National Law Enforcement Museum hosts heroes of Boston Marathon bombing

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Part 1)

The Boston Marathon bombing shocked the world on April 15, 2013, and captivated America with the manhunt that ended in Watertown, Massachusetts, four days later.

On April 26, the National Law Enforcement Museum in D.C. hosts “Patriots Day: Cinematic Reflections on a Post 9/11 World,” featuring a Q&A with three law-enforcement heroes made famous by the movie “Patriots Day” (2016).

“Every year on Patriots Day, which is the third Monday in April and a state holiday in Massachusetts, I think of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the tragedy of that day and horror of that day and what the victims went through,” FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers told WTOP. “It’s a very meaningful day and it will be every year for the rest of my life.”

The panel discussion will feature DesLauriers (played in the movie by Kevin Bacon), Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and Watertown Police Sgt. Jefferey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons).

“It was an absolute honor to be represented by Kevin in the movie,” DesLauriers said. He had a long lunch with the actor in Boston, and “He couldn’t have been a greater gentleman — very unpretentious, shattered my preconceptions of Hollywood movie stars. … He walked just like me, talked just like me and wore the same clothing.”

DesLauriers said that April 15 began just like any other at his FBI office.

“I was in my office in Boston listening to a presentation,” DesLauriers said. “My BlackBerry went off: ‘Two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.’ … I walked to my office to turn on my TV. As I was walking, Ed Davis called me: ‘Rick, we’ve had two large explosions near the finish line — many injuries. Send your SWAT team and bomb techs.”

The first bomb killed Krystle Campbell, 29; the second killed Lingz Lü, 23, and Martin Richard, 8. Hundreds of others were maimed, including nearly two dozen who lost limbs.

“The first video we obtained was from a CCTV camera at a restaurant,” DesLauriers said. “That was at the site of the second bombing that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev set off. … He placed the backpack on the ground and got on the cellphone, then 15 seconds later you see and feel … the first bomb go off, which his brother Tamerlan set at the finish line.”

The video of the Tsarnaev brothers marked a critical break in the case.

“We were able to go back farther west on Boylston Street and obtain additional footage from other businesses along the street which identified Tamerlan and Dzhokhar walking together, both of their backpacks on, Dzhokhar with a white cap pointing forward, Tamerlan with a black cap pointing backwards. … We referred to them as Black Hat, White Hat.”

Three days later, they released the video to the public to help in the manhunt, but not after “serious discussion.”

“You wanted to keep the video covert to not tip off the bombers … [but] if you don’t release the videos and you have another bombing, that would be a terrible tragedy, knowing you could have shared that information with the American public.”

On April 18, the Tsarnaevs also murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier, 27.

“They had more bombs and they decided to try to obtain another weapon by murdering or trying to get a weapon from a law enforcement officer,” DesLauriers said. “They reached in and tried to grab his weapon, but Officer Collier heroically held onto his weapon even though he’d been shot in the head. … They were unable to get his weapon and fled.”

They then carjacked Danny Meng in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of Boston.

“When they kidnapped him, they disclosed that they were the ones responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing,” DesLauriers said. “When Dzhokhar and Tamerlan stopped at a gas station on Memorial Avenue in Cambridge to get food … Meng escaped and called law enforcement, which led to Dzhokhar and Tamerlan being observed by Watertown police.”

Watertown Police Officer Joseph Reynolds and Sgt. John MacLellan were joined by Sgt. Jefferey Pugliese to engage in a harrowing shootout with the Tsarnaev brothers.

“They engaged in a tremendous firefight where bombs were being thrown at Jeff, John and Joey,” DesLauriers said. “They were able to shoot and fatally wound Tamerlan. As Jeff wrestled Tamerlan to the ground, Dzhokhar in one of the vehicles backed over Tamerlan and just missed Jeff. … Tamerlan died from gunshot wounds and being run over.”

Dzhokhar escaped, and a further manhunt unfolded in Watertown, as Gov. Deval Patrick issued a shelter-in-place order for most of eastern Massachusetts.

“He sought refuge inside a boat of an individual named David Henneberry,” DesLauriers said. “Henneberry walked out into his backyard and saw the shrink wrap that his boat had been wrapped in for the winter blowing in the wind and he located Dzhokhar inside there and called law enforcement. The FBI … was able to take Dzhokhar into captivity.”

After interrogating Dzhokhar, they formulated a possible motive.

“Based on my past experience, my belief is that they were radicalized by Anwar al-Awlaki’s online publication that we know they accessed,” DesLauriers said. “Also, Tamerlan had traveled to Dagestan. … We believe they were self-radicalized as a combination of travels back to Dagestan as well as accessing Anwar al-Awlaki’s online publication Inspire.”

What further damage might they have done if they weren’t caught?

“We believe the additional bombs they threw at Jeff Pugliese, John MacLellan and Joey Reynolds on the streets of Watertown, they intended to take down to New York City and possibly bomb Times Square,” DesLauriers said. “The actions the law enforcement team took to … arrest Dzhokhar and neutralize Tamerlan no doubt saved additional lives.”

Today, Dzhokhar awaits his death sentence in Florence, Colorado.

If you missed the museum’s screenings of “Patriots Day” last week, you can find the movie streaming on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Redbox and Vudu before attending the National Law Enforcement Museum’s Q&A.

“Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, so this will be on everybody’s mind as we go into the next year,” DesLauriers said. “Most importantly, we always want to reflect on the victims and what they went through, those who died, who were seriously injured, who suffered amputations … how strong and fearless they were.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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