Boston Manhunt ‘Missed the Boat’ as Police Skip StreetKathleen M. Howley and Michael McDonald
Sue Lund lives about five blocks from where police engaged in a wild shootout April 19 with the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects and about eight doors down from where the one who escaped alive was found 18 hours later.
Yet, during the all-day manhunt, she said police never searched her Franklin Street home or garden shed in Watertown, Massachusetts. Ten other neighbors had the same story and said they didn’t know of any homes that had been searched on Franklin, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered by someone on the street about 30 minutes after an area lockdown was lifted.
“A lot of people’s lives were put in danger because someone in charge wasn’t doing his job,” said Lund, 61, as she stood on the wide front porch of her Victorian house. “People could have been killed because after the lockdown ended everyone came streaming out of their houses and suddenly we were in a combat zone.”
It has been more than a week since police were hailed as heroes in Boston, eliciting cheers and hugs in the aftermath of the death of one suspect and capture of the other in the April 15 bombing that killed three and injured 260. As more details of the bombing and the subsequent search for Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar emerge, some residents and officials are expressing skepticism about the police work.
Scrutiny of the Boston bombing case isn’t limited to the hunt for the suspects. The Obama administration and Congress are reviewing whether there was an intelligence failure. Officials want to know whether better information sharing among the FBI, CIA and the Homeland Security Department could have alerted them to the danger of the suspects, or at least helped identify them after the bombing, given that the older brother was on a U.S. terror watch list. Instead, the FBI released images captured at the marathon as it sought help from the public, sparking a 20-hour wave of violence and fear that gripped the greater Boston area.
“The lesson we learned on 9-11 was the failure to connect all the dots,” said Michael Sullivan, the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, referring to the 2001 terrorist attacks. “The question here is: Were all the dots connected?”
Back in Watertown, a community of 30,000 people across the Charles River from the western edge of Boston, the questions are more immediate. How did hundreds of police who descended on the town fail to find a 19-year-old, who was unarmed and shot, lying under a tarp on a boat in the backyard of a house about 400 yards (366 meters) from where he had abandoned a car after fleeing the scene of the firefight?
Authorities initially said Tsarnaev was found outside the 20-block area that was supposed to be subject to the most intensive part of the manhunt, including searches of the inside and outside of every house. Edward Davis, Boston’s police commissioner, last week said that in fact, the younger suspect had been found inside that zone.
David Procopio, a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police, said it remains under investigation whether the yard and boat at 67 Franklin St. in Watertown where Tsarnaev was found had been searched earlier on April 19. He also said all the suspect’s movements from the time of the firefight until he was captured remains under investigation.
“We do not know whether he was in the boat all day,” Procopio said in an e-mail.
While the FBI is overseeing the bombing investigation, the search in Watertown was done under joint direction of the state police and local police with assistance from numerous other local departments, said Procopio, who declined to identify those who oversaw the search of the area.
“A very detailed action report will be completed to assess and evaluate that day’s operations,” he said.
Jason Pack, a spokesman for the FBI, which provided intelligence and agents in the manhunt, declined to comment.
The manhunt harnassed K9 units, SWAT teams, bomb squads, the air force wing of the state police and various other investigative units, according to Procopio. Before heavily armed forces scoured the area and helicopters buzzed the skies, Governor Deval Patrick ordered the lockdown across the Boston area, asking people to stay inside, and shut down the mass transit system.
The firefight where the older brother was killed left people in Watertown rattled and the lockdown trapped them in their homes in fear. Early that morning when police fired more than 200 rounds at the two suspects, and the two returned fire and threw bombs, more than a dozen bullets entered surrounding homes, according to Kathy Alpert, who lives nearby.
Still by around 6:15 p.m. on April 19, with the sun setting, Patrick lifted the lockdown even as authorities came up empty in their search. David Henneberry, who lives in the white three-story Victorian home at 67 Franklin St., went outside for some fresh air when he noticed the tarp on his boat in the backyard was loose. Then he saw blood and someone inside.
Henneberry went into his house and called police. He declined to comment when reached by Bloomberg News.
The actual capture took some time because authorities assumed the younger suspect was still armed and dangerous. SWAT teams and soldiers dressed for combat stormed down the street screaming for everyone to get inside, said Deanna Finn, who lives at one end of Franklin Street.
Something might have spooked the police, who fired 30 or more rounds and lobbed flash grenades at the boat on the trailer. The burst of bullets shredded the hull and hit neighboring houses, residents said.
“It’s awful that some defenseless, unarmed man had to find the bomber, when the people with the guns and all the protective gear couldn’t find him,” said Jaime Pepper, 27, who ran to her basement after authorities started firing.
The capture would come about an hour later, after a robot was sent in to tear off part of the tarp and an infrared scanner on a helicopter showed the suspect lying prone and motionless. Initial reports described the gunfire and grenade explosions as a firefight with a desperate fugitive. In fact, it was a one-sided shootout. Investigators didn’t recover a weapon from the boat, according to two federal law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified in discussing an active criminal probe.
Pepper said she saw police and National Guard soldiers on the road crossing Franklin, with an armored car parked near her side yard. They never came to her house, she said.
“No one disputes that the police and soldiers who searched for the bomber are heroes -- they put their lives on the line for us,” Pepper said. “I just wish they came down our street.”
Lund, the fellow Franklin Street resident, said she appreciates the hard work and bravery of the police and soldiers involved. Still, failing to search her block means someone wasn’t doing his or her job.
“With the helicopters and the Humvees and the soldiers and the police working all day to find him, all they had to do was search our street,” Lund said. “They missed the boat.”