The brothers’ last stand began with a ping.
They’d been on the run for four days, leaving mayhem in their wake: Severed limbs, broken bodies and three dead at the finish line of the Boston Marathon; a baby-faced rookie cop shot between the eyes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a terrified carjacking victim ducking and hiding in a convenience store in Watertown.
Every cop in Boston was looking for the two men the FBI had dubbed “Black Hat” and “White Hat.”
The 13th Juror
When the man they carjacked ran from his Mercedes SUV, he left his iPhone behind. The phone’s pings brought officers swarming to the intersection of Dexter Avenue and Laurel Street, where brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – their hats now discarded – were quickly running out of options.
The brothers’ photos were flashing across television sets everywhere. The jig was up. But they would not be taken easily.
From the days of the Wild West, cornered outlaws have considered it a badge of honor to go down in a rain of bullets. Shootouts with police rarely turn out well for the bad guys.
Consider 1934, a historic year for crime in the midst of the Great Depression: It was the heart of the “public enemy” era, when bank robbers and gangsters dominated the headlines, claiming: “They’ll never take me alive.”
One by one, the outlaws fell: John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde. All met their Maker at the end of lawmen’s guns.
Thirty-five years later, one of the most popular movies of all time left audiences hoping for a miracle as the trapped and bleeding antiheroes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, burst through the doors of their Bolivian hideout, guns blazing.
Fast-forward to 2013, another time of few heroes and many, many armed bad guys. The minute the Brothers Tsarnaev set off nail-packed pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon – the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 – they became “Public Enemy No. 1.” But nobody was rooting for these two. Everybody wanted them caught. For Boston, it was personal.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the one in the black hat, did not survive. His own brother ran him over with the stolen SUV as police wrestled him to the ground.
That left Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19 at the time, to face the consequences alone in federal court in Boston.
At the outset of Tsarnaev’s capital trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb told jurors he’d take them on a journey to four crime scenes: the marathon finish line, the MIT campus, the convenience store where the carjacked driver escaped, and Watertown, the brothers’ last stand.
Watertown is where police bullets couldn’t stop Tamerlan. He walked into the gunfire, and he was still thrashing and fighting the police when he got caught in the wheel well of the Mercedes SUV driven by his brother and was dragged down the street.
Watertown is also where Dzhokhar hid for hours in a pleasure boat before surrendering. He carved religious slogans into slats on the boat and scribbled more on the sides with a pencil. He said he envied rather than mourned his older brother because he’d earned paradise as a martyr.
If convicted of the most serious offenses, Dzhokhar could receive a death sentence. But he has shown little interest in the drama unfolding around him – except, perhaps, when he appears in videos or when the contents of his computer and phone are projected on a computer monitor in the courtroom.
If last week’s testimony told the story of the bombs and their aftermath, this week’s focus on Watertown was the dramatic denouement.
The story begins with Joseph Reynolds, the first Watertown patrol officer to respond to a report of an armed robbery. The police radio crackled a BOLO – be on the lookout – for a black Mercedes SUV.
As he slowly drove down Dexter Avenue, a narrow residential street, he spotted the Mercedes coming towards him. He studied the tag number and glanced at the driver: Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“We locked eyes with each other.”
He pulled onto a side street and called it in. He was advised to wait for backup before making a move. He pulled back out on Dexter, but hung back a good 25 yards.
The Mercedes stopped at Laurel Street, near a green Honda that fit the description of the car seen speeding away from the shooting at MIT.
The driver stepped out of the Mercedes and started firing. Reynolds ducked down, threw his Ford SUV into reverse and got on the radio.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!”
He fired back. How many times, he couldn’t say.
“It was nonstop.”
The gun battle lasted a good eight to nine minutes.
Backup came in the person of Sgt. John MacLellan. As MacLellan turned the corner onto Laurel Street, a bullet smashed through his windshield, covering him with broken glass. He saw Reynolds barreling up the street in reverse.
“Shots fired! Shots fired! Shots fired!” MacLellan shouted into his radio. He could hear bullets slamming into his car. He crouched down, threw the car into drive and headed into the gunfire.
“I tried to throw some rounds downrange.”
The two Watertown cops then took cover near a house along Laurel Street.
Reynolds, who was still closer to the Mercedes, saw the glow of a cigarette lighter and what looked like a burning fuse. He thought at first that the bad guys were throwing firecrackers at them.
MacLellan also saw the two men tossing what looked like pipe bombs. He made a mental note of the difference in their throwing styles: The taller of the two (Tamerlan), threw the bombs like baseballs. The smaller one used more of a basketball “hook shot.”
Dzhokhar tossed a huge one. Both officers saw it hurtling through the air. It looked like a big pot.
“Run, Sarge! Run! Run! Run!” Reynolds shouted.
The explosion shook them and the houses nearby. The pressure cooker became embedded in the side of a resident’s car.
Reynolds fell to his knees. He could feel debris raining down on him. It felt like dirt and pebbles.
MacLellan heard car alarms going off and people screaming. He thought he might die. “My eyes were shaking in my head. I couldn’t see straight.”
More shots flew back and forth. They were beyond counting.
