The Boston Bombing Suspects' Final Day On The Run: A Reconstruction

One week ago, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev killed a police officer, engaged in a massive shootout that wounded another and left Tamerlan dead, and set off a manhunt that put Boston on lockdown. Many of the initial reports were a confused jumble, and we're only now able to recreate the Tsarnaevs' movements and actions on that final day with any precision.

The picture that emerges from reports by both local and national media, and from the criminal complaint filed against Dzhokhar, does not suggest a pair of experienced criminals executing a master plan. It shows disorganization—a police officer murdered for his gun (the brothers had only one), a vague idea of exploding more devices in New York City, and a meandering drive in and around Boston that couldn't help but alert authorities. In short, two scared, unprepared, and dangerous young men.

There was a robbery at a 7-Eleven near Kendall Square, on MIT's campus, on Thursday night. But despite early reports, it was not carried out by the Tsarnaevs, nor was 27-year-old campus police officer Sean Collier responding to it. He was a half-hour from ending his shift and was sitting in his patrol car in front of the Stata Building, two blocks from the 7-Eleven and about a mile from the Norfolk Street apartment where the Tsarnaevs lived.

Around 10:30 p.m., video captured two men approaching Collier's car from behind. Collier was killed execution-style, with one shot at close range through his driver's-side window.

Police believe the Tsarnaevs killed him for his gun—their photos had been released by the FBI hours earlier, and it was time to get out of Boston, but between them they had only one firearm and one pellet gun. But Collier's holster had a complicated locking mechanism, and the brothers were unable to free it. They quickly left the scene in an older model sedan (it's not clear if they owned the sedan, or how they acquired it).

About a half-hour later, shortly before 11 p.m., the sedan pulled up behind a Mercedes ML 350 on Brighton Avenue, just west of the Boston University campus. They did not carjack the SUV in Cambridge, as had been reported—they had crossed the Charles River and returned to Boston.

The Boston Globe spoke with their carjacking victim, a 26-year-old Chinese national who will identify himself only by his American nickname, Danny.

The man rapped on the glass, speaking quickly. Danny, unable to hear him, lowered the window — and the man reached an arm through, unlocked the door, and climbed in, brandishing a silver handgun.

“Don’t be stupid,” he told Danny. He asked if he had followed the news about Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings. Danny had, down to the release of the grainy suspect photos less than six hours earlier.

“I did that,” said the man, who would later be identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev. “And I just killed a policeman in Cambridge.”

Tamerlan alone got into Danny's SUV; Dzhokhar followed in the sedan. The two-car convoy again crossed the river, taking the Arsenal Street Bridge into Watertown. Tamerlan told Danny to park on Fairfield Street, a quiet side street. Dzhokhar pulled up behind them, and the brothers got to work moving heavy objects from the sedan to the SUV: five pipe bombs and one pressure cooker explosive like the ones that had gone off at the marathon, we now know.

As Danny told the Globe, he played up his ethnicity and outsider status in an attempt to connect with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and save his life.

“Don’t look at me!” Tamerlan shouted at one point. “Do you remember my face?”

“No, no, I don’t remember anything,” he said.

Tamerlan laughed. “It’s like white guys, they look at black guys and think all black guys look the same,” he said. “And maybe you think all white guys look the same.”

“Exactly,” Danny said, though he thought nothing of the sort.

[...]

“Oh, that’s why your English is not very good,” the brother replied, finally figuring it out. “OK, you’re Chinese ... I’m a Muslim.”

“Chinese are very friendly to Muslims!” Danny said. “We are so friendly to Muslims.”

The Boston Bombing Suspects' Final Day On The Run: A Reconstruction

The brothers wanted money. They took $45 from Danny and forced him to give them his credit cards and ATM PIN. Now with Tamerlan driving, Danny in the passenger seat, and Dzhokhar in the back, they drove to a Bank of America branch in Watertown Square, a mile from where they'd left the sedan parked. There, Dzhokhar withdrew $800 using Danny's debit card; surveillance cameras captured him at exactly 11:18.

They drove west, away from Boston. The brothers spoke a language Danny didn't understand, but he made out the word "Manhattan." They asked him if his car could be driven out-of-state, "like New York."

They appeared heading for I-95 when they realized the SUV was low on fuel. They stopped at a gas station, but the pumps were closed for the night. They doubled back to Fairfield Street in Watertown and retrieved more things from the parked sedan. They then drove back to Cambridge, to a Shell gas station on River Street and Memorial Drive.

The Boston Bombing Suspects' Final Day On The Run: A Reconstruction

Just after midnight, Dzhokhar walked into the gas station's convenience store to pay for gas and to purchase food and drinks, including a case of Red Bull and a bag of Doritos. He was again captured on the store's surveillance camera. Tamerlan remained in the SUV with Danny. Danny was already planning his escape.

“I was thinking I must do two things: unfasten my seatbelt and open the door and jump out as quick as I can. If I didn’t make it, he would kill me right out, he would kill me right away,” Danny said. “I just did it. I did it very fast, using my left hand and right hand simultaneously to open the door, unfasten my seatbelt, jump out...and go.”

