News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 20, 2013

Current and former Valley residents in Boston describe Friday’s events

TERRE HAUTE — Unreal. Terrifying. Horrible.

Those are the adjectives Vigo County native Joseph Botros used Friday to describe events in Cambridge and Boston as law enforcement worked feverishly to capture two suspects  in the Boston Marathon bombing.

One of the suspects had been killed earlier  in a shoot-out with police; on Friday, a massive manhunt was underway to find the second.

And Botros, a Harvard University student and Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate, found himself a little too close to the violence unfolding around him.

Classes were canceled and students were in “lockdown.” Police had ordered all residents in the area to stay inside and answer the door for no one but authorities.

Botros compared it to the movie the Dark Knight, where there is citywide panic.  But in this case, “It’s actually happening,” he said.

He found it “very unreal one or two people can halt a city’s functioning. I can’t believe Boston’s response has been so strong and so thorough.”

He describes that response as “a great thing, that they are so concerned with our safety that they would literally shut down the town.”

It no doubt hurt the city economically, he said.

Harvard never cancels classes, yet they did after the Boston Marathon explosions and also on Friday. “That’s unprecedented,” he said. “It’s been a hell of a year. I’d really like to be done with school” for the year.

He’s a sophomore at Harvard.

On Thursday night, he had been working at the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, where staff were working on a special supplement for Visitas. That is where next year’s incoming freshmen come to visit for a weekend — this weekend.

The event was canceled because of the manhunt. “That’s huge. That’s never happened before,” Botros said. Many of the visitors had already arrived. Harvard first told them to stay at the airport, and later told them  to go back home.

While the newspaper staff worked Thursday night, they also learned that a shooting had taken place at Massachusetts Institute of Technology involving an MIT police office, who was killed.

At the time, the staff thought it was an isolated event and weren’t too concerned. But after they heard those involved in the shooting had hijacked a car and were driving toward Harvard Square — near the newspaper — they went to the basement.

There, about 30 of them listened to police scanners.

Botros said that some of his friends who lived nearby “could hear shooting and explosions … people were freaking out.”

About 2:30 a.m., around five of those at the Crimson who had been in the basement navigated their way a quarter-mile or so away to Mather House, where Botros lives. They went through back alleys, and they ran.

The streets were empty. “It was really creepy,” he said.

And on Friday, he found himself “locked in” at Mather House, part of Harvard’s student housing. “You don’t expect something like this to drag on,” he said. “It’s absolutely unreal. It’s terrible. It’s horrible. I can’t believe it’s so close to home.”

While he likes the quiet of the Midwest, this week’s violent events don’t discourage him from living and studying in the Boston area. “The way the city has responded and the way people have made me feel has been only positive,” he said.

He noted that dining hall workers “came to feed us,” even though they weren’t supposed to. “I’ve only seen kindness and compassion from Boston residents everywhere.”

He texted his parents, Noaman and Carol Botros, Thursday night and then called them Friday morning.

He tried to do homework Friday, without much success. “Everyone is very shaken and not able to function normally,” he said. “It’s a messed up world, but also heartening. I’ve received so much support from family and friends. You get to see how many people care about you.”

• • •

Sachin Shinde first learned of a shooting Thursday evening on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology after receiving a campus alert.

The shooting, which killed an MIT police officer, happened near Building 32 about 11 p.m.

Shinde, the 2009 and 2010 Indiana Mr. Math and graduate of Terre Haute South High School, was in MacGregor House, a dormitory located about a mile northeast of that building.

“We are far away from Building 32, so we were not that fearful,” he said Friday. He then saw Facebook posts from students in and near Building 32, plus students were texting about the incident.

“That is where a lot of information was disseminated. The campus in general was in a state of panic, it felt like,” he said.

Students were told not to leave their buildings. By 2 a.m. Friday, the lockdown was lifted. He then went to get something to eat about 3:30 a.m. and returned to his room about 4:30 a.m.

However, between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Friday MIT announced classes were closed and employees were told not report to work. Then, the city of Boston issued a citywide lockdown.

“I took a peak outside and it seems like no one is out there, so it does seem like a ghost town,” he said Friday afternoon in a telephone interview from his dorm room.

At MIT, Shinde, a junior, is pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering/computer science and in biological engineering.

Shinde said he was prepared for the lockdown as he had cereal and milk in his room. “I have enough to survive,” he said.

“It is surreal. You don’t think this kind of thing can happen to you and then it just happens,” he said. “The weird part of this academic year in general has been one disaster after the other. First a hurricane [on the East Coast], then in late November there was a power outage in Boston,” then the bombing at the Boston Marathon and an MIT officer killed, he said.

“It is just now dawning on me the severity of all of this. It is definitely shocking,” he said. “It is just one crazy event after another. It is something I will never forget.”

Shinde said as police continued to search for a 19-year-old suspect on Friday, “it feels a little unsafe to go outside. It will take some time for me to feel comfortable, I think. I will be looking over my shoulder for a while,” he said.

His mother, Pratima Shinde of Vigo County, first called her son after news of bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier this week. “We have been calling him since Monday. For me, it looks very scary there,” she said.

Her husband, Dilip Shinde, told her to call their son early to check on him. “We called early, even though he is not usually up until 9 a.m.,” she chuckled. “He is OK and is safe.”

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