Skip to main content

Friendly fire led to officer's shooting during Boston manhunt

By David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin, CNN
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
  • Three days after the Boston marathon bombings, the FBI showed images of the suspects
  • Hours later, a massive shootout unfolded in Watertown between police and the suspects
  • Almost a month after the terror attack, police sources have shed new light on the Watertown shooting

Watertown, Massachusetts (CNN) -- In the days after last month's Boston marathon bombings, the city was on edge. Residents were holed up in their homes, under strict orders not to leave. Investigators sifted through countless hours of surveillance images trying to determine who might have carried out this heinous attack.

Then came a breakthrough.

Three days after the April 15 attack, the FBI identified the bombing suspects captured in surveillance images near the finish line, later identified as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Suspect: Boston attack was payback for hits on Muslims

And a manhunt was on.

Hours after that FBI news conference, Boston and the rest of the country followed as the suspects allegedly shot and killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer in a failed attempt to seize his gun, carjacked a black Mercedes SUV whose driver cleverly escaped at a gas station, then fled to the Boston suburb of Watertown, where they were confronted by police.

Neighbor photographs Boston shootout
Cop fooled suspects with empty SUV
The week that changed Boston forever
Bombing suspect killed older brother?

Interactive map of the Boston attacks, manhunt

Now, almost a month later, two police sources have shed new light on exactly what happened when police confronted the two suspects in Watertown during the early hours of April 19, triggering a gun battle unlike anything recently seen on the streets of an American city.

Among the new details from the two police sources:

-- Police fired nearly 300 rounds of ammunition within five to 10 minutes as they confronted the suspects -- 100 more than initially reported. And that included one round that nearly killed Massachusetts Transit Police Officer Richard Donohue. (Others bullets struck the Tsarnaev brothers, seriously injuring Dzhokhar and contributing to the death of Tamerlan.)

-- Tamerlan was the only brother armed with a handgun. The only other weapons they had were the homemade explosives that police say the brothers tossed out of the hijacked vehicle, including a few that detonated.

-- Police accidentally fired on an unoccupied black SUV during the mayhem. "In the chaos, an officer or trooper (or some combination of personnel) mistook it for one of the two suspect vehicles," David Procopio of the Massachusetts State Police told CNN.

Boston fire chief gets vote of 'no confidence' in handling of bombings

In the beginning, all police knew just before 11 p.m. Thursday, April 19, was that a man was down in Cambridge. They would later learn that MIT campus police officer Sean Collier had been shot and killed in his patrol car.

A short time later, at least half a dozen police agencies responded to a call from help from the Watertown Police Department, after an officer spotted two cars that the Tsarnaevs were driving.

The officers converged on the narrow residential intersection of Dexter and Laurel streets in Watertown. The Tsarnaev brothers were in the middle of the street, after lobbing the homemade explosives.

Law enforcement sources told CNN that the only other weapon the brothers had was a single handgun used by Tamerlan, but investigators have not confirmed that.

The final hours that paralyzed Boston

"We have not commented publicly on that and I'm not in a position to do so at this time," Procopio said. "Obviously, that is part of the investigation."

The extraordinary gun battle played out in front of Andrew Kitzenberg, who captured photos of the scene on his iPhone from his upstairs apartment on Dexter Street.

In one image taken by Kitzenberg, the two suspects are crouched behind the black SUV as they engage in gunfire. Kitzenberg said the two men had been transferring bags from a green sedan that one of the brothers drove to the scene.

At one point, Tamerlan approached police on foot, with explosives on his body and an explosive trigger, firing his handgun at the officers who returned fire, mortally wounding him. A police officer tackled him, then handcuffed him on the ground. Around the same time, Dzhokhar grabbed the wheel of the hijacked SUV and drove toward the police.

"As soon as the SUV turned around in the street," Kitzenberg told CNN's Drew Griffin, "it was accelerated gunfire."

Source: Russia withheld details about Tsarnaev

At some point, Dzhokhar was shot and wounded. As he drove the SUV toward the officers who had restrained his brother, the police scrambled out of the way and Dzhokhar proceeds to drive over his brother.

