A close friend of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect — who was arrested this week on a gun charge that could indirectly link him to the death of an MIT police officer — had been arrested last fall for allegedly dealing marijuana in Dorchester and told police then, “I smoke a lot of weed every day because my best friend was the bomber.”
Stephen Silva’s comment to police last November took on heightened relevance this week after the 21-year-old University of Massachusetts Boston student appeared in federal court on heroin and gun charges.
On Tuesday, he was charged with, among other things, possessing a defaced Ruger pistol that matches the model of a gun allegedly used in the killing of MIT police Officer Sean Collier by the two bombing suspects. Silva is accused of having the weapon in Cambridge in February 2013, two months before the bombing.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, were on the run from police on the night of April 18, 2013, when they allegedly killed Collier in an unsuccessful attempt to steal his service weapon. The Ruger P95 9mm pistol — with its serial number obliterated, though later apparently made largely decipherable — was recovered at the scene of a shootout in Watertown, where Tamerlan died, which followed the killing of Collier.
Silva’s court-appointed lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro of Boston, said Wednesday that he was informed by federal authorities that his client’s gun charge is related to the Collier shooting.
Federal law enforcement and MIT officials have declined to confirm that their probe focuses on the possibility that Silva provided a gun to the Tsarnaevs or to say exactly how they may have traced the origins of the Tsarnaevs’ gun. A Cambridge police official acknowledged that federal prosecutors held a special briefing with top officers in the department about Silva’s arrest.
According to a Los Angeles Times story in May, investigators traced the origins of the gun, after recovering much of its serial number, to a store near Portland, Maine, and to two people with alleged criminal ties. The story did not say how the gun may have gotten to Silva or the Tsarnaevs.
Silva’s gun possession charge is tucked into an indictment that focuses largely on six occasions in June when he allegedly sold heroin in Medford. A grand jury indicted him on the heroin and gun charges a week ago, but he was not arrested until Monday night. He is currently being held by federal authorities.
A longtime Cambridge friend of Silva’s, who saw him as recently as last week, said it was well known among many friends that he was involved with marijuana. But the friend said he was stunned that Silva was possibly involved with selling heroin or providing guns to others.
The friend, who asked to remain anonymous because he does not want to get involved in the criminal case, said Silva was part of a group of friends from Cambridge who enjoyed getting high, listening to rap music, and cracking jokes.
“We were just chilling and smoking,” the friend said. “It’s summertime; we just chill.”
He said the subject of guns never came up in conversations, and he never saw Silva or any of his friends with weapons.
“I’ve never seen any of these dudes with guns,” said the friend.
He also said that Silva, whose family is from Cape Verde, did not have a summer job as far as he knew, and he often seemed low on cash.
One fall day last year, however, Silva was allegedly carrying a large amount of money while at an MBTA stop in Dorchester, court records show.
Silva was arrested Nov. 21, 2013, at about 12:45 p.m. at the JFK/UMass Red Line Station, court records say. MBTA Transit Police officers apparently smelled a strong odor of marijuana as Silva walked around the station and spoke on a cellphone. Police questioned him, and Silva allegedly consented to a search.
Officers said they found at least two packets of marijuana, $555 in cash, and a piece of paper with a list of names, which appeared to relate to Silva’s marijuana-buying clients, court records say.
While waiting to be booked, records say, Silva repeatedly told officers that he smoked copious amount of marijuana because “my best friend was the bomber.”
Five days later, police investigators applied for a search warrant for the messages, phone calls, photos, and videos on Silva’s cellphone, saying it might provide important information on his suppliers and a larger drug trafficking operation. Officers said that even if Silva was a “street level” drug dealer and “near the bottom” of a drug-dealing enterprise, his cellphone could provide police with his higher-level contacts.
In the application, officers noted that Silva also had a second cellphone, but they concluded it was for personal use, and they only requested records related to the first phone, which they believe was used for drug transactions.
Court records suggest that police obtained permission for the search, and records from that cellphone were given to police in early December of last year.
Silva attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and he and Tsarnaev worked as lifeguards at Harvard University’s pool. In addition, Silva has an identical twin brother with the very similar name of Steven Silva, who was even closer to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, according to several friends. Steven Silva and Tsarnaev attended UMass Dartmouth together.
According to a UMass Boston official, the Silva twins have been enrolled at that school over the past two years, after Steven left UMass Dartmouth.
Stephen, with no declared major, was enrolled at UMass Boston from fall 2013 to spring 2014. However, he is not registered for this fall. His twin brother, who was majoring in computer science, was enrolled from spring 2012 to spring 2013.
A supervisor at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool said he was surprised to hear that Stephen Silva was arrested on charges of heroin dealing and that he possibly provided a gun to Tsarnaev.
The supervisor said he knew the Silva twins and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for at least two years, when they worked part time at the pool. He said that after Tsarnaev’s arrest in connection with the bombings, the twins started routinely missing shifts of work and “they drifted off.”
The supervisor, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized by the university to speak publicly, said he is aware that after the bombing, the FBI questioned the twins extensively and even examined their cellphones and computers. Both twins were aware they needed legal advice, given the scrutiny on them as close friends of Tsarnaev, he said.
The supervisor said he recalled Steven Silva as being closer to Tsarnaev.
The supervisor also said he happened to run into Stephen Silva two weeks ago in Harvard Square. He said they chatted, and Silva said he was continuing his studies at UMass Boston. The supervisor said Silva said he was not working as a lifeguard and did not mention any summer job. He said Silva mentioned possibly visiting Brazil soon.Patricia Wen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Evan Allen at email@example.com.