Spring is the high season of college life in Boston, with Frisbee on the Common and sun-bathing on the Esplanade, but students were finding it a very different place Friday as they stared out their windows from the dormitories where they were locked down.
"It's been very overwhelming for the past couple days," said Ashley Czarnota, a freshman from East Hampton, Conn., who is attending Emerson College. "Everyone is in a somber state. It's very eerie out there. Nobody's out on the street whatsoever."
As the manhunt for a second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing continued, many thousands of college students in Boston awoke to text messages and emails telling them that classes were canceled, they had to stay in their dorms, and public transportation was shut down late into the afternoon.
The shutdown covered some of the city's suburbs as well, and affected more than 1.5 million workers. The Red Sox and Bruins games were postponed Friday night.
It wasn't until 6 p.m. that the "shelter-in-place" request to stay indoors was lifted and service returned on Boston's mass transit system.
But for the bulk of the day, one of America's greatest cities — and the college students who go to school there from throughout the United States and beyond — was essentially frozen in place.
"We are prisoners in our own homes," Czarnota said. "They don't have the second suspect in custody, they have no idea where he's at. Everything is so up in the air. The city has this air of tension and tons of paranoia."
Amy Horenstein, a Boston University freshman from Simsbury, put it this way: "It's 70 degrees. It's a beautiful sunny day and we're just watching out the window."
With the school term winding down — Northeastern University students are already into finals — many students were finding it hard to break away from the news flow to focus and concentrate on academics.
"It's very hard to get it off your mind, especially when we keep finding out new things," said Jonah Lazowski, an Emerson freshman from Hartford.
Like many students, Lazowski spent late Thursday and well into early Friday morning hunkered down following news reports that started with the shooting of a campus police officer at MIT, and reports of a hijacked Mercedes and a shootout with flying hand grenades.
"Last night, I called my mother," Lazowski said. "It's like the first time I kind of felt scared, there was so much circulating."
Arvind Narayanan, a Harvard University student from West Hartford, spent Thursday night and early Friday listening to a police scanner.
"We were all doing some work and then all of that stopped" when reports came over of a shooting and of a police pursuit going west on Memorial Drive toward Harvard Square, Narayanan said.
"Eventually we found out that they were in Watertown. … That was sort of far away from where we are. There was a little bit of relief involved," he said.
Narayanan said he went to sleep at 4 a.m. and awoke to find that classes had been canceled.
At Harvard, Narayanan said that students were being allowed to walk between buildings if they needed to do so to get to a student dining hall. But he said that snacks had been set up in a common room as well for students who did not want to go out.
Many students were able to eat in dining halls in their dormitories or, in some cases, colleges were delivering food to the dorms.
But Amy Horenstein, a Boston University freshman from Simsbury, said she has a friend in a smaller brownstone dorm run by the university who was not getting food delivered to her. Those students were allowed to walk to dining halls in nearby locations, but some did not want to do that, she said.
"She's just scrambling around her room for chips," said Horenstein. "I'm lucky. I'm in a dorm with a dining hall and everything."
Liz Freda, a Northeastern University student from West Hartford, said that Friday had been especially difficult.
She woke up to find "a ton of text" messages ordering her to stay in the dormitory. Later, she heard the thrum of helicopters overhead.
"This morning I was really scared. Monday I was scared, but this just seems a lot worse to me," Freda said. "I'm not sure what's so different. ... It felt like a nightmare when I woke up. It's right out of a movie."
Freda was supposed to have a Spanish final Friday, but it was postponed. With the term ending, she has friends who have plane tickets to depart next week, but she was wondering if they would be able to complete all their exams before their scheduled departure.
Matthew Macca, a West Hartford student at Boston University, said "horrific is the best word" for the past week.
He said it finally seemed as if life was edging toward normal when Thursday night's violence broke out with the MIT shooting.
"My dorm is right off the highway, and after we got that news report, it was literally like cop cars everywhere. The lights were flashing, the sirens were blaring," Macca said. "It was like they were trying to smoke out whoever they were looking for."
When students describe the past week's events, the word "surreal" comes up a lot. "For me, personally, with the bombings on Monday. … My friends and I had been there a half-hour before. It's very much like that could have been us."
For Lazowski, that unreal feeling surfaced when he was out playing football on the Boston Common earlier this week, right next to an encampment of military, police and Humvees.
Courant staff writer Amanda Falcone contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, CT Now