Six days into the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the chilling testimony of Dun Meng, who quick-wittedly escaped the Tsarnaev brothers after they carjacked him following the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier, shed light on one of the most shadowy aspects of the case. On Thursday, Meng took the jury through his terrifying decision to flee and how a chatty Tamerlan Tsarnaev asked him about everything from his girlfriend to whether Meng’s Mercedes would play music from his iPhone.
Despite being one of the few people to have directly interacted with the Tsarnaevs after the attack, Meng, a Chinese citizen who runs a Cambridge mobile app food delivery start-up, has remained remarkably private in the two years since. His appearance on the stand marked the first time he showed his face publicly (in one of his only interviews, he was filmed from the back by the Boston Globe). Prior to the trial he had been identified only by his nickname, Danny.
Before Meng took the stand, the jury viewed the remarkable gas station surveillance footage of him waiting until Dzhokhar left the car to buy snacks at a gas station, leaping out of the Mercedes and bounding across the street. Wearing a Patagonia jacket and jeans, he recounted the night in heavily accented English. After pulling over to send a text message, a stranger approached his car, asked him to roll down the window, and then opened the door and jumped in, aiming a gun at him. “He asked me, ‘Do you know about the Boston Marathon explosion.’ I said, ‘Yes, I know,’” Meng said. “He said, ‘I did it and I just killed a policeman in Cambridge.’”
A seemingly at ease Tamerlan engaged Meng in conversation, asking him where he was from, what he did, and what his name was. “He said, ‘Okay, you’re Chinese. I’m Muslim. Muslims hate Americans.’” Meng responded: “’I’m Chinese, Chinese are very friendly to Muslims.’ He said, ‘Okay.’”
Meng explained a series of quick calculations he made to put the brothers at ease and increase his odds of survival.
“Later on he asked, ‘Does anyone care about you?’ I think he was worried that someone would worry about me if I didn’t go back home,” he remembers. “I feel his concern and I feel I have to tell him that nobody is concerned, cares about me. Make him relaxed.”
He also assured them that they had no reason to fear him identifying them. “At some point he asked me a question like, ‘Do you think all the white people look the same?’” Meng said. ‘I said, ‘Yes, no, I don’t remember anything.’ I feel like at the time if I tell him I remember your face, I remember everything, I think he will do something not good for me later on. I feel safer if I tell him I don’t remember anything.”
Tamerlan told Meng that they were headed for New York and asked him if the car had GPS. Meng lied, believing that if they could use the GPS they’d have no need for him. The three continued to drive through Cambridge and the outlying areas, the brothers at one point returning to their own car to pick up a CD. When Meng received a phone call from his roommate, Tamerlan became agitated. “He took the gun, pointed it at me, and said, ‘You have to pick up the phone, but if you say anything, a word in Chinese, I’ll kill you right now,” Meng said. “After that phone call, Tamerlan looks like he feels a little bit happier. He tells me, ‘Good job, boy, good job.’”
Finally, the car pulled over at a Shell station and Meng had to calculate what move would give him the best chance of survival. “I count down in my mind, 1-2-3-4. It’s a very tough condition for me at that moment. Every time when I recall this, I think this is the most terrified moment. It’s the most difficult decision in my life,” Meng said. Earlier in the night he had asked Tamerlan if he was going to kill him, and Tamerlan had assured him that he would at some point drop him off to walk home. “I was struggling. Should I trust him about that?”
Deciding to take the chance, Meng waited until Dzhokhar was inside of the gas station convenience store and Tamerlan had his hands busy. “I jumped out of the car, dodged into the street. I could feel he [Tamerlan] was trying to grab me, I could feel his hands were so close to my left hand, could feel wind on my left hand. He was shouting a word. He said fuck.”
Meng made it across the street to another gas station and begged the attendant to call 911. The police were able to use the locator in Meng’s iPhone, still in the car, to close in on the suspects. When Meng closed his testimony, his story stood out as a rare happy ending after a week of heartbreaking testimonials.