The post-bombing activities of April 18-19 were strange. Deeply weird. The actions of the Tsarnaev brothers, when verifiable, made no sense and the shooting of MIT police officer Sean Collier made so little sense that is has fueled a lot of speculation that the Tsarnaev brothers were not responsible for his murder at all. The narrative of the murder of Sean Collier feeds a lot of “Dzhokhar Was Framed” theories and is almost a wholly separate conspiracy theory unto itself.
Increasingly, with the exception of the usual conspiracy theory suspects, I really do think the cause of all of the conspiracies created about the Boston bombings and the subsequent mayhem can be summed up in two statements:
1) The FBI has yet again permitted an act of terrorism to occur in the USA due to another complete breakdown in intelligence gathering and sharing, and their investigative choices after the Boston bombing have raised more questions than they have answered. I suspect the FBI has always been this much a mess but before the Internet it was harder for the average citizen to analyze their various errors.
2) The mainstream media in the English-speaking world is mostly a disgrace. I suspect that mainstream journalism has always been this much a mess but before the Internet it was harder for the average citizen to analyze their various errors.
Any analysis of how Sean Collier was shot to death can only come about by exploring the story with those two statements in mind. Worse, given that this is yet another instance wherein the American public has to take the FBI’s word for it that there is proof the Tsarnaev brothers were involved in an atrocious activity, the discussion of Sean Collier has an unfortunate “second verse, same as the first” ring to it. The FBI says they have proof, and more on that in a bit, but even if they have proof, the path to such proof is filled with detours that make it hard to put much faith in the idea that we will ever see anything about this case clearly. As much as I urge everyone to have patience, to wait to see what the prosecution has in store for Dzhokhar, to wait to see what the FBI or the US Attorney General’s Office may eventually choose to share with us, I can see all too clearly why it is so many people are unwilling to wait. Just the media idiocy with the Collier case alone is conspiracy fodder.
Before we begin to discuss the horrific murder of Sean Collier and the completely bizarre narratives the press printed before a final story was determined, there are a couple of questions we need to ask. Many wonder why, if guilty, the two brothers made no attempt to leave the Boston area. Why did they not prepare before the bombing and have on hand the necessary money and guns to make a getaway? That they stayed in place until the FBI revealed them as persons of interest, to many, is grounds enough to question the Tsarnaev brothers’ guilt. For me, not every one who commits a horrific crime is a criminal genius and there are many reasons why the two brothers would remain in the Boston area other than actual innocence. But it still is strange that if they were guilty, they did not leave and at least make preparations for leaving by having on hand money and if they planned to go down in blaze of glory, why did they not arm themselves?
The “arm themselves” part is easy enough to explain. In Massachusetts, one has to have a license to legally purchase a handgun. In order to get that license, one has to be a 21-year-old citizen. That eliminates both brothers – Dzhokhar was too young at 19 and Tamerlan was not a citizen of the USA. If he had been a citizen, Tamerlan might have been disqualified from gun ownership for his domestic violence/assault arrests. Though lots of speculation has gone into claiming that Tamerlan was convicted of assault or domestic battery, I can find nothing that shows such a conviction exists. Most reports say, as this one does, that they are “seeking confirmation of a conviction” but I could never find the results of their confirmation attempts. (It must be said that these articles discussing in depth Tamerlan’s arrest and possible conviction are looking at it from the perspective of whether or not he should have been deported for the arrest or conviction.) But even if Tamerlan was not convicted of a felony, his status as a legal resident prevented him from legally purchasing a gun in Massachusetts.
It would appear that the brothers, despite early initial reports of a mini-arsenal collected after the shootout in Watertown, had only a single 9mm pistol, with the serial number scratched off during the shootout, on the evening on April 18.. Defacing the serial number on a gun is a felony violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and no law-abiding gun seller would sell a gun with the serial number scratched off. Therefore it’s reasonable to assume the brothers came across this gun in a less than legal manner.
Why did they not obtain more illegal firearms in anticipation of a potential flight after the Boston bombing? I don’t have the answer but if the Tsarnaev brothers committed the Boston bombing, their later activities make it seem like the efficacy of the bombs was a stroke of luck. Any fool with time to experiment can make a pressure cooker bomb. That doesn’t mean those same bomb-makers understand that they will be identified via security cameras, witnesses and amateur photographs and will need to flee in a timely manner. If the Tsarnaev brothers indeed executed the Boston bombings, the real horror of it will be that two young men who seem like embodiments of Moe Howard and Cheech Marin managed to injure so many people without blowing themselves up first. Sure, you and I would have planned our getaway before we bombed innocent people, we think, but I often find it folly to think we really know what is going on in the minds of people who engage in such radical acts. We aren’t young male (suspected) bombers from Chechnya. We don’t know what these guys were thinking.
