The Boston Bombers Were Outside Their House

In the early hours of Friday morning, Stephen and Emily McAlpin awoke to the sound of what they thought were fireworks. Within moments, however, it became clear what was happening outside was no celebration.

The story that gripped the nation was unfolding in their front yard.

In a hijacked Mercedes SUV, Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were speeding through the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, with as many as a dozen police cars in pursuit. Reports say the officers had to dodge homemade bombs hurled from the careening vehicle.

At roughly 12:50 a.m., the SUV screeched to a halt in front of the McAlpins’ house. The brothers opened fire, igniting a gun battle with police that involved more than 200 rounds of ammunition, additional makeshift bombs, and the death of the older Tsarnaev—”Suspect #1.”

With the sounds of terror—and even a couple of bullets—entering their home, Stephen and Emily huddled under a table and cried out to Christ. I corresponded with Stephen [Twitter | Blog], church planting resident at Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about the night he and Emily will never forget.


What happened? 

On Friday, my wife Emily and I witnessed firsthand the gunfight between police and terrorists in Watertown, Massachusetts, as it happened in our front yard. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. We first heard the gunshots and an explosion from our bedroom and, after calling 911, crawled with our dog to safety under the kitchen table where we cried out to Jesus for help, and then later into the bathtub for better cover, where we continued praying. We spent a lot of time in fear of death, even after the gunfire ceased and the police checked on us. In fact, we were on lockdown almost the entire day, hiding under our kitchen table as police disarmed explosives around us and searched for the terrorist who had escaped them. We later discovered that during the gunfight seven bullets had hit our home, with one going through our living room wall into our TV and one striking our car. The whole experience was terrifying and utterly unexpected, like a nightmare. Now, we just feel blessed to be alive and safe, and we believe it’s only because God answered our prayers.

Listening to your interview with CNN, I was struck by the peace you seemed to experience amid the terror. Where did this come from, and what was it like?

I believe the peace we experienced came from the Holy Spirit, who was a guiding light to us in a terrifyingly dark time. We experienced the Spirit’s peace most fully while praying. It was a kind of peace that felt like someone else was sharing it with us. As I led my wife in prayer there was like a bright light that calmed my thoughts and helped me to feel that life is a gift and that it’s all about Jesus. In our hearts we felt calmness and even joy at the idea of us finally being with God together. And physically, it was like God’s arms were being wrapped around us to cover us. Altogether, the peace we experienced led us into worship and gave us real hope. It was otherworldly.

You reflected that, while hovering under the kitchen table and later in the bathtub, you just held your wife and prayed. What were you praying?

Under the table, after I told my wife that I loved her, my prayer was basically: “God, thank you for the life you’ve given us together. Thank you for your grace. Oh God, protect us. Jesus, save us! We need you, save us! You’re our only hope. God, please show us grace by giving us safety. Please cover over us and surround us with your angels. Please protect our neighbors, too, and show them your grace.” Then I was just quiet and every so often prayed, “Oh Jesus, save us!” as I held my wife and dog.

When we later moved to the bathtub, shock was starting to set in, and we were trying to figure out what was happening, but we kept holding one another and praying. That time is kind of a blur, but I remember we were thanking God for his grace in protecting us thus far and asking him to quickly bring it all to an end.

What would you say to those who find themselves in situations of fear?

Pray, worshipfully. In situations of fear, there are really only two ways you can respond: worshiping God or not worshiping God. When you’re fearing for your life, that choice becomes a lot simpler. You strangely crave a meaningful life, if only for a moment. Don’t let that moment pass you by. Remember that Jesus is our only hope for true, meaningful life. Express your faith in him. Enjoy him—who he is and what he does—in that moment. Ask him to do the things that only he does, like gracefully saving sinners for his glory. He is faithful to answer.

If he rescues you in that moment, that’s an amazing thing that will change you and others forever. If he doesn’t rescue you in that moment, at least you’ll have had one of the best, sweetest moments of your entire life as you worshiped him in the threat of evil and death. God can do incredible things through worshipful, Christ-centered prayer.

What has God been teaching you and your wife in the hours since the experience?

The hours since the experience have been surreal, like waking up from a nightmare. A lot of people are, like us, trying to figure out how to move on. We recognize we’re still healing, so we trust there’s still a lot for God to teach us. Yet as we’ve looked back so far, God has been teaching us to remember that you can die any moment, so life is exceedingly precious. We have life in this world only because of Jesus and only for Jesus. He’s our only hope for true life—and this is true for everyone else. We’ve been challenged to cultivate a living hope in Jesus all the time—not just during crises—and to share our hope with others still lost in the darkness and unsure of how to overcome it.

In the aftermath of the event, we’ve been humbly surprised by how simply sharing our hope in Jesus during this dark time is making an impact on our neighbors, our city, and even people all around the world. We think God answered our prayers so that others might know how he can enter into and redeem anyone’s story through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  • Thomas

    Thank You Lord for your grace to this young couple. Continue to heal and protect them and to let Your love be spoken through their words and lives. Amen

  • ForeBarcaJeepLB

    Blessings on Emily and Stephen. What a testimony!

