Mass. chief with local ties overwhelmed by response to participation in capture of bombing suspect Hero's welcome BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
Pulling a Boston Marathon bombing suspect out of a boat after a five-day manhunt didn't match the excitement of meeting Big Papi the next day.
John C. Fisher III, who was raised near Lancaster and is now chief of police in Carlisle, Mass., led a SWAT unit on April 19 that helped grab wounded suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from his hiding place in a Watertown, Mass., backyard.
But when the exhausted, 51-year-old police officer called his father in Stevens on April 20, he talked more about the hero's welcome he received that morning at Fenway Park, where he met slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz and his Red Sox teammates.
"He called me and said, 'You aren't going to believe where I just was,' " the proud dad, John Fisher Jr., said Sunday.
"He said, 'Dad, I'm all right. Now let me tell you what just happened,' " Fisher Jr. said.
"And then he told me all about meeting the baseball team," he said. "He shook the governor's hand. He was up in the owner's box, he met Neil Diamond (singer of unofficial Fenway anthem 'Sweet Caroline') and he was down in the locker room."
Police had just completed a citywide manhunt for Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in an exchange of gunfire on April 18.
The brothers are suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260 on April 15.
Chief Fisher, interviewed by telephone Monday, explained that Massachusetts is divided into "law-enforcement councils and specialty units."
When the call for assistance came from Boston after the bombings, departments throughout the state sent personnel and resources.
It wasn't all investigative work, he said. Some of it was simply covering the city while Boston police pursued leads.
"They had to deplete some of their resources to cover the crime scenes," he said.
That first night, for instance, Fisher and his men patrolled hospitals and the financial district. They provided security at an April 17 Boston Bruins ice hockey game.
They were back at the hospitals on April 18, providing security during visits to the injured by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
"There was something each day," he said.
Fisher is a control chief for a regional response team and SWAT, he said. He was one of three chiefs for that division during the investigation.
They worked 12-hour shifts that week, he said -- sometimes in the command center, sometimes on the street.
Fisher said he spent most of his time pounding the pavement.
"It's like you're running a small police department in someone else's city," he said. "We took direction from the Boston P.D. and supplemented their presence."
He made it home to Nashua, N.H., twice that week, for a few hours each time. When a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was gunned down by suspects on April 18, Fisher had just gotten home.
"I got home at about 10:30 that night, thinking I'd get a decent night's sleep," he said. "The page came in at 11:30 regarding the MIT shooting. We all hurried back to Watertown."
Fisher assigned officers to secure the perimeter and conduct door-to-door searches in the neighborhood where Tsarnaev was believed to be hiding.
"People were very cooperative during the searches," he said. "Appreciative, even. They were sad, worried. It's a very trying time. But we were well-received."
The search took Fisher to within a few hundred yards of the house where Tsarnaev was found hiding in a boat by a homeowner.
"We had gone back to the command post, which was just down the street," Fisher said. "When the call came in, we were pretty quick to get back out there."
His team "didn't handle the actual takedown, but they were right there in the driveway," Fisher said.
He couldn't personally see the capture, he said.
"As a control chief, I don't go with the guys on the call," he explained. "In a situation where the person is a threat, if you can see it, you're probably too close.
"I was two houses away," he added. "If I had thrown a rock over the houses, I could have hit the team."
He followed their progress on radio, he said, and was close enough to hear the "flash-bang" diversionary devices explode as Tsarnaev was taken down.
n Tearing down the command center that night was a little unreal, Chief Fisher said.
"It was a very strange time," he said. "Everyone was exhausted, but still vigilant. On edge. It was pretty serious work."
The next morning was the beginning of a school vacation back home, and Fisher planned to take his son fishing.
Instead, he and his fellow officers were honored at Fenway.
"Those guys could not have been nicer," Fisher said. "I'd never done anything like that -- there was a lot of handshaking and back-slapping. They were very appreciative. It was humbling.
"I couldn't stay for the game, though. I was exhausted, I hadn't even had breakfast. ... I was ready to go home."
He got a little rest that weekend, he said. "Then we were called back to handle security for the (bomb victims') funerals on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."
It was an honor to work with the Boston police throughout the ordeal, Fisher said.
"Boston was dealing with a large crime scene, and they are very good at running large-scale operations," he said. "It's very important to them that Boston is safe."
In Stevens, meanwhile, John Fisher Jr. and his wife, Becky, were keeping tabs on their son.
They weren't watching when the younger Tsarnaev was found hiding in that boat on Franklin Street.
"They were kind of wrapping up the whole operation there, and they couldn't find anything. Everybody was leaving," Fisher Jr. said.
"Then that guy walked out and found (Tsarnaev) in his boat. So they called in my son's SWAT team. ... That was his area."
Fisher served on the Nashua police force for 22 years, his father said, retiring in 2011 to take the chief's post in Carlisle, which is near the New Hampshire border -- about 45 minutes from Boston.
Fisher called his dad on April 15 -- the day of the bombings -- and told him he was going to assist in the investigation.
"He told me he probably wouldn't be able to talk to me again until it was all over," his father said.
"That's very scary as a parent," he said. "We said a lot of prayers."
When his son called that next Saturday, Fisher Jr. said, "He sounded exhausted. He didn't get much sleep."
The Fisher family lived in Kutztown when John III was born, his dad said. They later moved to Annville.
After his parents separated, the younger Fisher lived with his mother in Harrisburg, then moved with her to New Hampshire when he was 7.
Fisher Jr., who taught several years at Ephrata High School, opened a kitchen design business and moved to Stevens, where his son is a frequent visitor. He lived there for a year while attending Millersville University, before transferring to Plymouth State.
"He decided he liked New England much better," his father said.
He worked a few years in the Boys Club and served in the Coast Guard, his dad added. Then he attended the police academy before joining the force in Nashua, working his way up to captain and leading a SWAT team there.
"He had some exciting moments up there, too," Fisher Jr. said. "Whenever they had a major occurrence in Nashua, he was always right in the midst of things.
"Just like any parent ... you worry."