WATERTOWN, Mass. — A manhunt that locked down metropolitan Boston for 23 hours ended Friday when police unleashed a barrage of gunfire and snatched the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings from his hiding place in a covered boat in a back yard.
Djokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was found huddled and covered in blood by officers who stormed the suburban neighborhood after receiving a tip from a homeowner. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died Thursday night in an explosive gun battle with police not far from the same section of Watertown .
Only a day earlier, pictures of the two men — wearing baseball caps and carrying back packs that authorities said held bombs — had been spread across the country in an effort to identify them. Friday night, spectators broke out into applause as an ambulance with the younger brother made its way toward a hospital, and further celebrations broke out in central Boston.
“CAPTURED!!!” the Boston Police Department tweeted. “The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
“The people of Boston will be able to sleep tonight,” Mayor Thomas Menino said.
President Barack Obama, who watched the arrests unfold on television from the White House residence, congratulated police and federal agents for the intense, four-day investigation that successfully sifted through countless tips and thousands of photos. He pledged that the federal government would not stop its work with the arrests.
“Obviously, there are still many unanswered questions,” he said. “Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and our country resort to such violence? How did they plan and carry out these attacks? And did they receive help?”
Friday’s events ended an intense dragnet under way since two closely timed bombs went off during Monday’s marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 170.
The climactic finale began shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday when the brothers shot to death a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hijacked a sport utility vehicle, then opened fire on pursuing officers with gunshots, explosives and homemade hand grenades, leaving one officer critically wounded.
The furious gun battle — with 200 rounds of ammunition exchanged as residents of a Watertown neighborhood crouched in their homes — ended with the elder Tsarnaev dead and the younger, also apparently wounded, fleeing on foot.
In scenes almost unheard of in modern American law enforcement, city authorities shut down the entire Boston transit system, asked businesses to close, searched trains and urged people to stay home and lock their doors. The search rendered bustling Boston eerily empty — a scary snow day, some Bostonians described it.
“Hurricanes, natural disasters, a city shuts down. But nothing like this,” said Steven Feldman, a lawyer who works in downtown Boston.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis concurred, pointing to the dizzying array of ammunition and explosives deployed by the two suspects. “This is the stuff that an urban police department, it’s almost unheard of,” he said.
By nightfall, authorities had decided to lift the advisory to stay indoors, but warned it still might not be entirely safe. “We cannot continue to lock down an entire city,” said Col. Timothy Alben of the Massachusetts State Police.
Residents of a 20-block area of Watertown near the shootout began venturing outside, some to go to the store, some for a short walk.
Outside, a resident had noticed something unusual about the small boat in his back yard. When he lifted a tarp covering it, there was a man, covered in blood, inside. He quickly retreated and called 911.
A dozen police cars screeched into the neighborhood, witnesses said, followed by hundreds of officers. An FBI hostage rescue team, guided by a helicopter overhead looking for heat signatures, cautiously approached the boat, fearful that the suspect might have more explosives. They used a robotic arm to lift the tarp, officials said.
Within minutes, a new barrage of gunfire and stun grenade volleys erupted.
“It was pow pow pow pow pow, at least 15, 30 shots,” said Deanna Flynn, who dragged her son onto the bathroom floor and threw herself on top of him. She kept flushing the toilet to drown out the noise of the volleys outside.
“It felt like my entire life, I swear. I never had anything go so fast and so slow at the same time,” she said.
Police said they believe the suspect initially hid behind a house, where blood was found, and later took refuge in the boat, which was outside the perimeter established Friday and thus not searched. “He had to be moving a little bit,” Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said.
Police seemed to breathe a public sigh of relief. At a celebratory news conference after the arrest, they exchanged handshakes and hugs.
“What we’ve been through the last 24 hours, I wouldn’t want to see another police department go through,” Watertown Police Chief Edward Deveau said.
Now, legal analysts said, the U.S. Justice Department will have to address the issue of whether Tsarnaev’s post-arrest statements can be used if he has not been offered the “Miranda” right to consult an attorney before questioning.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said federal law allows authorities to proceed in “cases of national security” under a “public safety” exemption where terrorism is involved — but the issue is far from clear, and could cloud any interrogations that ensue.
For now, the suspects’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, apologized to the families of those injured and killed in the marathon blasts.
“He put a shame on this family … he put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity,” he said.
The two men were born to ethnic Chechen parents in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, but traveled with their parents to the U.S. about 10 years ago and were granted refugee status. Dhokhar had received a U.S. passport in 2012, but his brother still had a green card.
Insurgents from Russia’s long-troubled republic of Chechnya have waged years of devastating terrorist attacks against the government in Moscow, but no major successful assaults in Europe or the U.S., where governments have often sided with Chechen human rights organizations in criticizing the Kremlin’s record of harsh repression.
Increasingly, though, Chechens have been visible in jihadist Islamic organizations. A small number of Chechens have reportedly been among the stream of foreign fighters who have traveled to Iraq to fight U.S. forces there.
Friends and family of Djokhar Tsarnaev expressed disbelief that he could have been involved in the bombings, describing him as a friendly young man who rose to be the captain of the high school wrestling team, volunteered with the disabled and talked calculus and physics over lunch with friends.
“I know he’s a bad guy, but for me, he’s still a good guy,” said Sanjaya Lanichhane, 22, who was on the wrestling team with the younger Tsarnaev.
“He didn’t really want to talk about his past,” added John, another wrestling teammate who didn’t want to give his last name. “He dressed American. He would party like American kids.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an avid boxer, was described as moodier and had in the past few years become more religious. He had “an air of power” and was “wicked intense,” Ashley Stackowitz, whose roommate eventually married Tamerlan Tsarnaev, told WNYC News.
Photographer Johannes Hirn, a U.K.-based photographer, produced a photo essay on the elder Tsarnaev in which he said he had given up drinking and smoking. “There are no values anymore…people can’t control themselves.” Hirn said he told him.
In 2011, a federal law enforcement official said, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was interviewed by the FBI.
“The conversation happened at the request of a foreign government,” the official said, but declined to name that government.
The official added: “There was nothing derogatory that came out of that interview. And we closed the matter. We were running certain traps to be checked for them, and there was nothing significant that resulted from it. If there had been, that would have been totally different.”
As neighbors waited nervously at the side of the road for the police to finish their work in Watertown Friday, several peered toward the tactical police vehicles and snapped photos. When it was clear that Tsarnaev was in custody, they hugged each other and cheered. Dan Nystedt, 28, slumped a little in relief.
“We lost our innocence this week,” he said.
Times staff reporters Kim Murphy, Melanie Mason, Richard A. Serrano, Andrew Tangel and Neela Banerjee of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this story.