  • Doc B

    Stephen’s dad was my pastor at FBC Harvester in St. Charles, MO back in the 90s. I remember Stephen as he grew up and it was a tremendous blessing to hear how well he stood as a witness for his Lord on national TV. He was erudite, loving, and well-spoken and God was honored by many because of his testimony. Great job, kid!!

  • Flora

    What a powerful testimony – thank you so much for sharing. I pray that you’ll continue to experience how wide, how deep, how high, how long God’s love is in the midst of healing and readjusting to reality. God will continue to use you in ways that you could ever ask or imagine! Really appreciate that you guys are making God’s work known to your friends and neighbors. Take care and God bless.

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  • Matt

    On Friday I was watching CNN on TV when shooting in Water Town popped up on the screen I was very grieved that there was even more violence going on. I turned off my TV and went to my room and just started praying to God to protect His people. Then tonight I saw this and was just overwhelmed with the deliverance of God. Thank You for sharing this. May God protects all Amen.

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  • Henry

    This is a heartbreaking testimony, In fact he is alive, and comes to the rescue of his people in their need.What a mighty God we serve!!!

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  • Barbara Duffy

    Beautiful. Thank you for glorifying Jesus, the King and Lord of all!

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  • Spiritual Klutz

    Since the untimely death of a dear friend in high school, I’ve seriously wrestled with the uncertainly of life in this world. The message of this interview found that insecure place in my heart and ministered to it deeply. Thanks so much.

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  • Kimberly

    Very glad these people weren’t hurt but what about the ones who were? The ones who died? I’ve never understood how this works. Were these two people better, more loved? Why does God save one and not the other?

    • Diane Guinn

      Perhaps the ones who were hurt never cried out to God to protect them. The Devil is the Lord of the world, and if we don’t cry out to the Holy Spirit and ask him to protect us from the power of darkness, then the Devil wreaks chaos and heartbreak. Jesus is a gentleman. He knocks at the door of your heart, but if you don’t open the door and allow him to come in, He won’t. We don’t see the whole purpose of God’s plan, but He sees the big picture. It’s just up to us to trust that if we are His, He has plans for the good for us; to give us eternal life with Him. It’s just up to us to make sure we ARE his, otherwise we are the Devil’s, and his plans are to hurt us and make us unhappy and eventually kill us. It’s not up to us to understand….all that’s asked of us is that we love and trust Him in everything, because if we do, it will be good for us. :)

    • Chris

      We are not to question God’s motives, only trust Him and His sovereign will. We don’t see the “big picture” that God does so it confuses us as we’re blind to that bigger picture we cannot see. You have to trust God and hold firmly to His promises. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

    • Monica

      Kimberly, I understand your confusion over this and I’m not sure my response will bring you any solace, but I’m lead to try. God loves all equally, but the reason some are spared and others are not is because we live in a broken, fallen world. We have the freedom to choose what to do with this life and His home is open to all who believe. God does not force us to believe in Him or love Him – we have a choice. The bombers made their choice and innocence suffered because of their choice. But God WAS there to accept the innocent into His home, if they believed. Even those of us who are believers like this couple, die – we all will, but God IS there. He just does not impose His will upon us – He wants our love for Him to be genuine, not forced. I hope this helped some.

    • Brian

      Thank you, Kimberly, for asking these profound questions. At times like these I take some solace n the book of Job, which painfully explores why the innocent surfer. There is no real lanswer there, other than an admission that we are not God. That’s enough for some; others are left to continue wrestling. The comfort I take is that God is in the suffering, wrestling with, but perhaps also alongside, me.

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  • Janis Taylor

    My husband and I are believers too. We have been praying God would bring himself glory even in this horrible situation. Your story is one of the ways He is doing that! Thank you for sharing

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  • Angelique Scarlett

    Right on! What a great example you two were when under pressure.

  • Patrick Burwell

    Whether in times of great stress, or times of absolute serenity, the “Times” do not matter, the Gospel NEVER CHANGES:

  • http://N/A Arlene Regenwether

    I was touched b this article and also the posts.
    Jesus is alive! He wants us to live for Him and our world not only doubts Him, it denies Him. We must keep Him alive not only in time of disaster and need but every day we live. He gives each of His creations a heart and soul at birth and it up to us to grow in His image through His love. He is the living water and if we live for Him we are fulfilled.

  • http://N/A Arlene Regenwether

    Jesus lives! Jesus’ disciples doubted and denied Him when He appeared before them after His resurrection There is still doubt and fear in the world today! Jesus sent His Holy Spirit as a Comforter when He left this world. We must seek Him and allow His Holy Spirit to change our stoney hearts and dead souls.

  • Solomon Gunapalan

    Thank you very much, Stephen and Emily McAlpin for sharing your
    experience and the powerful witness for Christ. I can well imagine
    the horror and the suspense that both of you underwent as I and my
    wife and our three children, all toddlers went through similar harrowing experience in war torn SriLanka, before we migrated to Canada several years ago. At that time too our faith in Lord God Jesus Christ and our prayers pulled us through safely.Praise the Lord!
    Solomon Gunapalan

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