EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 20, 2013

'Thank God we got him'

After a 20-hour manhunt that shut down Boston, bombing suspect caught

Staff and wire reports
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BOSTON — Lifting days of anxiety for a city on edge, police captured the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, found bloodied in a backyard boat last night following a wild car chase and gun battle that left his older brother dead and Boston and its suburbs sealed in an extraordinary dragnet.

The capture of 19-year-old terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at 8:45 p.m. ended a furious 24-hour drama that transfixed the nation and paralyzed the Boston area. A state-issued “shelter in place” alert kept almost 1 million residents of Boston and its suburbs locked inside their homes as hundreds of armed members of law enforcement canvassed and recanvassed neighborhoods. Officers from all over New England, including dozens from the Merrimack Valley, sped to the city to help.

The city’s mass transit system stood still. Universities shut down. Major events like the Red Sox and Boston Bruins games and the Big Apple Circus performance were called off for the night.

And when it seemed like the trail was cold and people were told they could go outside, a Watertown resident walked out into his backyard about 7 p.m. and saw blood on the side of his boat. He lifted the cover and found a blood-covered man inside, according to Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. The resident called 911 and a state police helicopter armed with a thermal imaging camera confirmed someone was inside.

SWAT teams, cruisers, and armored vehicles raced to the scene as Blackhawk helicopters flew overhead. There was gunfire, flash-bang grenades, and a short time later, a thunderous eruption of applause from law enforcement as 19-year-old terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken from the boat and loaded into an ambulance injured, but still alive.

Boston Mayor Menino confirmed the manhunt was over with a simple tweet: “We got him.” Boston Police followed with their own: “The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”

The terror began Monday when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The twin blasts killed 8-year-old Martin Richard, Medford resident Krystle Campbell and Boston University student Lingzi Lu. Almost 200 people were wounded. Doctors have performed multiple amputations on victims, whose ages range from as young as 2 to as old as 78.

“Tonight, our family applauds the entire law enforcement community for a job well done, and trust that our justice system will now do its job,” said the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard.

The city came together in the days following, uniting under the mantra “Boston Strong,” donating $7 million dollars to the One Fund set up to help the victims, and praying with President Barack Obama and other officials during a heart-wrenching interfaith service held at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, just yards from where the bombing took place.

The FBI then released photos of the two men accused of planting the pressure-cooker explosives that ripped through the crowd at the marathon finish line. Authorities dubbed Tamerlan Tsarnaev as Suspect No. 1, the one in sunglasses and a dark baseball cap in the surveillance-camera pictures, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as Suspect No. 2, the one in a white baseball cap worn backward.

The FBI was swamped with tips after the release of the surveillance-camera photos — 300,000 per minute — but what role those played in the capture was unclear.

The search

At 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, of Somerville, was found fatally shot in his cruiser. He was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The two suspects then carjacked a Mercedes SUV at gunpoint, reportedly identifying themselves to the car’s owner as the perpetrators of the marathon bombing. The car’s owner escaped half an hour later at a gas station and the SUV headed toward Watertown, about eight miles from downtown Boston. Police chased the suspects, even as they tossed several explosive devices at officers from their car.

About 12:45 a.m., gunfire broke out between the suspects and police in Watertown. Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Police Officer Richard H. Donohue was badly wounded in the shootout, but is expected to survive. Tamerlan Tsarnaev also suffered serious injuries and was pronounced dead at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at 1:35 a.m.

His younger brother got away in the car, reportedly running over his brother in his haste, and setting off a chase that led to close police scrutiny of the area. Some 200 spent shells were found afterward.

The brothers had built an arsenal of pipe bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices and used some of the weapons in trying to make their getaway, said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Officials also locked down and later evacuated the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a campus about 60 miles from Boston where the younger Tsarnaev is a student. By midafternoon, National Guard helicopters were landing at the campus and off-loading what appeared to be SWAT teams.

Commissioner Davis said that a resident alerted police to the potential hiding site late last night. The neighborhood had been locked down all day, but law enforcement officials advised residents after 6 p.m. that it was safe to go outside. One Franklin Street resident went to check on his boat.

“He happened to notice that the boat didn’t look right, so he looked inside, that’s where he saw the blood and the body,” Franklin Street resident George Pizzuto told ABC.

Franklin Street residents in Watertown heard a flurry of gunshots around 7 p.m. Law enforcement and emergency vehicles arrived with sirens screaming at the scene, setting up a perimeter that was reinforced by the minute Davis said there was an exchange of gunfire and residents heard a number of flash-bang grenades — the final volley of one of the biggest manhunts in American history.

About 8:45 p.m. police could be heard urging Tsarnaev to give up.

