Rick Holmes: Unanswered questions after Boston Marathon bombings
The cover of Rolling Stone asked a question by combining a compelling photo – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looking young, handsome, sensitive, mysterious – with a bold headline: Bomber. How did a kid who looked like this commit an atrocity like that? The report inside, the product of months of interviews with people who knew Tsarnaev and his family, tries to provide answers.
A lot of people don’t seem to like the question. Politicians have denounced the cover. Convenience store magnates have refused to sell the magazine. Some journalists who should know better have piled on. The media controversy machine has, as usual, fanned the flames.
“He’s evil,” people scowl. That’s all anyone needs to know. Really?
There’s a distinct lack of curiosity about what happened April 15 and in the days that followed, even here in the Boston area. We live in an age where feelings are more important than facts. The weeks since the Marathon bombings have been filled with self-pity and self-celebration. We’ve been mourning the victims, praising the police and first responders and cheering the recovery of the survivors, all the while patting ourselves on the back for being “Boston Strong.”
We haven’t been asking questions.
What questions? Let me suggest a dozen:
1. Why were the warnings from Russian intelligence services about Tamerlan Tsarnaev not heeded? This is about the only question Congress has asked, without producing a satisfactory answer.
2. Why was the entire city of Boston shut down on a weekday when all indications pointed to the wounded suspect several towns to the west? Were state officials working through a contingency plan or making it up as they went along?
3. An MBTA police officer gravely wounded at the Thursday night shootout in Watertown has been denouncing Rolling Stone this week. Witnesses say he was a victim of friendly fire, felled by another officer’s bullet in a one-sided firefight against the lightly-armed Tsarnaev brothers. Is that true?
4. In a second friendly fire incident, officers fired at a black SUV filled with officers rushing to the scene. A windshield was smashed, but no one was hurt. Is this the kind of inter-agency coordination and disciplined police work officials have bragged about?
5. With hundreds of well-trained police surrounding the brothers – I imagine the scene where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are hemmed in by the entire Bolivian army – how did Dzhokhar manage to escape?
6. Minutes later, police had the car the brothers had ridden in, and a pool of blood, presumably from Dzhokhar, who had dumped the carjacked SUV and escaped on foot. Why couldn’t police dogs follow his scent?
7. Under what authority did police order a lockdown and warrantless house-by-house searches in Watertown? Were those searches legal?
8. Dzhokhar was hiding in a covered boat within the perimeter of the most intense manhunt in state history, but police didn’t look for him there. How did they miss the boat?
9. Why did police fire dozens of rounds at the boat? Dzhokhar, it turns out, was unarmed, and everyone says they wanted to capture him alive. Who gave the order to fire?
10. Why wasn’t Tamerlan Tsarnaev interviewed in connection with the 2011 triple murder in Waltham? The New York Times reported July 10 that friends of the victims told police and investigators from the Middlesex DA’s office Tamerlan was a regular visitor at the apartment where the slaying took place and had been acting suspiciously, but the police never questioned him.
11. Ibrogim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan, was shot and killed by an FBI agent who was interviewing him in his Orlando apartment May 22, reportedly about the Waltham slaying. Press reports say Todashev was unarmed and was shot while two Mass. State Police officers had left the room. The FBI refuses to provide details. What happened and why?
12. What went wrong, what went right and what can we learn from the way this crisis was handled? More to the point: Is anyone trying to answer these questions?
As near as I can tell, the answer to the last question is “no.” There may be reviews done within agencies, the Middlesex County district attorney told me, but she knows of no one putting together the big picture. Considering the number of law enforcement agencies involved – a colleague counted at least a dozen on the scene in Watertown – you’d think the need for a broader review of lessons learned would be obvious.
It took an act of Congress to create the 9/11 Commission, which spent a year drawing lessons from a previous terrorist attack, but I hear no one in Massachusetts suggesting anything like that effort. We’re too busy with our feelings – sympathy for the victims, outrage at Rolling Stone – to worry about unanswered questions.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. He can be reached at email@example.com.