Police, citizens, technology lead to Boston bombing manhunt’s success

Story highlights

"It was just talent, guts and glory," police chief says of officers' heroics

Boat owner who discovers suspect is among citizens who aided manhunt

Infrared and cell phone technology help police track two brothers suspected in bombings

CNN  — 

That didn’t take long.

For a moment, the manhunt into the Boston Marathon bombings seemed as if it would last a while.

But an alchemy of police work, citizen involvement and technology yielded big breaks in the case and brought the manhunt to a quick conclusion, ending in the death of one suspect and the capture of his younger brother in the same week as the terror attacks, which killed three people and injured almost 200 people at the marathon.

That collective effort was praised by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who credited the manhunt’s success to “all of those law enforcement resources, assets and, more important, people, professionals who brought their ‘A’ game.”

Solving the case was led by a war-like deployment of police. One officer, however, was killed by the suspects.

Good citizenship came from a carjack victim and a boat owner, whose 911 calls put police directly on the suspects’ trail.

And technology yielded the first major break: Police found photos and even a surveillance video of the two suspects toting backpacks – each ostensibly loaded with a pressure-cooker bomb – at the marathon’s home stretch.

Those images gave the world its first look at who could be the bombers, engaging a society to be on the lookout. Those suspects would later be identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19.

“Cameras seemed a useful technology in finding these people and solving this quickly,” said Neil Richards, a law professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

The first images of the suspects came into play late Thursday night – three days after the terror bombings – after one suspect was seen on security video at a convenience store.

In an apparent misstep, police initially thought the two suspects had robbed the store. That wasn’t the case, police later said.

The same night, suspicions rose again when a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge was fatally shot.

Police believed one of the bombing suspects shot the officer, Sean Collier, 26, in his cruiser as he was responding to a loud disturbance call.

Police don’t know why the suspects killed him, but they had another sighting of them.

Then came the next big break: In the pre-dawn hours of Friday, a motorist was carjacked and taken hostage.

The two carjackers told the driver that they bombed the Boston Marathon and just killed a police officer. The suspects then forced the driver to withdraw money from an ATM.

It’s unclear why the suspects released the motorist alive, police said.

The brothers then acquired another vehicle in a manner that authorities have yet to detail.

But it was the first vehicle – a carjacked Mercedes SUV – that gave police a stroke of technological fortune.

The carjacking victim left his cell phone in the SUV.

“Lucky for him and lucky for us that his cell phone remained in that vehicle,” said Police Chief Edward Deveau of Watertown, Massachusetts.

Police began tracking the cell phone – and the brothers themselves.

They were in Watertown, a suburb of Boston, where police engaged the two brothers, now in two cars, in a fierce gunfight. The brother also threw bombs at police.

“We estimate there was over 200 shots fired in a five- to 10-minute period,” Deveau said. “There were so much heroics.

“It was just talent, guts and glory,” he added.

One officer tackled the older brother after he ran out of bullets walking down the street – as if in Hollywood showdown – firing upon police about 10 feet away.

But as police handcuffed the older brother, the younger brother barreled toward them in the carjacked SUV. Officers leaped for their lives.

The younger brother then drove over his older brother, dragging him a short distance down the street, police said.

Authorities didn’t have an immediate explanation as to why he ran over his big brother.

The firefight produced at least one casualty: A transit police officer, Richard Donahue, was wounded in the groin. As it turned out, Donahue and Collier, the slain officer, graduated from the police academy together.

The younger brother – now the only surviving brother – ditched the car and escaped into the dark streets at 1 a.m. Friday.

As news outlets reported the dramatic shootout the next morning, the manhunt reached its highest intensity.

A major American city was turned into a virtual ghost town: Bostonians, and especially Watertown residents, stayed off the streets. This gave police an open field to notice anything out of the ordinary.

Meanwhile, the nation wondered, where was the Dzhokar Tsarnaev?

His discovery would turn on the curiosity of a citizen – a homeowner – who noticed something amiss late Friday with a tarp covering his boat, stowed in his backyard since winter.

Someone had cut a retention strap.

A closer inspection showed blood on the tarp.

Boat owner David Henneberry thought maybe a varmint had crawled inside, his stepson said.

But a peek inside revealed a pool of blood and a silhouette in the darkness of a something, or someone, curled up.

Henneberry’s immediate call to 911, in effect, began the final chapter of the manhunt.

About 2,000 law officers and their technology swarmed the scene.

Another firefight between the suspect and police erupted.

In the night air, a police helicopter used infrared cameras to see Tsarnaev’s movements inside the boat.

“The technology is called ‘flir,’ forward looking infrared,” said former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, also a CNN contributor. “The human body is warmer than the air around him, so it stands out.”

Knowing the fugitive was alive and moving, police negotiated with Tsarnaev.

Bloodied and injured, he surrendered that night, his capture made possible by police, thermal-imaging technology and a citizen’s wisdom to run to the phone.