Would a recreation of the Tsarnaev shootout traumatize residents who lived through it?

Boston mental health experts weigh in on what reliving the event could mean for those in Watertown.

When news of Mark Wahlberg’s movie about the Boston marathon bombings first hit the Internet, many wondered if it was toosoon for the city to relive the tragedy. Now, the film could hit especially close to home for those in Watertown, where CBS Films announced via fliers earlier this week that they’re hoping to recreate the Tsarnaev firefight for the movie at the same cross streets at which it actually occurred.

CBS Films is seeking permission to shoot scenes for the upcoming film Patriots’ Day near the intersection of Laurel and Dexter Streets between April 25 and May 9. The filming would include “simulated gunshots (noise) until approximately midnight each night,’’ according to the fliers, which were distributed to residents in the area. Some Watertown residents are worried this may open old wounds.


There’s no question that the bombings had a stark effect on the city. About 11 percent of children who were exposed to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and counselors helped those who served on the Tsarnaev trial jury after graphic testimony.

But is the entire Watertown area still too affected to allow filming of the shootout scene that would portray the real-life moment where Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot by police and run over by his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

Dr. Roger Pitman, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, doesn’t think so.

“My feeling about post-traumatic stress disorder is that there’s no such thing as a traumatized neighborhood, there’s no such thing as a traumatized city,’’ he said. “If you were two blocks away [from the shooting], would you have heard gunshots? If you then heard on the news [that it was] Tsarnaev, you’re not going to get PTSD from that.’’

If anyone was deeply affected by the Watertown events, there still isn’t a way to gauge how they would react to the filming, Pitman said. He pointed out that someone’s reaction depends on the nature of their experience, and no two people had the same one, or had the same reaction to the events.


“The degree to which people are traumatized, if at all, is a case-by-case basis,’’ Pitman said. “I sympathize with them not wanting the neighborhood invaded, but if they want to get away, they can.’’

The production company is offering to pay for hotel rooms for residents who don’t want to see the filming, a source close to the film project said.

Dr. Lovern Moseley, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Boston Medical Center’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, agreed that no two residents would have the same experience, but urged those who don’t want to relive the event to take the production company up on their offer to leave the area. It’s not about it being “too soon,’’ she said, but about how well people have developed skills to deal with their trauma.

“Part of treatment is being able to deal with the symptoms that you’re feeling…and create a sense of safety for yourself amid the tragedy that happened,’’ she said. “There are always going to be triggers, no matter how long of a time passes. It’s more about making sure that people have the coping skills to deal with triggers when they happen — it could be anything at any moment that could remind them of the bombing or of hearing gunshots.’’

If Watertown residents are concerned about how their children will react to the filming, Moseley encouraged those parents to consider how affected their children really were by the shooting.

“Can [parents] step back and think about: Were their children awakened by [the shooting]? Do they even have any recollection of it?’’ Moseley asked. “Oftentimes it’s about the parents’ response, and they’re more frightened than the child ever was. Children are going to respond based on how their parents respond.’’


Moseley encouraged local parents to talk openly with their children about the filming and to explain that it’s just “make-believe,’’ but ultimately encouraged those in the area to do what they need to for their own self-care, even if that means staying away while the movie is being filmed.

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