When it became clear that he had surrendered, neighbors burst into cheers and applause. They left the shelter of their homes to rush to line the streets, waving American flags and blaring the Red Sox anthem “Sweet Caroline” over their car speakers. A cruiser drove by and the officer driving shouted “God Bless America” over the loud speaker.

“Your mayor is very proud of you,’’ Boston Mayor Tom Menino said over the police radio.

Celebration, thank-yousand remembering

Spontaneous celebrations erupted outside Northeastern University. People gathered at the end of Boylston Street where the road remains shut down after the bombings. Flowers, signs and cards sit underneath the police crime scene tape. As Boston Police cruisers drove by, people applauded and cheered.

President Barack Obama said the nation owes a debt of gratitude to law enforcement officials and the people of Boston for their help in the search. But he said there are many unanswered questions about the Boston bombings, including whether the two men had help from others. He urged people not to rush judgment about their motivations.

“Boston police and state police and local police across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts responded with bravery over five long days,” he said. “We are extremely grateful. … We owe a debt of gratitude.”

“We are so grateful to bring closure and justice to this case,” Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben said at a 9:30 p.m. briefing. “We’re exhausted, folks, but we have a victory here tonight.”

Rick DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office, added that “it seems like many months since Monday,” when the horrific marathon explosions occurred. He stressed that this was a “truly intense investigation” involving myriad officers with the multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Specially trained operators with the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team made the final capture, following a standoff and exchange of gunfire.

Tsarnaev was taken to a hospital where doctors declared he was in serious condition. The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, said last night that no decision had yet been made about whether to seek the death penalty.

Questions remain

While Boston’s streets were empty, electronic airwaves and the Internet were jammed as television crews swarmed Tsarnaev family members for interviews from Maryland to Canada, and as far away as Russia. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up with news, rumors and commentary.

The number of people following Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Twitter feeds skyrocketed to more than 35,000 in just a few hours. The FBI used the Twitter messaging system to alert citizens that the surviving brother might be driving a “1999 four-door, green Honda Civic with Massachusetts license plates,’’ only to cancel the alert an hour later.

Meanwhile, his former classmates at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School posted online expressions of sorrow.

“He’s a smart guy,’’ his aunt, Maret Tsarnaev, told reporters in Canada. “Studied well.’’

The unanswered questions include any idea of motive or explanation for how the two brothers came to be possible murderers.

“Somebody radicalized them,’’ the brothers’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told reporters outside his suburban Maryland home late Friday morning.

In one hint of potential radical interests, a profile published under Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s name on Vkonta, a Russian-language social media site that resembles Facebook, had links to news videos about terrorist attacks on the subways in Moscow and in the Belarus capital of Minsk.

The uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told reporters that the brothers were ethnic Chechens, though they were not born in Chechnya. The younger brother was born in Kyrgyzstan, Tsarni said. An aunt, Toronto resident Maret Tsarnaeva, said on Canadian television that the father worked as a lawyer and in an “enforcement’’ agency in his home country, which she said eventually put him at risk.

“He is a soft-hearted, loving father,’’ the aunt said.

The aunt said she was living in the United States in April 2002 when Dzhokhar arrived along with his mother and father, while the other brother and two sisters remained with relatives in Kazakhstan. The family petitioned for refugee status; the father and mother are now living in the capital city of the Russian republic of Dagestan, where the father, Anzor, told television reporters Friday that he suspected his sons may have been set up as fall guys for what he denounced as a heinous attack in Boston.

“I honestly can’t imagine who could do this,’’ the father told a Dagestan TV station. “Whoever did this is a bastard.’’

The family has been disrupted in recent years, and interviews, social media and public records suggest they weren’t close. Tsarni told reporters he had little contact with his brother’s family, but he would not elaborate on why. A sister of the two suspects, interviewed by the FBI in suburban New Jersey, told reporters through a crack in her door that she had not been in frequent touch with her brothers.

“I never imagined that the children of my brother would be associated with that (bombing),” the uncle said, adding that they “put a shame on our family, (they) put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity.”

Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov, in a Russian-language Internet posting translated by McClatchy, vigorously distanced his war-torn country from the two suspects.

“It would be useless to try to make any connection between Chechnya and these Tsarnaevs, if they are indeed guilty,’’ the president wrote. “They grew up in the United States, their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. The roots of this evil must be sought in America.’’

The older brother, Tamerlan, was studying at Bunker Hill Community College and had been a boxer. He was married.

The older brother had strong political views about the United States, said Albrecht Ammon, 18, a downstairs-apartment neighbor in Cambridge. Ammon quoted Tsarnaev as saying that the U.S. uses the Bible as “an excuse for invading other countries.”

The younger brother, Dzhokhar, was a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to the United States in 2002 and attained his citizenship on Sept. 11, 2012. Known by friends and family members as Jahar, he was a student and wrestler at the Dartmouth satellite campus of the state university.