Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese never expected to find himself in a standoff with one of the Boston Marathon bombers. But on April 19, 2013, he stood no more than eight feet away from Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two accused bombers, who fired his gun in Pugliese’s direction repeatedly. The fact that he didn’t get shot is something the police chief chalks up to “Tamerlan’s injuries, and luck.”
“I still don’t know how he missed me. I ultimately shot him nine times. I think part of it is that I had shot him prior to that when he was in front of the vehicle. I shot him in his torso, in his ankle,” Pugliese tells PEOPLE. “I had an arc of bullets around me.”
Three years later, the dramatic events of that fateful week in 2013 have been recreated for the new film Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, which depicts the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt to track down the terrorists. Pugliese, who was on the film’s set most nights, helped director Peter Berg recreate several of the manhunt scenes in the nearby community of Malden.
Pugliese says that Berg’s depiction is accurate.
“They did throw anywhere from four to six explosive devices, the pipe bombs did go off, they did blow up the cruisers, and they did throw a pressure-cooker bomb that did explode,” Pugliese says. “It made you feel like you’re in a war zone. They really depicted stuff that was happening.”
When it came to casting the film, Pugliese says couldn’t have been more pleased with how actor J.K. Simmons portrayed him in the film.
“J.K. and I spent 60 to 80 hours together,” Pugliese explains. “He rode along with me in the police car, he came along with me to the shooting range, we went to dinner a couple times.”
Simmons worked to nail Pugliese’s Boston accent by recording the police chief the entire time they were together.
“He really wanted to make sure he got this right,” says Pugliese.
His hero status as the officer who tackled Tamerlan Tsarnaev has earned him the city’s — and the nation’s — deep respect. Not to mention a few perks.
“Every once in a while I’ll be in line at Dunkin’ [Donuts], and they’ll say, ‘It’s all set. There was a guy here in line and he wanted to pay for you,’ ” Pugliese says.
Patriots Day is currently in limited release and hits theaters nationwide on Jan. 13.