The search for the Boston Marathon bombers ended Friday night to the sound of flash-bang grenades and neighborhood cheers as the second of two Chechen brothers was cornered, captured and taken away in an ambulance.
Boston police confirmed about 8:45 p.m. that they had taken 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into custody, after they discovered him hiding in a boat stored behind a house in nearby Watertown. A trail of blood tipped off the boat’s owner – and the police – to Tsarnaev, ultimately leading to an apprehension and climax to a violent week.
“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 Friday night that no decision had yet been made about whether to seek the death penalty.
Tsarnaev’s brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had died following a shootout with law enforcement officers early Friday morning, but Dzhokhar had escaped, setting off an extraordinary manhunt that both captivated and stilled one of the nation’s most vibrant cities.
The FBI confirmed that two years ago it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the request of a foreign government. The agency did not identify the government involved but concluded at the time that Tsarnaev was not a threat.
On Friday, following a frantic search that essentially had shut down Boston for much of the day, Franklin Street residents in Watertown heard a flurry of gunshots around 7 p.m. Law enforcement and emergency vehicles arrived screaming at the scene, setting up a perimeter that was reinforced by the minute.
About 8 p.m., residents heard a number of flash-bang grenades, commonly used to disorient suspects; some time later, law enforcement officers could be heard urging Tsarnaev to give up.
“We always want to take all suspects alive,” Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said Friday night.
When it became clear that Tsarnaev had surrendered, neighbors burst into cheers and applause. Later in the evening, public celebrations spread to other parts of the city. Downtown Boston streets were crowded with cheering people.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Boston Mayor Tom Menino said Friday night.
President Barack Obama also praised the efforts of everyone involved and directed federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to continue the investigation into what links – if any – the suspects may have had with terrorist groups.
“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.”
The climax came shortly after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick gave a green light for the city’s mass transit system to reopen, returning at least a touch of normalcy to a metropolis that’s been stricken since the Monday bombings and that went into full-scale lockdown Friday. Boston officials had halted the city’s mass transit system and urged residents to “shelter in place” before finally giving workers the go-ahead to leave for home in the early afternoon. While mass transit resumed about 6 p.m., the Boston Bruins and the Red Sox canceled their night games.
Even the downtown streets in Boston were deserted, with few people out and most stores closed. An Au Bon Pain restaurant that posted it was closing at 4 p.m. was quickly mobbed, as if a hurricane were approaching. Patrons grabbed bottles of waters and cleaned out the case of ready-made sandwiches.
The chilling emptiness of a major city’s streets was unprecedented, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a transportation security expert at the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University. Jenkins noted that though parts of cities were shut down during hostage situations and gang standoffs, not even the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought New York City to a complete standstill.
“We’re in absolutely new territory,” Jenkins said in an interview. “It’s extraordinary.”
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.
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.”
Investigators identified the two brothers as suspects in the Monday bombings, which happened around 2:50 p.m. near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three people, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, and wounded nearly 200. Physicians have performed multiple amputations on victims, whose ages range from as young as 2 to as old as 78.
The unanswered questions include, beyond the location of the suspected bomber, 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 violent odyssey that began Monday resumed Thursday evening just a few hours after the FBI released photos and videos of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, when a security camera in a convenience store in Cambridge captured an image of one of the men.
At 10:30 p.m., 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, in which officials said some 200 shots were fired. 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 area.“We are progressing through this neighborhood,” Alben told reporters about noon Friday. “We are going house by house, street by street.”
Officials revealed that a resident alerted the Watertown Police Department to the potential hiding site late Friday. 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.
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.”
Christopher Swift, adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University, further pointed out that there are big cultural and language differences between Arab and Chechen Muslims.
“They are totally different cultures,” Swift said. “It’s like Greek people going to Ireland. . . . There’s a big difference between Irish Catholicism and Greek Orthodox Christianity as practiced in Greece.”
The older brother, Tamerlan, was studying at Bunker Hill Community College and had been a boxer. He was married.
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.
Lindsay Wise, Chris Adams and Curtis Tate of the Washington Bureau contributed.