One of the critical leads in the hunt for the Boston bombing suspects came from the victim of a carjacking. The man escaped, but an iPhone left in the back seat of his new Mercedes S.U.V. helped police track down the alleged killers in Watertown.
The carjacking victim, a Chinese entrepreneur who wants to be known only as “Danny,” detailed his dramatic escape during an interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer. He requested that his face be hidden and his voice modified to protect his identity.
“I saw someone, you know, pulled over to the curb just behind me,” said Danny, describing his initial encounter with the suspects just three nights after the Marathon attacks. “They jump out of the car and they walk to my car. He looks at my window so I lower it down a little bit. But– suddenly he put his hand in and opened the door from inside.” As he was held at gunpoint, Danny recalled, Tsarnaev asked him, “Where’s the cash?”
At the time of the carjacking, Danny had no idea his attacker was Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, one of the suspects in the deadly twin bombings that killed three and wounded more than 200 bystanders.
According to Danny, Tsarnaev admitted to setting off explosives at the Boston Marathon and said, “I just killed a policeman in Cambridge.”
Danny continued driving the vehicle, on instructions from Tamerlan, with a gun inches from his head. “At first, I can’t manage to drive,’’ Danny said. “I was shaking. My body was shaking.” At one point, Tamerlan told him, “Relax, man. Slow down. Don’t drive too fast.”
The younger brother followed behind in a sedan. Tamerlan then took over driving and Dzhokhar joined them inside the hijacked Mercedes, after loading explosives into it–a fact Danny “had no idea at that time.”
During the ride, a friend started to call Danny’s cell phone which infuriated Tamerlan. “He asked me, ‘Who is calling you?’ I said, ‘It’s my roommate.’” Danny said Tamerlan threatened to kill him if he uttered “any single word in Chinese.” The next time the roommate called, Danny answered in English and kept saying “I gotta go, I gotta go.”
Danny told Lauer that the younger brother, Dzhokhar, was “pretty quiet” and he appeared to be a “follower” of his older brother because he ran errands like going to the A.T.M. and getting gas while Tamerlan stayed in the car.
It was at a gas station where Danny decided to make a run for it. “Dzhokhar went inside, yeah, to pay the cash. So I thought it’s a very good chance, ‘cause only one of them is in the car,” he said.
Danny quickly unfastened his seat belt with his left hand, opened the door with his right hand, and “took off” running. “[Tamerlan] tried to grab me. I can feel– he was trying to– he was trying to grab me,” said Danny, who sprinted to another nearby gas station and called 911. He told police to try finding the suspects through the iPhone he left behind and his car’s GPS system.
About a half hour later, police confronted the two brothers in Watertown; the subsequent shootout left Tamerlan dead and put 32 bullet holes through the side of the Mercedes.
Last week, the surviving brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar, was charged with attempting to use a “weapon of mass destruction” and currently awaits trial.
“I think I was really lucky,’’ Danny said of his ordeal. “God was with me.”