Eight minutes of sheer terror: Police describe fierce gun battle with Boston Marathon bombing suspects
BOSTON (CNN) — Eight minutes of sheer terror. That’s what police officers from Watertown, Massachusetts, described in heart-stopping detail Monday, March 16th — revealing details of a chaotic shootout with the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
One of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died from injuries he sustained that day — wounded in a gun battle, then run over by his brother, Dzhokhar.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev managed to escape, but was later caught by police. Now he’s on trial, facing 30 charges for the marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
The shootout with police in the early morning hours of April 19, 2013, marked one of the most dramatic chapters in the manhunt for the suspects who paralyzed the Boston metropolitan area for days.
It started, patrolman Joseph Reynolds testified, soon after he locked eyes with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who he spotted driving an SUV that matched a description of a stolen vehicle. Reynolds called for backup.
It wasn’t long before Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were firing guns, throwing bombs and trying to run officers over with a stolen SUV, Reynolds said.
“Tamerlan Tsarnaev got out of the driver’s side door and began shooting at my cruiser,” Reynolds said.
Soon, the officer said he ran out of bullets.
Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese saw what looked like muzzle flashes as soon as he arrived at the scene.
“I put my vehicle in park, I took a round through the windshield, I was sprayed with glass and I knew, OK, we were being fired on,” said Sgt. John MacLellan.
Then the two brothers began throwing improvised explosives, including pipe bombs and a pressure cooker bomb, the officers testified.
“I noticed one was bigger than the other, and they had different styles when they were throwing the devices,” MacLellan said. “One was throwing like a baseball.”
MacLellan said the pressure cooker bomb “was incredibly loud. I had to holster my weapon. My eyes were shaking violently in my head. I couldn’t see.”
Pugliese said he opened fire when he saw one of the men, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, charging toward him.
Pugliese fired and the man threw his pistol at the officer, hitting him in the bicep. Pugliese tackled him. And with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was wounded from gunfire, on the ground, the three officers tried to put him in handcuffs.
They thought they’d be able to arrest him. But then something changed.
“We were wrestling with Tamerlan, and all of a sudden I could hear an engine revving,” Reynolds said
The SUV, Reynolds said, was heading straight toward the officers.
‘He could have sped off and run away’
The dramatic descriptions of the shootout Monday sounded like a scene from a Hollywood film, said Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen.
But the most extraordinary revelation in court, he said, was that the night could have ended very differently.
“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not have to go back and run his brother over. He actually did a three-point turn and reversed the vehicle. He could have sped off and run away,” Cullen told CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” He was in a much better position to flee. But apparently he decided to do a U-turn and come back.”
The sight of the stolen SUV speeding toward them caught the officers by surprise.
“I reached down and I grabbed Tamerlan by the back of the belt and tried to drag him out of the street so he wouldn’t be hit,” Pugliese said. “The black SUV, it was right in my face. … I kind of laid back and felt the wind from the vehicle as it went by.”
But they didn’t move Tamerlan in time. His body became hung up in the rear wheels and he was dragged a short distance, Pugliese said.
The prosecutor asked Pugliese if there was something in the road that forced the SUV driver to go directly at the officers.
“No,” he said. “It was accelerating at a very high rate of speed.”
Later that day, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was pronounced dead at a local hospital, with the cause listed as “traumatic injuries” to the head and torso. His fingerprints led to the identification of the suspects.
Officers discovered that Richard Donohue, a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officer, had been hit by friendly fire during the shootout. He survived, but nearly bled to death.
Jurors travel off-site to see boat hideaway
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested about 8:45 p.m. that same day, hiding in a boat called the “Slip Away” that was stowed in a backyard in Watertown.
Jurors saw photos of the boat last week. But on Monday, they got a chance to see the boat, which has become a key piece of evidence in the trial, in person.
Before the trial started, prosecutors and defense attorneys had sparred over how much of the boat jurors would get to see.
The prosecution sought to remove a panel on which Tsarnaev allegedly scrawled incriminating messages so that jurors could see it with their own eyes. Defense attorney David Bruck argued that cutting out a panel would take the written words out of context and wouldn’t fairly reflect Tsarnaev’s state of mind.
In South Boston, about a mile from the courthouse, jurors intently looked at the entire boat Monday. It had been loaded onto a semi truck and moved to the location for viewing by the jury.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wearing a dark jacket and no handcuffs or shackles, watched the jurors but showed little emotion or expression.
Jurors appeared to strain to make out the words Tsarnaev scrawled inside the boat.
The boat was riddled with more than 100 bullet holes — some of which punctured Tsarnaev’s words.