Neighbors came to their windows and then retreated. One grabbed his infant son and headed toward the back of his house with his wife. Another grabbed a camera and took photographs from an upstairs window. The photos became part of the evidence in the case.
More police were arriving as the brothers hurled their explosives. Among them was Sgt. Jeffrey Pugiliese.
“Sarge, Sarge, get down! They’re shooting at us,” Reynolds shouted. Then Pugiliese also heard the pressure cooker bomb go off.
He saw the Tsarnaevs standing in front of the Mercedes SUV in the glare of the headlights. It was smoky, so he decided to aim a few “skip shots” at their ankles.
MacLellan, meanwhile, had run out of ammunition and was standing in the middle of the street. Pugiliese covered him as he headed for safety. The officers then ran through backyards while reloading as the larger of the Tsarnaev brothers charged toward them, firing.
Pugiliese, a police firearms instructor, fired back but his bullets seemed to have little effect. Then the suspect ran out of ammo, too. He threw his gun at Pugiliese, striking him in the arm. Pugiliese tackled him to the ground. He noticed the suspect was bleeding. Other cops piled on.
They were trying to handcuff Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but he kept fighting.
Then they heard a revving car engine. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had turned the Mercedes around and was heading right for them.
Reynolds shouted at Pugiliese: “Sarge, Sarge, look out! The other guy is in the car and he’s coming at us!” Reynolds fired at the oncoming SUV.
MacLellan heard gears grinding as he tried to help Pugiliese handcuff Tamerlan. He saw the Mercedes bearing down on them and shouted, “Get off him, get off him! Here he comes!”
Pugiliese grabbed Tamerlan by the back of the belt and tried to drag him from the street.
“The black SUV, it was right in my face. I kind of laid back and felt the wind from the vehicle as it went by.”
Tamerlan, he said, “was hung up in the wheels.” He was dragged about 25 feet before the Mercedes rammed into Reynolds’ Ford SUV. Reynolds fired at the Mercedes again, but Dzhokhar sped off.
The officers turned their attention back to Tamerlan, but he obviously wasn’t going to make it. He was still thrashing around, but police couldn’t be sure he wasn’t wired with explosives. They weren’t about to risk their lives to tend to his wounds.
So Pugiliese did what he had to: “I put my foot on the small of his back and called for an ambulance.”
No longer preoccupied with Tamerlan, Pugiliese and the others noticed another drama unfolding. This time, it involved one of their own, a transit cop.
“Officer down! Officer down!” The words crackled over police radios for the second time in as many days.
Reynolds grabbed his medic bag and found MBTA Officer Richard “Dic” Donohue sprawled in a pool of blood in a driveway off Dexter Avenue. As another officer pressed against his chest, Reynolds forced air into his lungs. Donohue was bleeding out. The wound was near his groin, too high for a tourniquet.
“You are going to be fine. You are going to be fine,” Reynolds shouted to him.
“Get me an ambulance!”
Donohue was pale and appeared to be dead as four officers picked him up and laid him on the ambulance gurney.
Dr. Heather Studley took over at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. She thought he was goner.
“He was essentially dead,” she said. “He looked dead, pale, like you would expect. He had bled out almost his entire blood volume on the street in Watertown.”
But hospital aides kept up the CPR while she put a breathing tube down his throat. He received 28 units of blood, and an ER employee leaned against his wound to stop the blood. About a half hour after he arrived, Donohue started to respond.
He spent hours in surgery and a week in a medically induced coma. He still carries a bullet in his leg.
In the confusion on the streets, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was able to slip away. He ditched the SUV and tossed his cell phones and the bank ATM card he’d taken during the carjacking. He found a boat, wrapped in plastic for the winter, parked on a trailer in a back yard a few blocks away. He crawled inside.
For most of the day, Watertown and the surrounding communities were under a “shelter in place” order, meaning everyone was urged stay indoors. The city was that afraid. But shortly after 6 p.m., the order was lifted and David Henneberry stepped outside to check on his boat, the Slipaway II. He’s noticed the plastic wrapping seemed loose.
“I put the ladder up,” he said, “and I noticed a lot of blood.” He climbed up and peeked under the tarp.
He stared at the blood awhile – it was more like blood streaks on the inside shell than a pool – and tried to figure out how it had gotten there. And then he noticed what he thought was a body.
“I could see his boots, or shoes – black. I could see his pants. I think they were work-pant-type pants, a hooded sweatshirt, hood pulled up.”
The person was lying on his side, with his back to Henneberry. He didn’t move.
“I took it in for a split second, and I got off the ladder pretty quick.”
His wife handed him the phone and he called 911. Before long, a police helicopter was hovering overhead, shining a spotlight.
Again, police swarmed, again shots were fired, hundreds of them. This time, the bad guy didn’t have a gun. He surrendered, but not before writing his lengthy screed inside the boat.
Earlier this week, jurors viewed the boat, with its 110 bullet holes and blood-streaked gunwales. They saw the words Tsarnaev wrote about his brother during his long hours under plastic wrap:
I’m jealous of my brother who ha[bullet hole]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus [highest level of paradise] (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions.
CNN Producer Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.