He heard Tamerlan yell "Fuck!" and felt him make a grab for his back, but he was out of the car. He sprinted across River Street, to a Mobil gas station.

The Mobil employee on duty, Tarek Ahmed, told the New York Times what happened.

“He opens the door,” Mr. Ahmed recalled in an interview. “I stood up. He was screaming, saying: ‘Call the police. They have bombs. They have a gun. They want to kill me.’ I thought he was drunk.”

“He ran behind the counter and ran into the back room, a storage room, and locked the door,” Mr. Ahmed recalled. “At this moment, I believe him. He was honest, that somebody wanted to shoot him. So I took the phone, and I called 911."

Tamerlan ran into the Shell and told Dzhokhar they had to go. Dzhokhar dropped what he was holding, the brothers dashed out of the store, and drove off in the SUV.

Police quickly arrived to question Danny, who told them that his carjackers had said they were the marathon bombers. That's when the manhunt swung into action. Police were able to track the SUV via Danny's iPhone, as well as through his in-vehicle satellite system.

The brothers returned to Watertown. They knew the Mercedes was compromised, as was, possibly, the location of the parked sedan. When authorities caught up with them, according to an account in the Boston Globe, one brother was driving the SUV and the other the sedan, and police believe they were looking for a location to transfer their explosives back to the sedan.

Shortly before 1 a.m., a Watertown police officer named Joe Reynolds spotted them, each driving one of their two vehicles. He radioed it in and was told to wait for backup. The Tsarnaevs pulled over near the intersection of Laurel Street and Dexter Avenue, just down the street from Fairfield, where the sedan had been parked. Reynolds pulled over, too, and waited.

Backup arrived in the form of a speeding squad car that caught the Tsarnaevs by surprise. One of the brothers, believed to be Tamerlan, opened fire. At that moment, it was the two brothers against just two officers.

More backup quickly arrived—a total of seven officers engaged, according to the Watertown police chief. A massive gunfight erupted that saw more than 200 shots fired, most of them by police, as the Tsarnaevs still had just the one gun. They threw at least two improvised explosives, neither of which caused any harm or damage.

According to the Globe, Sgt. Jeff Pugliese responded to the call for backup but did not join the gunfight. He parked on a nearby street, then crossed through yards to flank the brothers. Police believe it was his gunshot that brought down Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As officers were subduing him, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hopped in the SUV and took off toward the police, and toward his brother. He struck Tamerlan and dragged him, then broke through the cordon. He would not be seen for another 18 hours.

One bullet—the state police is investigating whether it might have been friendly fire—struck 33-year-old MBTA transit officer Richard Donohue in the thigh, striking his femoral artery. The officers on the scene applied a tourniquet and performed CPR. Donohue was rushed to the hospital—but not Beth Israel, which protocol called for. State and Watertown cops, transporting Donohue in a fire rescue vehicle, decided to go to Mount Auburn hospital, three miles closer than Beth Israel. It probably saved his life.

Officers cautiously approached Tamerlan's body, afraid he was wearing an explosive device. He was not, contrary to initial reports. He was taken to Beth Israel hospital and pronounced dead at 1:35 a.m.

The Mercedes SUV was discovered a short distance away, with Dzhokhar nowhere to be found. Boston and its suburbs were effectively shut down, with residents ordered not to leave their homes. Authorities set up a 20-block perimeter around the SUV, and searched door-to-door with SWAT teams in an attempt to find him.

Friday evening, Gov. Deval Patrick lifted the curfew. Authorities had no leads on Dzhokhar's whereabouts. David Henneberry, a 66-year-old Watertown resident, stepped outside of his house on Franklin Street, about a half-mile from the shootout, but still within the authorities' perimeter. He had been cooped up all day, and he wanted a cigarette.

Henneberry's boat, the 22-foot Slip Away II, was stored behind his house and was covered in shrink wrap for the season. He saw two pads that had fallen to the ground. When he went to put them back, he noticed a strap was unusually loose. He retrieved a ladder and rolled back the shrink wrap. He saw blood inside the boat and then, an instant later, the inert body of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, lying near the engine block.

Henneberry ran inside and called police shortly before 7 p.m. Federal and local authorities quickly surrounded the area and escorted Henneberry and his family from their home. Thermal imaging from a helicopter confirmed Tsarnaev's presence, and a robot peeled back the shrink wrap from the boat.

Authorities did not realize it at the time, but Dzhokhar was unarmed. At one point, a volley of gunfire from police rang out, as the order to cease fire went out over police scanners. Flash-bang grenades were later lobbed in an attempt to disorient the already-injured Tsarnaev—a pool of his blood was found where he had earlier abandoned the SUV, "four or five blocks away" from the boat.

About 8:45 p.m., Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was persuaded to leave the boat. He was taken down by authorities, loaded into an ambulance, and rushed to Beth Israel, the same hospital where his brother had been pronounced dead earlier that morning.

The Boston Bombing Suspects' Final Day On The Run: A Reconstruction

Map by Reuben Fischer-Baum.