Tamerlan later dies from the gunshot wound and the blunt force trauma of being run over, according to his death certificate.

Several hours later, a seriously injured Dzhokhar was arrested a few blocks away in Watertown, where he was hiding underneath a covered boat in someone's backyard.

Massachusetts State Police and the Middlesex District Attorney's office are investigating the entire sequence of events that night, beginning with Collier's death in Cambridge.

"That shoot review, which is ongoing, will include examination of any potential friendly fire incidents," Procopio said. While Donohue was the only officer seriously injured in the Watertown shooting, another officer was also grazed by a bullet.

In high-pressure situations, police often experience "contagion shooting," a former Branford, Connecticut, police chief said. And that's most likely what happened in Watertown.

What did suspected bomber's widow know?

"If you look back at some of the other cases in the past, then it immediately causes a contagion and other people start shooting," said John DeCarlo, now an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven.

The gunfight in Watertown was so intense that bullets came flying through a home about a half a block from the shooting scene.

"They landed right near our staircase, near the pedestal and the other near our closet," said Harry Ohannesian, who showed CNN several bullet holes in his house. "They went through one, exited, went through another closet and landed under the staircase."

The chaos in Watertown that led to the friendly fire shooting of Donohue can be compared to a war zone, DeCarlo explained.

"Things (that) occur in the very dynamic moments of a situation like this ... are not necessarily -- no matter how hard police work -- what they are trained to do," said the former police chief, noting that none of his remarks are intended as criticism of police.

Procopio concurred with that comparison:

"Considering the chaos and the battlefield conditions -- where a pair of homicidal terrorists were firing shots and throwing bombs at police -- the fact that friendly fire incidents might have occurred detracts nothing -- not one bit -- from the valor exhibited by the police officers and state troopers present that night," the Massachusetts State Police spokesman said.

Timeline of the bombing, aftermath

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

Part of complete coverage on
Boston Marathon Bombings
Survivors of three earlier bombings describe their journeys forward — and offer poignant words for those just one year away from the day that changed their lives.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 0615 GMT (1415 HKT)
"United, we will always persevere." That was the message Massachusetts shared on the anniversary of twin bombings that turned last year's Boston Marathon from a celebration into a day of horror.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
I'm running it to make a simple statement: Acts of cowardice will not stop me from exercising my rights as an athlete and a human.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1940 GMT (0340 HKT)
Many of those whose lives were shattered are still struggling to put the pieces back together. Here are some of the victims, as well as larger funds, who continue to need your support.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
As April 15 approaches, the fact that we tell time in circles brings us to remember the attack on the Boston Marathon one year ago.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
CNN's Bill Weir talks to Carlos Arredondo about helping those injured immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
By running in response to the tragedy, we weren't attempting to negate the irreparable harm done to the people of Boston last year. We wanted to do something, anything, to try to process it.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
All of our assumptions have turned out to be wrong. Here are four things we've learned since then:
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2017 GMT (0417 HKT)
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been frozen in the public mind by four images.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Adrianne Haslet-Davis' life as a dancer was shattered last year at the Boston Marathon bombings.
March 24, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
A man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon attack is engaged to the woman he was waiting for at the finish line.
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Mistaken identity in the hospital added to her family's grief.
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The slain MIT cop "was born to be a police officer."
April 19, 2013 -- Updated 0237 GMT (1037 HKT)
The graduate student from China followed her passion to Boston.
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 0510 GMT (1310 HKT)
Almost a year ago, 8-year-old Martin Richard wrote four simple words on a sign at school: No more hurting people.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Mery Daniel couldn't wait for Marathon. It was one of the things the aspiring doctor and Haitian immigrant loved most about living in Boston.
May 2, 2013 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
After twin blasts shook Boston -- killing three and wounding more than 260 others -- investigators sprung into action looking for those responsible.
April 28, 2013 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
The black Mercedes SUV sped down Spruce Street going about 70 mph, the driver struggling to maintain control. The vehicle had a busted headlight and flat tire.
Click through our galleries of the Boston Marathon bombing, from perspectives on the attack to the suspects, as well as the manhunt and celebrations in Boston after both suspects were found.