Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The smothered arrest of a Boston Bombing suspect on April 17th

In two blog entries (here and here) I already have highlighted the turbulent news releases two days after the Boston Marathon bombings. John King of CNN has played the most prominent role here: first, he reported that law enforcement had identified a suspicious dark-skinned male on a surveillance video who placed a black backpack in front of the Forum restaurant. An hour later, he reported that an arrest had been made, in succession of a twitter message from Associated Press.

As an instant reaction to this AP tweet, several hundred journalists gathered in front of the Boston federal courthouse in anticipation of the arrival of the arrested suspect. Some of them, like Kelley Tuthill of the Boston TV station WCVB, went inside. Court staff told her that a courtroom (Nr. 18) was prepared for "some kind of appearance". But soon authorities denied that an arrest had been made, and at the same time the courthouse was evacuated due to a "code red" security alert, a very rare event. A bomb threat was later given as an explanation, but without any details.

After the crowd was forced back from the entrance and the street, a white van with tinted windows and a US marshal clinging to the passenger door passed by and entered the building via the back driveway. This incident was quickly brushed under the carpet and has raised no queries by anyone afterwards, but it is well documented by photos, video footage and twitter messages. In this WCVB video


you can see the van right from the start as he arrives at the courthouse, turns left and drives into the building.

These circumstances don't allow any other conclusion than that the van transported an arrested and potentially dangerous person to be arraigned at the courthouse. The conclusion that the courthouse was evacuated to expel the journalists inside lest they got a glimpse at the arrested individual is nearly inevitable. The presence of several Homeland Security cars in front of the building shows that the arrest was terror-related. The timely correlation to the messages of the arrest and their retraction strongly suggests that the person in the van was the subject of these messages - almost certainly the dark-skinned male reported by King.

The events of April 17th have been accompanied by several real-time online accounts. For a better oversight, I have compiled three timelines:

- a timeline of WCVB twitter messages
- a timeline of Boston police scanner messages, passed on real-time by three websites
- a summarized timeline with the most important points

The noted hours in the time designations on the websites are dependent on the time zone. The context of the messages however unambigously points to the real hour; I adjusted the times respectively.

WCVB Timeline - all times are p.m.


1:26  Janet Wu says an arrest is imminent and may have already taken place.
1:43  AP: suspect to be brought to court
1:48  Janet Wu reports it is a man who was arrested.
1:49  The official says the suspect is to be taken into custody by federal marshals and taken to a Boston courthouse.
1:53  CNN reports the arrest has been made.
1:56  A source tells Newscenter5's Janet Wu that one male suspect delivered both bombs.
2:02  Law enforcement official: Boston Marathon bomb suspect in custody, expected in federal court.
2:03  Intense security at federal court. Anticipating arrival of suspect in bombings.
2:07  Suspect arrested Boston Marathon bombings, heading to Federal Court now.
2:20  Tons of media outside federal courthouse
2:21  Still anticipating arrival of possible suspect in bombings at federal court at any minute... Arrest may have been earlier this morning
2:23  One homeland security guard: " very good day for us "
2:24  There are now conflicting reports on whether the suspect in custody has been formally arrested.
2:32  Several sources are now reporting that no arrest has been made. However, several sources report that a suspect is in custody.
2:34  One federal police officer says arrival expected " within the hour ". Not official word
2:39  Boston Police says no arrest but high security at courthouse and Fed police say suspect arrival soon according to reporters there.
2:48  Federal officials deny that Boston Marathon bombing suspect is in custody.
3:00  Now all media and others moved across street from courthouse.
3:00  Despite all the denials, the Associated Press is standing by its story of a suspect in custody: The official who spoke to the AP did so on condition of anonymity and stood by the information even after it was disputed.
3:04  Evacuation federal courthouse. Code red called on loud speaker.
3:07  The Boston Federal Courthouse is being evacuated. The reason is not clear. US Marshal vans arrived with heavily armed personnel.
3:07  Media pushed across the street from Moakley courthouse and now many people are leaving the building.
3:10  A white van with a police officer clinging to the rear has pulled into the Moakley Courthouse.
3:15  There is a great deal of police boats and Coast Guard boats on the harbor side of the courthouse.
3:38  Kelley Tuthill reports that court personnel were preparing a courtroom for some kind of appearance.
3:55  Kelley Tuthill: I know a lot confusion out there. I can only tell you I was sitting there when court staff told me they were preparing courtroom 18.
3:59  US Marshal: The evacuation was due to a bomb threat received at the courthouse. The building is being swept at this time.

Police Scanner Timeline - all times are p.m. 








2:03 Near MIT, looking for motorcade driving from MIT towards courthouse? Not sure why they would mention looking for this.



2:09 Someone from the US Marshall office. Huge motorcade with police contingent in Kendall Sq. area.





Summarized timeline - all times are p.m.

ca. 1:30  The suspect is arrested

ca. 1:50  First media reports that a suspect is in custody

ca. 2:00  The suspect is moved from MIT via Kendall Square and Interstate 93 to the federal courthouse, accompanied by a police motorcade

ca. 2:20  The convoy with the suspect arrives at the courthouse, but cannot move on because a journalist crowd has gathered in front of the entrance

ca. 2:30  Beginning denials that an arrest has been made

ca. 3:00  The courthouse is evacuated due to a "code red" alert. The crowd is forced back from the street. AP still stands to its story - for the last time - that a suspect is in custody.

ca. 3:10  A white van with an US marshal clinging to the passenger door - and most probably the suspect inside - enters the courthouse via the back driveway.

Questions arising:

Why was the arrest of a suspect denied in spite of being extensively reported on the Boston police scanner?

What was courtroom 18 prepared for (Kelley Tuthill), if not the arraignment of a suspect?

Who was the obviously arrested person inside the white van?

Why was the white van driving into the courthouse in spite of the fact that the courthouse was evacuated shortly before under a "code red" threat?