“We have it, the hunt is over.”
That was what one of the FBI agents said through his communicator, and even if it is his job, that he probably went through this five, ten, twenty or more times before, one dares to imagine that this time, Now that he had finally handcuffed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the only living suspect of having attacked the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013, killing three people and leaving 282 others wounded, his voice contained much relief but also satisfaction.
That night of Friday, April 19, a spontaneous applause accompanied the arrest. Then it was the turn of the residents of Watertown, a city located about 12 kilometers west of Boston, which with the passing of the minutes were approaching the outskirts of a house at number 67 Franklin Street. There, in the backyard they cornered Tsarnaev, who was hiding inside a ship, bloodied.
The police coup took place in the streets, as when the fans of a team perhaps gather in an emblematic point of a city to unleash their euphoria. Maybe someone came to uncork a bottle. And of course, in the police as well. From Monday the 15th until the early hours of Friday the 19th, when officers managed to shoot down the oldest of the Tsarnaevs, 26-year-old Tamerlan, during a shootout, but allowed Dzhokhar to escape, the operation was perceived as a failure.
“We don’t have it, but we will,” they warned, albeit with heightened pessimism.
They were complicated hours. The neighbors spent it locked up, surrounded by police vehicles, listening to a helicopter fly overhead since dawn, with no other possibility than to tune in to the news and pray that those guilty of everything they suffered would be arrested. A scenario of uncertainty and tension that had not been seen in the United States since the attack on the Twin Towers a dozen years earlier.
Hence the joy.
The August 2013 issue of Rolling Stone magazine featured on its cover a close-up of a young man with the airs of a young Bob Dylan: tousled hair, brown eyes, and kind gaze. But it was not a musician like Bob Dylan, nor was it a celebrity like those who usually star in the covers of the publication. It was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Why was the co-author of the Boston Marathon bombing being given a rockstar treatment? Thousands of readers were quick to reproach the magazine.
They tricked and sent makeshift covers with images of the three victims or of the rest of the mutilated people after the terrorist act. There was also a call to cancel subscriptions. The pharmacy chain CVS announced a boycott against the copies and Walgreens joined, explaining that none of the magazines would pass through its shelves. Specifically, a funa before funas.
Rolling Stone, who tried to nuance the façade by including at the bottom a text that advanced “how a popular and promising student became a monster”, defended itself:
—The cover story falls within (…) Rolling Stone magazine’s far-reaching commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the world’s most important political and cultural issues of the day.
Leaving aside the ethical discussion, inside the issue Rolling Stone devoted several pages to a complete article to deconstruct the young man of Chechen origin. There, just a month after Dzhokhar claimed to be innocent of the 30 charges against him, based on a series of interviews with teachers, friends, neighbors and even police officers, they shaped the profile and motives of a teenager turned into terrorist.
Nicknamed “Jahar” by his closest friends, then the youngest of the Tsarnaevs was perceived as a laid-back, humble, well-mannered type and owner of moderate success among women. He had been captain of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School wrestling team for two years. His teachers described him as a promising student. He liked soccer, hip-hop and series. The walking dead and Game of thrones, for instance. He also liked smoking marijuana.
But something had changed without anyone close to it noticing. The evidence is that on the ship where they found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in which the FBI team also persuaded him to surrender, a jihadist rule was scrawled on one of the walls.
Of course, there was the other evidence as well: Four days earlier, he and his older brother, Tamerlan, had carried out the largest terrorist attack against the United States since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They neatly located, unsuspectingly, two pressure cooker pumps near the finish line on Boylston Street.
The first explosion occurred at 2:50 p.m. local time, and the next, twelve seconds later. When the first bomb was detonated, the finish clock showed four hours, nine minutes and forty-three seconds. 17,580 competitors had crossed the line. There were still about six thousand running. Three people died – Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu – and another 282 lost limbs or their eyes.
“Jahar” and his brother had been in the country for about a decade. In fact, the minor had obtained US citizenship on September 11, 2012.
His friends believe or want to believe that his older brother, Tamerlan, who at some point in 2009 developed a passion for the Muslim religion and who by 2011 had already buried all traces of belonging to the United States, brainwashed him.
The outcome of “Jahar”
Sentenced to death.
On Friday, May 15, 2015, after a fourteen hour hearing in Massachusetts, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of six of the seventeen possible capital punishment charges.
Then, he was sentenced to the death penalty and given the lethal injection.
But on the last Friday of January 2016, “Jahar” appealed. He requested the revision of his sentence, because in his opinion there were errors in the selection of the jury and the evidence that his own brother had previously committed a triple murder was suppressed. He said, in other words, that in the Boston Marathon bombing he acted under the influence of Tamerlan.
In July 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ordered the trial reopened in the criminal phase, reversing his death sentence. Of course, they clarified that “Jahar”, in the best of cases, will spend the rest of his days behind bars for his “indescribably brutal acts.”
“One of the main promises of our criminal justice system is that even the worst of the accused deserves to be judged fairly and legally punished,” they argued to make that decision.
Both the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations have sought to have the Supreme Court reinstate the original ruling. The current president referred to “Jahar” as a “radical jihadist bent on killing Americans.”
Today, detained in the federal prison in Florence, Colorado, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hopes to know his end.