Hours after police released photographs of the Boston marathon bombing suspects, a 26-year-old Chinese entrepreneur pulled his Mercedes SUV over to the side of the road in suburban Boston, across the Charles river from Cambridge, to answer a text message.
The next 90 minutes were to be the most harrowing of his life, as he was taken hostage by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers seeking to escape the dragnet that covered the whole city.
The car-jacking victim, who asked to be referred to as “Danny”, has spoken for the first time about his ordeal, revealing how the brothers discussed girls, whether anyone still listened to CDs, payments on the stolen car and driving to New York as the FBI searched for them.
It was nearly 11 pm, soon after Sean Collier, an MIT campus police officer, was shot in his car. Only hours earlier, officials had released images showing the brothers at the site of the bombings. They had not been named when an old sedan stopped behind Danny’s SUV and 26-year-old Tamerlan came up to the passenger window. When Danny lowered the window, the suspect reached inside, unlocked the door and climbed in. He was carrying a handgun and told Danny: “Don’t be stupid.” He asked if he had heard about the bombings, and then said: “I did that … And I just killed a policeman in Cambridge.”
The suspect asked Danny how much cash he had. When he found it was a mere $45, he told him to drive. Dzhokhar, 19, followed in the sedan.
Speaking to The Boston Globe, Danny said they crossed the Charles and pulled up on a side street in the suburb of Watertown, where the brothers moved heavy objects from the sedan to the Mercedes. When they began driving again, Tamerlan was behind the wheel, with Danny in the passenger seat and Dzhokhar behind him. The hostage attempted to play down his wealth, telling Tamerlan that he was just a student from China who had been there for around a year, and understating the payments on his car. “Oh, that’s why your English is not very good,” Tamerlan said at one point. “OK, you’re Chinese… I’m a Muslim.”
The car stopped again so that Dzhokhar could withdraw money from an ATM. He heard the brothers – immigrants of Chechen origin – converse in a foreign language. Danny heard the word “Manhattan” before he was asked whether his car could be driven to New York.
They drove around the area, leaving Watertown, and Tamerlan asked Danny to switch on the radio. The suspect went through the stations and seemed to be avoiding the news.
He asked if Danny had any CDs, which he hadn’t. They returned to the parked sedan in Watertown and grabbed some things, putting on an instrumental CD in Danny’s car that sounded to him like a call to prayer, according to The Globe.
Once, when Danny’s phone rang, Tamerlan said: “If you say a single word in Chinese, I will kill you right now.” The carjack victim’s chance to escape finally came when the brothers were forced to stop at a filling station in Cambridge because the SUV was running low on fuel. When Dzhokhar headed inside to pay with cash, Danny jumped out before Tamerlan could respond. He ran across to another petrol station, where the attendant dialled 911. Police arrived within minutes, and were soon on the tail of the suspects, who could be tracked using Danny’s iPhone and a satellite system in the SUV.
Tamerlan was killed shortly afterwards. Dzhokhar was captured on Friday night and has since been charged with crimes that could carry the death penalty.
Tsarnaev sent to medical detention site
The surviving Boston Marathon bombings suspect was released today from a civilian hospital and transferred to a federal medical detention centre.
The US Marshals Service said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center overnight and was taken to the Federal Medical Center Devens about 40 miles west of Boston.
The facility, on the decommissioned Fort Devens US Army base, treats federal prisoners and detainees who require specialised long-term medical or mental health care. Tsarnaev, 19, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the throat, and other injuries suffered during his attempted getaway.
Tsarnaev and his brother had planned to blow up the rest of their explosives in Times Square, New York, authorities said.