On April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon fans lined the streets of the region to cheer on the runners, an annual tradition for which the city is famous. No one would’ve suspected that this race would be any different than the ones before it. Unfortunately, two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line on Boylston Street set off a four-day chase for brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev through several Boston-area towns.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz was in her office in Downtown Boston when the blasts occurred. “The news of the explosions just spread like wildfire,” she said. Ortiz also referenced the how the media both helped and hurt the investigation, pointing out how the media reported the arrest of a suspect early on when it wasn’t case. But they also provided the public with the information to assist in tracking down the suspects, which led to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown, Massachusetts.
It was after midnight on April 19, 2013, four days after the bombing and shortly after MIT Police Officer Sean A. Collier was killed by the same suspects in Cambridge, when Watertown Sgt. John MacLellan and his team came upon the Tsarnaev brothers. A gunfight ensued where the officers came under fire from bullets and small bombs. “This is something you couldn’t train for in our department,” Sgt. McLellan recalled to the audience. “It was more like a war zone than a street fight.” Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in the battle from gunshot wounds and having been run over by his fleeing younger brother.
Later that day, a 911 call came in from a Watertown resident who noticed suspicious activity in his backyard. Former FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers described the situation. “A call came in from David Henneberry who, after noticing a weather wrap was loose on his boat, looked inside and saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive and sleeping,” he said. He was later captured by police, bringing an end to a manhunt that captured the attention of the nation, and put the city of Boston on edge.
Each panelist shared how incredibly moved they were by Boston and Watertown residents who came together in the aftermath of the bombings and the display of strength and resilience of the victims and their families. Sgt. McLellan praised a family in Watertown, who allowed officers to use their bathroom during the search, and said the experience had brought the community together. DesLauriers said it was the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies working together that played a role in the capture of the suspect.
The Museum’s Witness to History program began in June 2011. Since the inaugural event, 11 more have been presented. Video recordings and photos from the events are availableto view on the Museum’s website.