In a swift reversal of fortune, a police manhunt Friday for an armed suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing went from failure to fruition – with authorities admitting one minute that he had escaped on foot – but just minutes later cornering him in a residential yard.
Then, at 8:45 pm, the Boston Police Department tweeted: "CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody."
The narrative unfolded rapidly Friday afternoon.
Within minutes of the end of a dismal press conference admitting they had to continue looking, police were racing toward the area where shots were being fired. The suspect – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19-year-old of Chechen descent – was hiding in a boat that was on storage stilts in the backyard of a home in Watertown, a Boston neighborhood.
Police surrounded the area, wary of reports that Tsarnaev could be wearing an explosive suicide vest. Neighbors were evacuated, and “flash-bang” explosives designed to startle the suspect could be heard.
The focus of that manhunt had lived for several years in nearby Cambridge, according to reports by the Associated Press. Another suspect, his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had been killed in a firefight with police in the early Friday morning darkness.
The pair had been trying to flee the area since the release of their photos by the FBI on Thursday. “Suspect One” – apparently Tamerlan – wore a dark cap, “Suspect Two” – apparently Dzhokhar – a white one in a video of the pair walking along the sidewalk near the marathon finish line.
From late Thursday evening through early Friday morning, the Tsarnaev brothers were involved in a series of violent exchanges that left an MIT police officer dead, a transit police officer wounded, and 10 police injured by what The Boston Globe reported were grenades thrown from a car window during a chase.
At the press conference, Massachusetts State Police Colonel Timothy Alben noted that reports that the pair had held up a 7-Eleven store had proven false. But they were in the area at the time – around 10:24 p.m., when gunshots were reported in the area.
Officers responding found an MIT Officer shot dead in his cruiser. Minutes later, a carjacking. An MBTA Transit Police officer spotted the vehicle and pursued it. The chase wound up in Watertown.
At that point, after a firefight with police in which an estimated 200 shots were fired, Tamerlan was critically wounded. His brother, Dzhokhar, then leaped into an SUV to flee the area – running over the body of his brother, according to several news accounts. The SUV was soon recovered. But Dzhokhar had disappeared on foot into Watertown – with police swarming after him.
In East Watertown police warned residents not to answer the door unless they saw a police officer – and warned not to stop while driving within a multi-block area of the city – if they had to go out.
But after searching through the early morning hours, and all the next day, police were still stymied despite swarms of police, swat teams, bomb sniffing dogs searching door to door through two-thirds of Watertown.
So with the sun sinking, Gov. Deval Patrick at the press conference announced the "shelter in place" order would be lifted that had kept an estimated one million residents across much of downtown essentially holed up in their homes while police searched house by house certain areas.
But a weight still hung in the air with pressure on investigators and the community hardly lifted – because after a day of searching with every resource the city and state could muster – the suspect was still on the loose.
Col. Alben of the state police announced that 10 extra patrols would be added to Watertown.
"Yes, I believe he's still in Massachusetts," he said, warning that anyone who thinks they see Dzhokhar to call 911 – calling him "a very violent and dangerous person." Asked if the suspect had left the state, the Chief disagreed, saying he believed he was still in Massachusetts – and noted that his force was "committed" to finding the suspect. He appears to have been correct.
Within minutes law enforcement forces were converging on the boat where Dzhokhar was hiding. Soon an ambulance was seen driving away to a nearby hospital, 19 year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the back.
Many questions remain: What shape is the suspect in? How will his prosecution and legal defense unfold? Could anything have been done to prevent the horror that marked the 2013 Boston Marathon? And what’s been learned about responding to terrorist events since 911?
But as Bostonians – and much of the country – remained glued to their television sets, the main news of the hour remained: “The terror is over ... Suspect in custody.”
As police vehicles pulled away following Tsarnaev’s capture, Watertown residents emerged from their homes, grateful to no longer be under siege, cheering the law enforcement officers.