When a major event occurs, the news media usually report certain facts over and over. Other facts, just as interesting or relevant, are often ignored. This has happened again in the case of the recent manhunt in a suburb of Boston.
The story that’s been told again and again is that the 19-year old suspect escaped on foot after his brother was killed in a shootout with the police. The police then established a 20-block perimeter and did an extensive search but couldn’t find him. After the police told everyone that they could come out of their houses again, a resident quickly discovered the suspect hiding in a boat in his backyard.
At a subsequent press conference, one of the officers in charge said that the suspect was able to escape on foot because it was dark and there was a lot of smoke from the gunfire and explosives. He also said that the suspect wasn’t found during the door-to-door manhunt because his hiding place was just outside the search perimeter.
But this story didn’t sound right. There had been reports that the suspect drove away from the shootout, after running over his brother. He must have left his car (the highjacked SUV) somewhere, but that wasn’t discussed in the news reports. If the suspect ran away on foot, as the police said, it was also curious that he was able to find a hiding place just outside the perimeter. How far did he run? Where was the perimeter set up so that it didn’t include 67 Franklin Street, his eventual hiding place?
It wasn’t easy to figure out what happened, since the exact locations and the use of the getaway car weren’t discussed in the national media reports. But after some internet searching, it appears that this is what actually happened. It doesn’t make the police look especially good.
The gun battle occurred near the intersection of Laurel Avenue and Dexter Street in Watertown.
The suspect, leaving his brother behind, then drove west on Laurel Avenue, past School Street, where Laurel turns into Spruce Street. He continued driving west on Spruce, past another 20 houses or so, and then drove up Spruce as it curves towards the northwest. This is plausible — he drove about 4/10ths of a mile from the gun battle, around a bend in the road, and then parked the car near the intersection of Spruce and Lincoln Avenue. This is where the empty SUV was found.
The suspect then ran away on foot. It’s not clear what route he took, but it seems unlikely that he would continue walking northwest on Spruce. The most direct route from the Spruce/Lincoln intersection to his hiding place is to go west on Lincoln, cross over Walnut Ave, and then head down Franklin Avenue (or parallel to it), eventually finding the boat at 67 Franklin.
The distance from the Spruce/Lincoln intersection to 67 Franklin Street is only 2/10ths of a mile. Google says it’s about a 4-minute walk. We don’t know if he went in a straight line, but it makes sense that he quit walking when he saw a likely hiding place.
Point A is where the SUV was left. Point B is where the suspect was found.
So the suspect traveled 6 or 7/10ths of a mile from the gun battle, by SUV and on foot, and ended up only 2/10ths of a mile from the SUV. Why wasn’t he found during the manhunt?
I couldn’t find a map of the 20-block search perimeter anywhere. According to some news reports, however, the perimeter was bordered by two major streets: Mount Auburn Street on the north and Arsenal Street on the south (since Mount Auburn runs toward the southwest, these two streets eventually intersect).
It turns out that, according to someone who claims to have been listening to a police scanner, the eastern boundary of the perimeter was School Street, which runs north and south. These three streets (Mount Auburn, Arsenal and School) form a right triangle, roughly the shape of New York State, with the right angle being the intersection of Arsenal and School.
Is this the 20-block perimeter? The streets in this area don’t form a grid, so it’s difficult to count the blocks. But it seems to be in the vicinity of 20 blocks, if you average them out (some of the blocks are relatively small and some are relatively large).
It does seem plausible that this triangle is the perimeter. Its boundaries are major streets — perhaps the police thought that the suspect wouldn’t have been able to cross any major streets on foot, given all the officers in the area. For another reason, the intersection of Lincoln and Spruce is roughly near the center of the triangle. It makes sense to establish a perimeter around the place where the suspect started escaping on foot.
What’s remarkable about this perimeter, however, is that 67 Franklin Street is also near the center of the triangle (which makes sense, since it’s only 2/10ths of a mile away from where the SUV was found).
Yet during the post-capture press conference, when a reporter asked the officer in charge how the suspect was able to escape the manhunt, the officer said that 67 Franklin Street was “just outside the perimeter”.
Maybe it was, but that doesn’t seem to be the case unless the perimeter was established somewhere else, downplaying the location of the empty SUV. Is it possible that someone was supposed to search around 67 Franklin and simply missed the suspect? Is it possible that the suspect hid somewhere else and eventually found his way to 67 Franklin, after that address had been searched? Is it possible that there was a trail of blood from the SUV to the boat that nobody noticed? Could dogs have been used to track the suspect?
And how could smoke have obscured suspect #2’s escape if he simply drove down Spruce Street after the gun battle, getting out of the SUV 6/10ths of a mile away? Did anyone actually pursue suspect #2 after the gun battle or was everyone (understandably) tending to suspect #1 and the officer who was wounded?
None of this is clear, but neither is the explanation given by the police.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter what actually happened, so long as the suspect was caught. But there was something that didn’t make sense and now, to me anyway, it does.
“gun battle at Dexter and Laurel Streets”:
“Abandoned SUV at Laurel and Spruce St”:
“20-block perimeter bordered by Arsenal Street and Mount Auburn Avenue”:
“Perimeter: Mt. Auburn to Arsenal St. to School St.”:
Postscript on 4/23:
In the comments, someone has pointed out that the police may have searched east of Walnut Street. Maybe they got a tip that convinced them to do that. I still think it would have been odd that such an intensive search didn’t include areas closer to where the SUV was abandoned. Searching an area of 20 blocks east of Walnut would mean that the search was seriously skewed toward the east. Reporters should have asked about this by now, or the police should have explained their decision without being asked.
Maybe some journalist is writing a book about these events already, and it will all become clear one day.
If nothing else, however, the people who were told to stay in their houses deserve an explanation, especially since Tsarnaev was found only after a resident was told it was relatively safe to leave his house (although it was still relatively dangerous, considering who was in his backyard).