“Those streets in Watertown were the most complex crime scene in the history of the Massachusetts State Police,” Procopio said.
Photo-based diagrams of the explosions near the Boston Marathon finish line were published shortly after the event. However, similar images of the gun battle which took place in Watertown around 12:45 a.m. on Friday have not been available. This post is an attempt to construct a photo-based diagram of that event.
This reconstruction is based on various accounts, the cell phone photographs taken by Andrew Kitzenberg and here, and Google maps. Efforts to make sense of the shootout were hampered by early accounts stating that the vehicles came up Laurel Street from the east. Now we know that they came from the west, off Dexter Avenue. The position of the photographer was the second and third floors of the house marked as “cell phone.” The Honda Civic was in the lead, followed by the black Mercedes SUV, followed by the Watertown police car driven by policeman Joe Reynolds, followed by John MacLellan in the second police car. This reconstruction shows the vehicle locations during the initial shooting; they were all pointed east when they stopped, as indicated by the arrows associated with each car. The empty second police vehicle was subsequently pushed away by MacLellan, and rolled downhill to the vicinity of the brothers, coming to rest almost in front of the cell phone house. In all, five to seven policemen were involved in the shootout; Sgt. Jeff Pugliese, Officer Miguel Colon, Officer Richard Donohue, and Officer Timothy Menton are listed as others. State Police Officer Chris Dumont may have also been involved; a number of officers appeared as the gun battle ended. The white circular route of Sgt. Pugliese and the location of the wounded officer (Officer Donohue) are speculative.
The location of the pressure cooker “bomb” explosion is shown, but the locations of the three pipe bomb explosions are not known by us. Officer MacLellan rolled his vehicle toward the brothers, and it is assumed that they were targeting this empty vehicle with the pressure cooker bomb and possibly also the pipe bombs.
The identity of the man who was firing a pistol at police and later died is known to have been Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The man with him (who escaped in the SUV and was later captured) is alleged to be his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The range from the brothers to the police cars was something like 170 feet, up and down the street. The first police car was apparently closer initially, but then backed up when gunfire began. Firing a pistol accurately at a range of anything over 20 feet is difficult for an untrained shooter. At 170 feet, it would be completely futile. However, it seems that Tamerlan then approached the police on foot in the open. One policeman claimed to have exchanged fire with him at a distance of 12 feet (6 feet in one account), with questionable effect. Meanwhile, the houses on either side of the street were shot up pretty well. In fact, one police bullet penetrated into the second floor of the house occupied by the cellphone photographer and passed through an unoccupied office chair. Historically, combat accuracy is notoriously awful. However, Over the Line, Smokey! assumes the officers did the best they could, given the angles involved. If you look at this re-creation from the crouching officers’ perspective on either side of the street, with the figure representing a charging Tamerlan only 10 yards away, it is easy to see how the angles would make it likely that houses would be hit:
Surely no one can blame the officers for firing at him as he charged them.
Al the police took down the wounded Tamerlan, Dzhokhar drove the SUV, in reverse, over his brother, dragging him some 30 feet. The vehicle passed between the police cars, and leaving the scene (“A”), and continuing west across School onto Spruce, and out of sight. Dzhokhar, who was bleeding, abandoned the SUV at the location marked “B”. He then traveled on foot some 4 blocks to location “C”, where he hid in a boat. An all-day house-to-house search by the police somehow did not include all the houses on this street. Dzokhar would later be found by the owner of the boat, who saw that the covering had been disrupted.
Unanswered questions include:
Why did the brothers stop on Laurel when they realized they were being followed by a police car? Had they continued in two vehicles, and split up, it seems possible that at least one of them might have escaped. One might guess that they thought they might be able to kill the one police officer on scene at the time, as they had killed the MIT policeman earlier, in an attempt to obtain a second pistol.
Why did Tamerlan “charge” the armed policemen (there were several by that time) in plain view? He may have been suicidal at that point. Perhaps there was a desperate plan for him to draw the fire, while Dzhokhar escaped.
Why did Dzhokhar drive in reverse, rather than forward, east on Laurel? Conceivably he put the vehicle in reverse by mistake. Perhaps he was following the “Demolition Derby” tactic of smashing into cars with the less critical back of the vehicle. Perhaps the other end of Laurel was blocked by police at that time.
Where were the two officers involved in the “friendly fire” injury which almost killed one policeman? One witness suggests that the officer was wounded after Tamerlan was subdued. We think this is unlikely. It seems more likely that the witness simply did not realize that the officer had been hit until after Tamerlan was taken down. We speculate that the officer (?Sgt. Pugliese) who circled around the house may have been involved, as he fired multiple rounds at Tamerlan, from the side and rear, which could have put the other officers (eg Officer Donohue) (on the other side of the street and in front of Tamerlan) in the line of fire:
How, in 12 hours, could authorities have failed to search the location where Dzhokar was found, and then sounded the “all clear”? the boat was only four blocks and 1000 feet from where he had emerged, bleeding, from the SUV. Blood trail? tracking dog? common sense? Hundreds of police officers….What happened here? Seriously, this was not good.