watertown shootout and who says she saw Donohue collapse and fall to the ground:

"A black SUV appeared, and rapid gun fire was focused on the vehicle,” Dyson wrote in a statement provided to the Globe, referring to the vehicle Tsarnaev allegedly drove in his escape. "It appeared to me that an individual at the corner [of the street] fell to the ground and had probably been hit in the gunfire. ... I later learned that the individual who had been shot was Officer Richard Donohue,” she wrote.
It would later become ­apparent that the suspects were no longer armed when Dyson saw Donohue fall, suggesting that the shot that wounded him came from police. Two witnesses support Dyson’s account that Donohue appeared to be wounded in the final volley of shots fired at the fleeing younger suspect.

Donohue is still recovering in the hospital. He nearly bled to death at the scene but is, thankfully, expected to make a full recovery. None of the witnesses the Globe spoke with faulted the officers. ("The police did a great job," was how Dyson put it.) Still, the crime scene suggests the shootout had the potential to have been much worse. As the Globe writes: "Shots fired in the battle left at least a dozen nearby houses pockmarked with dozens of bullet holes, includ­ing a second-floor bedroom where two children slept." Read the full story at the Globe, which has more details about the gunfight's timeline.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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