And just as we don’t know exactly what was going on in their brains when they allegedly murdered Officer Collier, it’s almost as hard to know exactly what happened that night on the MIT campus. We know the Tsarnaev’s pictures had been released by the FBI as Persons of Interest a few hours before Officer Collier was killed. Initial reports of the shooting were completely useless and filled with misinformation because almost all initial reports of any significant news events are completely useless and filled with misinformation. Just one example, from Huffington Post, reported the following late on 4/18:
The officer was responding to a report of a disturbance when he was shot multiple times, Middlesex Acting District Attorney Michael Pelgro and Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas stated.
That link in the HuffPo quote above goes to this entry on the Cambridge Massachusetts city page, wherein there is no mention that Collier was responding to a report of a disturbance. I can only assume that the site changed the story, but that’s a mighty big assumption for me to make since the Wayback Machine’s first snapshot of the entry shows it as it stands now, with no mention of an officer responding to a disturbance. Tracing it all back is a nightmare and I am unsure if it matters, because so many of the early reports reference that Collier was responding to a disturbance. This particular narrative endured in force for days after the murder and is still available online with nary an edit to show that the official story has since changed.
But wait! There’s another completely erroneous narrative! Other news sources indicated Collier was shot to death in front of the convenience store that it was alleged that the Tsarnaevs robbed (another misreport – as I will discuss in a later entry, they did not hold up a 7-11 or any other convenience-type store). Take this NY Daily News article, posted in the morning on the 19th and updated very early in the morning on the 20th:
Collier, a beloved campus officer of two years, didn’t even have a chance to draw his gun before he was killed. He was shot as bombers robbed a 7-Eleven Thursday night.
The snippet I quote above is a title subheading of the article itself. The article itself bears no resemblance to the title (asserting that Collier volunteered at the gym where Tamerlan boxed) or the subheading. I dare you to read this mess of an article and not feel like maybe, just maybe, the average house cat could do a better job of reporting the news.
A slightly more coherent Los Angeles Times article from April 23 also touts the convenience store narrative:
They came upon Collier outside a gas station and convenience store near the MIT campus in Cambridge. He was apparently shot multiple times, but had left a safety device on his holster that the suspects could not unlock to retrieve the weapon.
The misreports of Collier being shot to death outside a convenience store lost steam but the stories of Collier being shot to death as he investigated a disturbance on the MIT campus has, for many, become the official narrative. But there’s another narrative out there that on its face makes sense and is borne out by what the scene actually portrayed.
We do know the Tsarnaevs had only the one 9mm gun. It has been posited that they wanted another gun. Shooting a cop for his gun is the sole motivation anyone can attribute to them for the alleged murder of Sean Collier. It’s all the more speculative because the “interrogation” with Dzhokhar either did not discuss Collier or yielded no useful information about his murder.
“The original question is they walked up to that car and appeared they shot the officer in the head unprovoked, that it was an assassination. But why? How did that fit into their plan? The operating theory now in the investigation is they were short one gun. The older brother had a gun. They wanted to get a gun for the younger brother and the fastest and most efficient way they could think of doing it was a surprise attack on a cop, to take his weapon and go. Officer Collier had a locking holster, it’s like a three-way lock. If you don’t know how to remove the gun, you’re not going to get it out. There was apparently an attempt to yank it and they couldn’t get it and left. “
This quote above is from John Miller, CBS News Senior Correspondent. The article also says:
Tsarnaev is communicating with authorities in writing. According to CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, he can say about one word at a time. Investigators went through public safety questions with him and tried to find out if he is part of a group.
It also says:
Miller said there are still several unanswered questions about the murder of MIT police office Sean Collier.
This is a record-scratch moment. Why is this information being attributed to a reporter? Why would a reporter’s version of events be worth a tinker’s damn? Why are we not being told who it is that John Miller obtained this information from, this information he is touting as if he is an on-the-scene authority. I don’t know. But I can tell you I am made very uneasy by this because even if it seems like the shooting-a-cop-for-a-gun narrative makes sense, John Miller is the the former Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the FBI.
