In the feverish days of investigation after the Boston Marathon bombings last April, federal agents watched hours of surveillance video before seeing what they described in a “60 Minutes” special as a breakthrough in the case.
Stephanie Douglas, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, told CBS that one particularly significant video, which has not been released, shows a man in a white baseball cap dropping a backpack before joining the crowd on Boylston Street. Soon after, she said, everyone in the frame turns their heads when the first bomb explodes.
“He does not do that. He does not do what everybody else in that video does. He does not turn to his left,” Douglas said. “He instead just stands there for a second or two and walks very deliberately back the same direction that he came in.”
Richard DesLauriers, former special agent in charge of the Bureau’s Boston office, told CBS that seeing the video was a eureka moment.
“It was, I believe, early Wednesday morning,” he said. “And we watched that video hundreds and hundreds of times.”
Federal officials believe the man in the white cap was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 20 and accused of planting the bombs along with his older brother, Tamerlan. DesLauriers and Douglas did not say where exactly the video came from. The Globe reported similar details last April when the FBI filed an affidavit about evidence it had collected in the case.
“Virtually every head turns to the east [towards the finish line] and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” an FBI special agent wrote in that affidavit. “Bomber Two, virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm. He glances to the east and then calmly but rapidly begins moving west, away from the direction of the finish line.’’
DesLauriers, who retired last year, could not be reached Sunday night. A spokeswoman for US District Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, whose office is prosecuting the younger Tsarnaev, declined to comment.
The attacks killed three people and injured more than 260 on April 15, 2013. Authorities also allege that the Tsarnaev brothers killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier days later before a shootout in Watertown.
The killing of Collier occurred hours after the FBI released photographs showing the two men they believed to be the bombers.
DesLauriers told “60 Minutes” that as local news stations covered the shooting that night, his wife said to him, “ ‘I bet those are your guys and they’re on the run right now. And I bet they murdered this police officer.’ ”
He recalled dismissing her speculation and going to bed.
Asked if releasing the suspects’ photographs was the right move, given the violence later that night, Douglas said, “Yes . . . we really had no choice. Believe me, the death of Sean Collier is not lost on the FBI. We consider it [an] incredibly tragic event. But . . . given the facts as we knew them at the time, we made the best decision.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in the ensuing shootout in Watertown. Douglas recalled that agents identified him through his fingerprints and quickly found a photo of his brother.
“I remember that so clearly. Somebody walking in with a manila folder and said, ‘OK, here’s his brother,’ ” Douglas told CBS. “And they opened it. And it’s his picture. And I go, ‘That’s him. That’s white hat. That’s who we should be looking for.’ ”Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson.