BOSTON - The search for the Boston Marathon bombers ended Friday night to the sound of flash-bang grenades and neighborhood cheers as the second of two Chechen brothers was cornered, captured and taken away in an ambulance.
Boston police confirmed about 8:45 p.m. that they had taken 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into custody, after they discovered him hiding in a boat stored behind a house in nearby Watertown, Mass. A trail of blood tipped off the boat's owner - and the police - to Tsarnaev, ultimately leading to an apprehension and climax to a violent week.
“We are so grateful to bring closure and justice to this case,” Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben said at a 9:30 p.m. briefing. “We're exhausted, folks, but we have a victory here tonight.”
Rick DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston field office, added that “it seems like many months since Monday,” when the horrific marathon explosions occurred. He stressed that this was a “truly intense investigation” involving myriad officers with the multi-agency Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Specially trained operators with the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team made the final capture, following a standoff and exchange of gunfire.
Tsarnaev was taken to a hospital where doctors declared he was in serious condition. The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, said Friday night that no decision had yet been made about whether to seek the death penalty.
Tsarnaev's brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had died following a shootout with law enforcement officers early Friday morning, but Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had escaped, setting off an extraordinary manhunt that both captivated and stilled one of the nation's most vibrant cities.
The FBI confirmed that two years ago it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the request of a foreign government. The agency did not identify the government involved but concluded at the time that Tsarnaev was not a threat.
On Friday, following a frantic search that essentially had shut down Boston for much of the day, Franklin Street residents in Watertown heard a flurry of gunshots around 7 p.m. Law enforcement and emergency vehicles arrived, sirens screaming, at the scene, setting up a perimeter that was reinforced by the minute.
About 8 p.m., residents heard a number of flash-bang grenades, commonly used to disorient suspects; some time later, law enforcement officers could be heard urging Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to give up.
“We always want to take all suspects alive,” Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said Friday night.
When it became clear that Tsarnaev had surrendered, neighbors burst into cheers and applause. Later in the evening, public celebrations spread to other parts of the city. Downtown Boston streets were crowded with cheering people.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Boston Mayor Tom Menino said Friday night.
President Barack Obama also praised the efforts of everyone involved and directed federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to continue the investigation into what links - if any - the suspects may have had with terrorist groups.
“Boston police and state police and local police across the commonwealth of Massachusetts responded with bravery over five long days,” he said. “We are extremely grateful. . We owe a debt of gratitude.”
The climax came shortly after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick gave a green light for the city's mass transit system to reopen, returning at least a touch of normalcy to a metropolis that's been stricken since the Monday bombings and that went into full-scale lockdown Friday. Boston officials had halted the city's mass transit system and urged residents to “shelter in place” before finally giving workers the go-ahead to leave for home in the early afternoon. While mass transit resumed about 6 p.m., the Boston Bruins and the Red Sox canceled their night games.
Even the downtown streets in Boston were deserted, with few people out and most stores closed. An Au Bon Pain restaurant that posted it was closing at 4 p.m. was quickly mobbed, as if a hurricane were approaching. Patrons grabbed bottles of water and cleaned out the case of ready-made sandwiches.
The chilling emptiness of a major city's streets was unprecedented, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a transportation security expert at the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University. Jenkins noted that though parts of cities were shut down during hostage situations and gang standoffs, not even the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought New York City to a complete standstill.
“We're in absolutely new territory,” Jenkins said in an interview. “It's extraordinary.”
Officials also locked down and later evacuated the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, a campus about 60 miles from Boston, where the younger Tsarnaev is a student. By midafternoon, National Guard helicopters were landing at the campus and off-loading what appeared to be SWAT teams.
While Boston's streets were empty, electronic airwaves and the Internet were jammed as television crews swarmed Tsarnaev family members for interviews from Maryland to Canada, and as far away as Russia. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up with news, rumors and commentary.
The number of people following Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Twitter feeds skyrocketed to more than 35,000 in just a few hours. The FBI used the Twitter messaging system to alert citizens that the surviving brother might be driving a “1999 four-door, green Honda Civic with Massachusetts license plates,” only to cancel the alert an hour later.
Meanwhile, his former classmates at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School posted online expressions of sorrow.
“He's a smart guy,” his aunt, Maret Tsarnaev, told reporters in Canada. “Studied well.”