It would appear that this narrative reported from CBS was one of the first of the “shooting-a-cop-for-a-gun” narratives, if not the first. It makes me very uneasy that a former public affairs director of the FBI is the one who reported this story and that all the information is quoted from him and not the actual agents who spoke to Dzhokhar or investigated the shooting. Even if this is utterly innocuous, how can anyone with an eye to critical examination of the media feel comfortable knowing that a former public affairs director from the FBI now working for CBS is now on record with numerous media outlets as the source for what was and wasn’t said during Dzhokhar’s interrogation? This is some sloppy reporting and a simple “sources told Miller” could have eliminated a lot of uneasiness about Miller’s role in this.
While the story of the brothers shooting a police officer to grab his gun makes the most sense, in a way, as they only had the single gun and perhaps may have needed another, it’s still a strange theory. Collier was sitting in his squad car when the shooting occurred, as reported by the Boston Globe, among others:
About 9:30 p.m., Collier was on routine patrol. He was parked by the corner of Vassar and Main streets. It was a spot where motorists would sometimes take a chance, making an illegal shortcut through campus to avoid a red light.
“We ask patrols to sit there,’’ DiFava explained. It prevents the forbidden cut-throughs and it provides a high-profile presence for the MIT community.
He was sitting at a place wherein the traffic was high enough that people running red lights was such a problem that an officer would need to to sit there to discourage it. So shooting him in such a place seems a bad decision, but then again, the whole of the Boston bombing, if the Tsarnaev brothers are guilty, has been nothing but bad decisions and strange behavior.
But a question that immediately was raised with me was how it was the brothers thought they would be able to get the gun in a timely manner in a high traffic area if Collier was still sitting in the car. And indeed, they failed to get his gun. Various news sources report that Collier’s gun was in a locked holster or a retention holster:
The suspects allegedly tried to take Collier’s gun but were unable to unlock it.
‘The retention holster does its job well, so perhaps they didn’t get the gun because of that holster,’’ DiFava said. ‘Maybe that’s what thwarted them from getting the gun, because the gun was not removed from the holster.’
How did they try? Did they open up the door and pull his body out and then realize they could not get his gun? Did they lean in through the window, or attempt entry in the front passenger door? Unsure, but anecdotally it seems like it would have been so much easier to have lured the officer from his car with an actual disturbance, as was initially reported, than to kill him in his own car and then try to recover his gun. But then again, had they lured him out of his squad car, he would have called in to dispatch, alerting them to his movement. Moreover, had the brothers shot him as he stepped out of his car, his body on the road in such a high traffic area would have drawn attention to them even quicker. Any way they went about it, shooting a police officer for his gun was a risky, stupid move. But as I said earlier, just being able to make a pressure cooker bomb does not make one a criminal genius.
But none of this answers the biggest question in the Collier shooting: how did the investigation link the Tsarnaev brothers to the murder of Collier? It’s sort of shaky at the beginning. Most of the language used in early news accounts is of the “hedge your bets” variety. From the Boston Globe, emphasis mine:
Then, near the end of his shift Thursday night, Collier, 26, was shot multiple times in a late-night confrontation with, law enforcement officials believe, the two young men responsible for the deadly Boston Marathon bombings. Collier was later declared dead at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Later, verbiage became more exact because once again there is allegedly a video that shows Collier’s murder and that the brothers were indeed responsible. From the Boston Globe, emphasis mine:
In the fog of what would become a deadly and dangerous night, there were initial reports that Collier had been responding to a disturbance. That turned out to be wrong.
What actually happened was more cold-blooded, authorities said. Police officials have called it an assassination, an execution.
Authorities say video from a surveillance camera shows the suspects approaching Collier’s car from the rear as he sat in his cruiser. Collier was shot five times, including twice in the head, officials said.
This mega-article from the Boston Globe ran on April 28. The information about the surveillance video gets a bit more specific in later news reports. From NBC News on May 8, we get the following:
In recent days, police appear to be using the bullet-riddled Honda to try to build a murder case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Last week police towed the car — recovered hours after the murder on the same street in Watertown where the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly engaged police in a bloody shootout and where Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed — to Cambridge and then staged a re-enactment at the scene of the Collier murder, law enforcement officials tell NBC News.
One source who participated in the re-enactment said police drove the car to a spot near where Collier’s body and squad car were found on an off-street plaza. They also drove it around a block of the MIT campus three times – raising the possibility, according to the source, that they could be trying to match the vehicle to surveillance camera footage from the night of the killing.
It would appear that the video that shows the suspects approaching Collier’s car from the rear may not be as clear as earlier reports led us to believe if the re-enactment of the crime involved driving Dzhokhar’s green Honda around so they can compare it to cars that were recorded on the surveillance video that evening when Collier was killed. That seems far more tenuous to me than video that shows two suspects creeping up on Collier.
