A lucky escape and quick thinking by the man who was carjacked by Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have helped police catch the brothers, according to Eric Moskowitz, a Boston Globe reporter who got an exclusive interview with the driver.
The 26-year-old Chinese engineer turned entrepreneur, who prefers to go only by the name Danny, spoke with Moskowitz, who was interviewed by All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.
Moskowitz says Danny pulled over to the side of the road in his Mercedes ML350 SUV to answer a text message, when “what you might consider a ‘beater’ of a car pulls in very abruptly behind him, and then a guy in dark clothes gets out, comes up to the passenger window and raps on it. That’s Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother.”
When Danny lowers the window to hear the man, says Moskowitz, “Tamerlan sticks his arm through the window, opens the door of Danny’s Mercedes, climbs into the passenger seat and points a silver handgun at him. [Tamerlan] says, you know, ‘Don’t be stupid. Have you followed the news about the marathon [bombing]?’ and Danny says yes.”
According to Moskowitz, Danny is asked to hand over his wallet, which contains $45 in cash and a credit card, and he’s told to drive. Tamerlan’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, follows behind in the other vehicle.
At some point, the two vehicles pull over. Heavy luggage, later discovered to contain additional bombs, is piled in the trunk of the SUV, and the other car is abandoned.
Tamerlan takes over the driving, with Danny in the passenger seat and Dzhokhar in the back.
Moskowitz says the Tsarnaev brothers ask about Danny’s credit limit and seem incredulous that it is only $1,000. Danny explains that he has no credit history in the U.S. They ask if Danny has a girlfriend. He says he does, back in China. Danny is asked if “anyone cares about him.” Hoping to make the carjackers think there’s no reason to kill him, says Moskowitz, Danny says no.
Then, Danny gets a text message from his roommate. In Chinese, it asks whether he is OK.
“That roommate knows there’s been a shooting at MIT and is worried that Danny hasn’t come home,” Moskowitz says. “So Tamerlan, the older brother, takes the phone and is savvy enough to ask Danny if he has a Chinese-to-English cellphone app. He says he does.”
Tamerlan goes to the app, types in “I’m sick, I’m sleeping at a friend’s,” copies it, and sends the message, Moskowitz says.
“It is in Chinese, but it’s not Danny’s voice in Chinese, so the roommate writes back thinking something is weird, and [then] there’s no response,” Moskowitz says.
“So, the roommate’s boyfriend calls. No answer. It rings again. Tamerlan commands him to answer and says, ‘If you say a single word in Chinese, I will kill you right now.’ “
Moskowitz says Danny answers the caller’s Mandarin with English and says he’s sick and he has to go.
As the trio is driving, Danny catches wind that they might want to go to New York. Although the Tsarnaev brothers are talking in a language other than English, one Danny doesn’t understand, he manages to catch the word “Manhattan.”
They also ask, oddly, if Danny is allowed to drive his car out of state — “Like New York,” one of the brothers asks.
When the SUV runs low on fuel, they pull into a gas station, where Danny sees his chance to escape. The filling station doesn’t take credit cards, and as Dzhokhar goes in to pay in cash, Danny is left in the car with Tamerlan.
“He notices at that moment that the gun is in the door cubby on the left side of Tamerlan, and that Tamerlan has both hands on the GPS,” Moskowitz says.
He rehearses his escape in his mind and then “he opens the seat belt, he opens the door, he slams it.”
“He managed to run at an angle between the car and the gas pumps, so that it would be — it just sort of worked out this way — so that it would have been all but impossible for Tamerlan to shoot him,” Moskowitz explains.
Danny rushes to a neighboring gas station, bursts through the door, tells the clerk to dial 911 and hides in the storeroom.
“The man gives him a portable phone, he talks to the dispatcher. … It’s only a matter of, say, five minutes before the police arrived to take his story,” he tells Siegel.
“He told [the police] that his iPhone and the satellite system in the car could both be tracked,” Moskowitz says.
“Danny’s quick thinking to escape and then tell the police, ‘Here’s how you can track the car’ would enable them to catch up to the brothers,” he says.