Lingering Questions About the Boston Bombers Manhunt

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Photo: Darren McCollester/2013 Getty Images

In the days since the attack on the Boston Marathon, details about its aftermath and the citywide search for the suspects have come in tiny, not always accurate bursts. Amid the chaos, we heard of a murder, a carjacking, a convenience store robbery, a shootout, and an unbelievable escape by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who wasn't found until the next night. While a clearer picture is beginning to form, thanks to cleared-up official info from authorities and diligent, ongoing reporting, a few unanswered points, inconsistencies, and untruths persist. Below is an account of what we now know about the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, as well as the open questions — the elusive answers to which are still emerging from the fog.

What did Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev do after the Marathon bombings?
The most pertinent concern after the Boston attack was where the perpetrators might be hiding or if they'd already managed to escape. What we know now is that until the FBI released pictures of the suspects on Thursday evening, the Tsarnaev brothers were not hiding at all, but rather going about their days as if nothing had happened. The elder Tsarnaev returned home, where according to his wife's lawyer, it seemed that nothing was amiss, and it wasn't until she saw her husband's face on TV that she knew something was wrong. Even more baffling is that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went to school at U Mass Dartmouth the next day, hung out on campus, and "partied." A fellow student claimed he told her "tragedies happen all the time."

How they hatched a plan — a sloppy and incomplete one, judging by what followed — once the FBI publicized their photographs remains to be seen.

Why was MIT officer Sean Collier killed?
At 10:20 p.m. on Thursday, the active manhunt started: Police received reports of gunshots in the vicinity of Vassar Street and Main Street on the MIT campus, and ten minutes later found officer Sean Collier dead of multiple gunshot wounds in his patrol car. Collier's gun remained in its holster, and there was no sign he had fired any shots. Early reports struggled to find any reason for the killing of Collier, sometimes placing the murder in the same sentence as a convenience store robbery that happened around the same time. (We'll get to that.)

The New York Daily News stated that Collier volunteered at the same gym the elder Tsarnaev frequented, but noted that it was unlikely they ever crossed paths. This morning CBS senior news correspondent John Miller reported that the working theory is that the brothers were looking to get Collier's gun and ambushed him. In this theory, the "three-way lock" on the holster Collier was wearing proved too complex for the brothers and explains why it was found at the scene.

Still in question is which one of the brothers killed Collier, as it remains unclear when exactly they met again after the bombing. The criminal complaint against Dzhokhar makes no mention of Collier or the MIT shooting, potentially signaling that Tamerlan, since killed, was responsible.

Which brother was the carjacker?
After the MIT shooting, according to the criminal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, an unidentified individual approached a black Mercedes SUV around midnight on Thursday, tapping on the passenger-side window before holding the driver at gunpoint. The man asked the victim, "Did you hear about the Boston explosion?" and said, "I did that," forcing the victim to drive to another location, where he picked up the other suspect.

The Wall Street Journal reported that "one of the brothers jumped out of a Honda Civic and reached in through the front passenger side window of the SUV, opened the door and pointed a silver colored semi-automatic pistol at the driver. The gunman then ordered him to drive to Watertown and was followed by the Honda." When they arrived in Watertown, "The two brothers then removed luggage from the Honda and loaded it into the trunk of the Mercedes."

But the complaint doesn't identify which of the brothers performed the initial carjacking, nor who drove the Honda and was picked up later.

What happened to the carjacking victim?
NBC News and Politico reported that the brothers let him out of the car because he "wasn't an American," while Dzhokhar's criminal complaint states merely that the victim "managed to escape" while the suspects went to a convenience store. The victim also said that apart from boasting about the bombing in English, they spent the rest of the time speaking in Russian and he could only recognize the word "Manhattan." He has not been identified by name.

"The Tsarnaevs stopped at three ATMs and got $800 cash from one of them, using the SUV owner’s bank card," the Washington Post reported. "A surveillance camera at one bank recorded images of a young man resembling Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, dressed in a gray hooded jacket. Denied cash at other ATMs, the suspects dropped off the vehicle owner at a gas station."

But police maintain that he got away when the bombers did something that makes no sense at all: "Cambridge Police told [the Los Angeles Times] that the Mercedes driver escaped when the brothers went inside a Shell gas station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge to buy snacks." Dzhokhar was even captured on surveillance footage, later mixed up with a separate 7-Eleven robbery.

"Turns out the suspects had driven up to the Shell station to go inside to make some purchases," said Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas. "They had taken the phone away from the victim of the carjacking; so when they went into the station, he jumped out of the car, and ran next door [to the Mobil station nearby] and made the report." (According to the New York Post, "Dzhokhar dropped the food — Red Bulls, chips and candy — when the owner caught him trying to shoplift.")

But what about the 7-Eleven?
Initial reports that the suspects robbed a 7-Eleven convenience store flooded the media in the early mess of the manhunt, and spurred some analysis about how the seemingly irrational act characterized the suspects' psyches. Soon after the incident, however, the story of the Tsarnaevs' hold-up was refuted by a spokesperson for the company, although she did say there was a robbery at the 750 Massachusetts Avenue location at around 10:30 p.m., immediately after the murder of Collier. While the brothers had their own convenience store mishaps, as described above, they did not stick one up.

"The suspect in the photos for that particular 7-Eleven robbery looks nothing like the suspects," said the company spokesperson. "The police or someone made a mistake. Someone was confused." The screw-up likely stemmed from the fact that the report of the 7-Eleven robbery occurred just before Dzhokhar was seen on-camera, Red Bull in hand, at the Shell.

The Cambridge Police confirmed to Daily Intelligencer today, "Those [initial] reports were incorrect. We had an UNRELATED armed robbery at that store but the suspects were not involved.  The surveillance photos were from a Shell Gas Station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge."

How was Tamerlan killed while Dzhokar escaped?
During the firefight that ensued just before 1 a.m. — pictured here in detail by a witness whose apartment overlooked the street — police claim that Tamerlan moved toward officers while firing, but eventually ran out of ammunition and was tackled. It was then that his brother reportedly drove the stolen SUV through the scene, running over and dragging his brother, according to authorities.

However, there is not yet an official coroner's report on the incident, and doctors have refused to comment on the cause of death, leaving it to the medical examiner.

Where did Dzhokar go?
After he ditched the SUV and fled on foot from the shootout, it is not known what Dzhokhar did next. Potentially wounded from the gunfight, it's possible he went straight to the boat in the backyard on nearby Franklin Street, where he was later discovered wounded, and hid for almost all of Friday. If he made other stops along the way, we don't yet know. Dzhokhar is now said to be cooperative and responding to investigators' questions from the hospital, where he will hopefully fill in the missing pieces.