Who knows what the video the officials say they have really shows? And it is irrational to expect the investigators to show us the video for a number of reasons. But until the people are permitted to see the evidence, either by media disclosure or during an actual trial, there is literally nothing else to prove the brothers killed Sean Collier.
But even as I reviewed all of the media one very important question was left unanswered: why were the Tsarnaev brothers on the MIT campus in the first place? Why, in a quest to get a gun, would they go to the MIT campus? It makes little sense unless the red light trap Collier was performing was so well-known in the community that the brothers somehow knew a cop would be sitting there.
Additionally, what seems to me to be the easiest way to show an immediate, though shallow, link between the Tsarnaevs and Collier is the caliber of the weapon used to kill him. If he was killed with a 9mm handgun, then at least that small question is answered, as that was the only weapon recovered from the Tsarnaev “shootout” in Watertown, the only weapon they can associate with the brothers. Of course, ballistics tests would have to show if it was the same 9mm, but even the weapon used to kill Collier has not been revealed.
I have read assertions that it was proven that the gun used to kill Collier was stolen from the crime scene of three Jewish men Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev are accused of killing in 2011. As of this posting on 6/12/13, I can find zero information about ballistics being back in the Collier murder. The most concrete statements about the gun being the same are along the lines of this statement from The Daily Mail:
It is believed that Mess’s missing gun was the same weapon Tsarnaev used when he shot MIT police Officer Sean Collier dead on the night of April 18 and wounded other officers shortly afterwards in the shoot-out in Watertown, Boston.
This is based on the statement of one of the girlfriends of one of the three slain Jewish men telling police that a gun belonging to her boyfriend was never recovered from the crime scene, assuming the killers stole it. In none of the articles is the caliber of the allegedly stolen gun mentioned at all. It’s rank speculation and the concrete belief of some who believe it has been proven beyond a doubt that a gun stolen from a crime scene was used to kill Collier seem to be getting the bulk of their information from the execrable and racist site, Atlas Shrugs, which has completely misrepresented the situation as being settled when forensics are not even back in the Collier case. Pamela Geller’s ridiculous article is so full of half-baked assertions and incendiary rhetoric I may debunk her all salacious posts about the Boston bombing once I have finished the rest of my work on the theories.
So I can’t debunk anyone who thinks that the Tsarnaev brothers have been framed in the killing of officer Sean Collier and I can’t debunk those who think the brothers did kill Sean Collier. There isn’t enough information either way and the bizarre media narratives have not helped those of a skeptical nature. As I was researching, I again came across the site WhoWhatWhy and an excellent media analysis of the narratives spun about Sean Collier. Writer Russ Baker has an interesting theory about how, perhaps, there was an attempt to spin Collier’s death as a man who died confronting the bombers into a sort of J.D. Tippit narrative, making Collier a sort of hero who was slain in the line of duty directly battling the brothers. There are elements to the article I am less impressed with, but the more I read the site, the more impressed I am with their media analysis. The Tippit correlation is nothing I would have thought to analyze and it is a very interesting way to look at the initial reporting in the Collier investigation. The article, however, led me to wonder if the narrative changed when video evidence was found that Collier did not die in the course of confronting the bombers, that perhaps there really is actual evidence. But in order to reach that conclusion, I would have to believe that the FBI, which has been sorely unable to get much right at all in this investigation, had the canny foresight to create a hero narrative for a fallen officer and plant it in the media. But with John Miller’s work reporting the “shot for his gun” theory, it’s impossible to dismiss WhoWhatWhy’s speculation, and since that section was indeed media analysis and not an actual theory, you may not even need to dismiss it because on several levels, the comparisons are apt. At any rate, it’s a very well-researched and interesting article and is very much worth a read.
As of right now, there is no answer to those who believe that the murder of Sean Collier is just another attempt by the government to railroad the Tsarnaev brothers into being patsies for the Boston bombing. Once the surveillance video is released and once the ballistics information about the gun used in Collier’s murder is released we can know, but for now, all there is is speculation and me asking increasingly suspicious people to wait for the final data to become available.
I will update this article as needed and I will be tackling next the carjacking of “Danny” and the wild ride to ATMs and convenience stores. Anyone has anything specific you are interested in having me discuss or debunk, let me know. I also want to warn some of the Free Jahar folks who have started reading this site that this site is not dedicated to vindicating Dzhokhar. Being unable to debunk some of the theories wherein people speculate that he was framed is not even close to exonerating him or declaring him innocent. With that in mind, see you when I’ve read several hundred articles about a black Mercedes SUV and the surveillance systems at Shell service stations.