Police chief: Boston manhunt began with intense firefight in dark street

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Story highlights

  • Handguns, rifle and at least six bombs were at shootout scene, police chief says
  • A single officer first encountered the brothers, who were in two cars, the chief says
  • They jumped out immediately and started shooting, then threw a bomb, he says
  • The device turned out to be a pressure cooker bomb, the chief says

Handguns, a rifle and at least six bombs -- three of which exploded -- were found at the scene early Friday after officers first confronted the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects in the darkness of a residential street, the Watertown, Massachusetts, police chief said Saturday in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

A single officer was the first to encounter the two cars that Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev were driving, just before 1 a.m. Friday, Chief Edward Deveau said. One of the vehicles was a Mercedes sport utility vehicle the brothers carjacked earlier that night, he said.

The chase that ensued eventually led to David Henneberry's backyard, where Dzhokar Tsarnaev had hidden on the floor of Henneberry's boat. Tsarnaev was taken into custody at about 8:45 p.m. Friday evening.

But more than 19 hours earlier, the odyssey was still in its early stages. Before the officer could get backup, the two cars stopped, and the brothers got out.

"They jump out of the car and unload on our police officer," Deveau said "They both came out shooting -- shooting guns, handguns. He's under direct fire, very close by. He has to jam it in reverse and try to get himself a little distance."

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Five other police officers, including two who had just finished their shifts, then arrived at what Deveau called a "very tight area" in the middle of an intense shootout.

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"We estimate there was over 200 shots fired in a five- to 10-minute period," Deveau said.

One of the brothers threw an explosive at the officers. They later discovered it was a pressure cooker bomb, similar to the ones used at the marathon Monday, the chief said.

"We find the pressure cooker embedded in the car down the street, so there's a major explosion during this gunfight (with) my officers -- six of my officers that I'm extremely proud of," Deveau said.

The brothers also allegedly threw other explosives at the officers. "They were lighting them and throwing them," Deveau said, adding they were "very rough devices."

Two exploded and two did not. Police later found a sixth explosive in one of the cars.

At one point, the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, came directly toward police, Deveau said.

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"He all of a sudden comes out from under cover and just starts walking down the street, shooting at our police officers, trying to get closer," Deveau said. "Now, my closest officer is five to 10 feet away, and they're exchanging gunfire between them. And he runs out of ammunition -- the bad guy -- and so one of my police officers comes off the side and tackles him in the street.

"We're trying to get him handcuffed. There's two or three police officers handcuffing him in the street -- the older brother. At the same time, at the last minute -- they obviously have tunnel vision, it's a very, very stressful situation -- one of them yells out, 'Look out!' and here comes the black SUV, the carjacked car, directly at them. They dive out of the way, and he (the younger brother) drives over his brother and drags him a short distance down the street."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Officers then saw that a transit police officer who arrived after the first five was shot in the groin during the firefight.

The younger brother drove off amid more gunfire, Deveau said. He got two or three streets away, with officers in pursuit, then dumped the car and ran into the darkness, he said.

Two police officers tended to their wounded colleague, who had serious bleeding.

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"They just deserve all kinds of credit for saving that gentleman's life up until this point," said Deveau, who didn't name the wounded officer. "Our prayers are still with him and the family, because he's still in a tough way. He lost a lot of blood at the scene there, but we hope he can make a recovery."

It was the fatal shooting of another officer that kicked off the series of events late Thursday night. Sean Collier, a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was responding to a loud disturbance call when one of the brothers shot him in his cruiser, Deveau said.

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From there, the brothers allegedly carjacked the Mercedes, forcing the driver to withdraw money from an ATM. They eventually let the victim go, but not before telling him they were responsible for both the marathon bombings and the police officer's death, Deveau said.

Luckily for law enforcement, the victim's cell phone remained in the SUV, allowing police to determine the vehicle was in Watertown and eventually catch up to it.

The manhunt for Dzhokar Tsarnaev lasted all day Friday and brought much of Boston to a standstill. Then, in the evening, authorities finally got a tip: A Watertown man told police someone was hiding in his boat in the backyard, bleeding. It turned out to be their suspect, Deveau said.

"At that point, we had a couple of thousand police officers on the scene. The turnout was just incredible," he said.

A thermal image photograph indicated that a person -- identified by police as Tsarnaev -- was lying in the center of the boat.

Officers could see Tsarnaev poking through the tarp covering the boat, and then a gunfire erupted, Deveau said. Police used "flash-bangs," devices meant to stun people with a loud noise, and started 20 to 30 minutes of negotiation with Tsarnaev.

Police had no idea whether he had weapons or explosives with him, so they repeatedly told him to stand up and lift his shirt to show he wasn't wearing a device, Deveau said.

An FBI negotiator was on the second floor of the house looking down at the boat, but he couldn't see Tsarnaev under the tarp. A state police helicopter overhead used a heat sensor to determine that Tsarnaev was alive and moving, Deveau said.

Eventually Tsarnaev stood up and lifted his shirt for the officers.

"At that point, once we saw that, we felt comfortable enough to send some officer tactical equipment to grab him and pull him away from the boat," Deveau said. "He needed first aid, so he was transported by ambulance into a Boston hospital."

Investigators are still combing through all the crime scenes, including the boat, so Deveau said he didn't have details yet on what items Tsarnaev may have had with him when he was captured. And they still don't know where the brothers allegedly got the weapons, explosives and know-how.

Police are confident, however, that there are no other suspects, Deveau said.

"From what I know right now, these two acted together and alone," he said. "As far as this little cell and this little group, I think we got our guys."