A Florida man was shot dead in a confrontation with law-enforcement officers who were questioning him about a triple murder two years ago that has been linked to a Boston Marathon bombing suspect, according to two officials familiar with the matter.
One of the alleged bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is also being investigated in the murders, authorities have said. A 26-year-old ethnic Chechen, Tsarnaev died in a firefight with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, last month.
Investigators were interviewing Ibragim Todashev, 27, early yesterday in Orlando about the bombing when the subject turned to the Sept. 11, 2011, murders of three men in the Boston suburb of Waltham, according to the law-enforcement officials who asked not to be identified because the probe is continuing. At that point, Todashev became irritated and lunged at the officers, the officials said. Todashev was considered a suspect, they said.
Paul Bresson, a Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman in Washington, said the fight was initiated by the man who died. An FBI agent, “acting on the imminent threat posed by the individual, responded with deadly force,” Bresson said. The agent was injured, he said.
Todashev knew Tsarnaev, according to the dead man’s friends and a law-enforcement official who asked not to be identified amid a continuing investigation. Tsarnaev is suspected of planting the bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 near the marathon finish line April 15, acting with his brother, Dzhokhar, 19. The younger Tsarnaev is in custody.
FBI agents sought to talk with Todashev in connection with the bombing, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because of the continuing investigation. The person didn’t say how the meeting turned to a confession about the Waltham murders. Todashev wasn’t named as a bombing suspect, while he hasn’t been ruled out, the person said.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The suspect, who is recovering from wounds received while fleeing arrest, may face the death penalty if convicted. The bombing was the highest-profile act of terrorism in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and outside Washington.
One of the victims in the Waltham murders was Brendan Mess, 25, a sparring partner of Tamerlan Tsarnaev at Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts in Boston. Mess, along with Erik Weissman, 31, and Raphael Teken, 37, were found in an apartment with their throats cut and sprinkled with marijuana.
NBC News, citing law-enforcement sources it didn’t identify, reported that the murders began with a drug ripoff that ended in the killings after Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Todashev realized the victims would be able to identify them.
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the bombing suspect’s mother, said by telephone from Makhachkala, Russia -- near the Chechnya region - - that she recalled her older son talking about Todashev.
“He said he met this small boy whom he liked,” Tsarnaeva said. “He said he was also a sportsman. I told him, ‘This good; now you have someone to do sports together.’”
She said Todashev was, like her family, an ethnic Chechen. “We Chechens living abroad always try to stick together.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev spoke with Todashev about a month before the Boston bombings, said Khusen Taramov, a friend of Todashev, in an interview aired by WESH-TV in Orlando. The dead bombing suspect lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was a boxer.
Todashev also participated in Mixed Martial Arts, a contact sport similar to boxing. It isn’t clear where he trained when he lived in the Boston area. A man who answered the telephone yesterday at the Wai Kru gym, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev worked out, declined to comment.
It is unclear when, or why, Todashev moved to Florida. He trained for about two months more than a year ago at the Jungle MMA & Fitness in Orlando, said John Morehouse, the gym’s manager.
“He was pretty forgettable,” said Morehouse, 24. “He came in for some evening classes.”
Todashev wasn’t employed in Florida and had recently received a green card to work in the U.S. He was planning a trip to Chechnya to see family, Taramov said.
“I know everything about this guy,” the friend said. “He never had a gun. I know he didn’t do nothing.”
Todashev won a professional fight in July by using the “submission guillotine choke,” according to a record on the Mixed Martial Arts website, which said he was fighting out of Massachusetts.
Taramov said the Boston bombing came as “a complete shock” to Todashev.
He said he talked to his friend just before the FBI interviewed him May 21 and recalled Todashev was worried that he’d be taken into custody.
“He said, ‘Can you take my mother and father’s number? Just take the numbers in case something happens and I get locked up,’” Taramov said.
Yellow police tape hung around a group of three adjoining condominiums yesterday, including one where Todashev lived, in the Windhover neighborhood across the street from Universal Studios Orlando. Dozens of brown and green apartments and townhouses surround a duck pond and footbridges.
Todashev was quiet and often smoked cigarettes on his back porch and swam in the community pool, said Renee Jansky, 37, a neighbor.
“He was a late-night guy,” said Jansky, a bartender whose porch is about 25 feet from Todashev’s apartment. “He’d stick to himself.”
She said she’d see him outside in his pajamas when she got home from work. She said a boxing bag hung from the ceiling of the first floor of his unit.
Todashev was arrested in Orlando on May 4 after a dispute over a parking spot at an outlet mall, according to papers filed with the Orange County Corrections Department. The county includes Orlando.
A police officer wrote in a report that there was a “considerable amount of blood on the ground” where the altercation occurred and that a victim was unconscious.
Todashev told police he “was only fighting to protect his knee, because he had surgery,” according to court papers.
Todashev was charged with aggravated battery and released on a $3,500 bond.
He also had been arrested in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Herald, which reported he was apprehended in Boston in February 2010 after a car accident and a fight with another person involved in the crash.
To contact the reporters on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Annie Linskey in Boston at email@example.com; Michael C. Bender in Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org