THE Boston police were euphoric. Their tweet echoed the city’s elation that a threat which had menaced the population since Monday’s marathon bombings had been lifted.
“CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
Boston Police Dept. @Boston_Police
The exhaustive manhunt for the suspects, which saw almost one million people confined to their homes during a day-long city-wide lockdown, was finally over.
Cheering residents spilled on to the streets on Friday night as church bells rang out the news and American flags were waved. People whooped and chanted “USA!” as they ran together in large groups holding hands.
In the end it was one observant resident in the commuter suburb of Watertown who stumbled upon the crucial information that led to the capture of the suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
When David Henneberry ventured outside with his wife for some fresh air on Friday evening he noticed that the tarpaulin covering their 20ft boat in the back garden was flapping in the wind. Looking more closely he saw the cord securing it had been cut and there was blood near the straps.
“He took the step ladder he used to inspect the boat and looked under the tarp and saw a small pool of blood,” his stepson Bob Duffy told NBC news. “He saw something hunched down toward the forward of the boat, and his mind instantly did the right thing. He didn’t try to be a hero, he didn’t yell.”
Instead Henneberry phoned the police, who swamped the area and evacuated the couple from their home.
Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said officers had initially used a loudspeaker in an attempt to persuade the suspect to get out of the boat. “He was not communicative,” Davis said.
An hour-long gun battle ensued, with reports that officers had thrown “flash-bang” grenades into the boat to disorient the fugitive.
Davis said: “There was an exchange of gunfire, and I don’t know if he was struck.
“Ultimately, the hostage rescue team of the FBI made an entry into the boat and removed the suspect, who was still alive.”
David Procopio, of Massachusetts State Police, said: “We used a robot to pull the tarp off the boat. We were also watching him with a thermal imaging camera in our helicopter.
“He had lost a lot of blood. He was so weak that we were able to just go in and scoop him up.”
A crowd that had gathered near the scene let out a cheer when spectators saw officers clapping.
Residents lined the streets to applaud a convoy of police vehicles as they drove away. Boston Mayor Tom Menino tweeted: “We got him.”
Last night the 19-year-old student, who was taken away on a stretcher, was said to be in a serious condition in a hospital surrounded by armed guards. Doctors said he was not yet well enough to be interviewed by police.
“Everyone wants him alive,” said Kathleen Paolillo, a 27-year-old teacher from Watertown.
A federal law enforcement official said Dzhokhar would not be read his so-called “Miranda rights” because the authorities would be invoking the public safety exception in order to question him extensively about other potential explosive devices or accomplices in their efforts to gain intelligence.
Until Dzhokhar’s dramatic capture, Friday had been a grim day for Boston’s police force. More than 1,000 officers were combing the city for a teenage suspect who had been on the run for more than 12 hours.
Dzhokhar gave police the slip at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday night where he and his brother allegedly killed an officer during a gun battle in which more than 200 shots were fired.
The brothers had amassed an arsenal of pipe bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices, some of which were used in trying to make their getaway.
Tamerlan, 26, died in the shootout, after being run over by his fleeing brother in a car as he lay wounded. Dzhokhar then escaped on foot.
The search for Dzhokhar, who was indentified as a suspect in the marathon bombings earlier on Thursday after police released video images of the brothers and their explosive-filled backpacks, brought Boston to a virtual standstill. The authorities shut down the public transport network and urged anyone waiting at subway or bus stops to head home immediately.
Businesses were told not to open, colleges closed and nearly one million people were warned to stay indoors and only unlock their doors to uniformed officers.
Armoured vehicles roamed the streets while SWAT teams conducted door-to-door searches in Watertown where the suspect was last seen heading. Overhead, a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters buzzed constantly.
Around midday, the suspects’ uncle Ruslan Tsarni, of Maryland, pleaded on television: “Dzhokhar, if you are alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness.”
As night fell, officers announced that they were scaling back the hunt because they had come up empty-handed. There were fears that the suspect had got away, with some reports suggesting he had left the city altogether.
Then came the breakthrough call from the boat owner.
Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama said Dzhokhar’s capture “closed an important chapter in this tragedy”. But he acknowledged many unanswered questions remained about the motivations of the two men, and whether they had been helped by others.
Obama, who branded them as “terrorists”, said: “The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers.” However, he added: “When a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it’s important that we do this right. That’s why we take care not to rush to judgment – not about the motivations of these individuals, certainly not about entire groups of people.”
Tsarni, the men’s uncle, called his nephews “losers” and said they had struggled to settle in the US and ended up “thereby just hating everyone”.
The brothers were two ethnic Chechens who once lived in Russia and moved to the US more than a decade ago.
The FBI said it had interviewed Tamerlan at the request of an undisclosed foreign government two years ago but “nothing derogatory” was found.
It added: “The request stated it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to join unspecified underground groups.”
The FBI said the matter was closed because interviews with Tamerlan and family members “did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign”.
The FBI had published photographs of the brothers on Thursday, three days after explosions at the Boston Marathon had killed three people – including eight-year-old Martin Richard and a student from China – and injured nearly 180 others.
In the worst such attack in the US since September 2001, bombs, made in pressure cookers and packed with ball bearings and nails, ripped through the crowd at the finish line.
Richard’s relatives said after Dzhokhar’s capture: “Our family applauds the entire law enforcement community for a job well done, and trust that our justice system will now do its job.”
Shortly before Dzhokhar’s capture, the White House said Obama had spoken by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the investigation.
It said Obama had “praised the close co-operation that the United States has received from Russia on counter-terrorism, including in the wake of the Boston attack”.