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BUPD’s Role in the Marathon Bomber Manhunt

Captain Robert Molloy recalls “a terrible week”


At midnight Thursday, April 18, Boston University Police Captain Robert Molloy and other BU officers found themselves in an all-night, house-to-house hunt for the nation’s most infamous fugitive, a man who’d allegedly shot at and lobbed explosives at police, in a scene straight out of war-torn Baghdad.

It started at 10:30 p.m. with word that MIT police officer Sean Collier had been gunned down in his cruiser in Cambridge by two men later revealed to be Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing three days earlier. BUPD Chief Thomas Robbins, Deputy Chief Scott Pare, and Molloy were among those who raced to BU to make sure the campus was secure. They learned that police had tracked the brothers to nearby Watertown, Mass., and engaged them in a gunfight. When Tamerlan was shot and Dzhokhar fled, police from numerous departments, including BU’s, poured into Watertown to help with the manhunt.

Residents of Boston, Watertown, and several other communities who had been ordered to stay indoors Friday were glued to their televisions, computers, and social media channels. Molloy relied only on police radios and communications. “You’re looking for a suspect,” he says. “You’re not on your smartphone, talking through tweets.”

Molloy has been an officer for 31 years, 6 of them in Houston, a big city with big-city crime. Even so, he says, the hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev capped “by far the craziest week I’ve ever experienced.” Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after the gunfight, his brother running over him in a carjacked SUV to escape, police say. Dzhokhar, recovering from injuries, has been charged with the bombings, which killed 3, including BU student Lu Lingzi (GRS’14), and injured almost 300.

Molloy spoke to BU Today about his involvement in the globally viewed drama.

BU Today: How did you get involved?

Molloy: We heard an MIT officer was shot, and we had to make sure our campus was safe. When we got here, things began to unfold, with the car that was stolen by the two suspects and subsequent car pursuit. Then our officers responded from BU to Watertown. That was around midnight.

You knew then it might be connected with the Marathon bombings?

We weren’t sure yet. As I drove to Watertown, we heard calls being made that they were throwing explosives out the window as they were driving. When I got out there, I could smell the residue of explosives and gunpowder in the air. We were in the neighborhood where this had happened, and we knew we had suspects in the area. The car chase happened fairly quickly from Cambridge to Watertown, so by the time we got there, the chase was essentially over, and there was a suspect at large.

Several agencies had responded: Boston police, state police, canine units, transit police, local university police departments, Brookline police, MIT. A grid search was coordinated by the Boston Police Department. We were assigned areas where we had to search backyards and behind houses and vestibules of houses to check for the suspect. That’s what I was doing. We spent the remainder of that night, from about one o’clock in the morning till we secured the streets we were searching, at about 5:30 in the morning. It took us that long to methodically check every single backyard, under vehicles, in vehicles, in vestibules, behind yards—that’s a slow process. The suspects had just fired on a police officer, and they may have had explosives. We had to be very careful.

Did you knock on doors and enter homes?

We wanted people to stay away from windows. We really didn’t want people coming to the doors. But any door that was unlocked, we looked for open vestibules and front doorways. Some doors we knocked at, some doors we didn’t. I was with four BU police officers: Lieutenant Taso Giannopoulos, Officer Jacob Verge, Lieutenant Robert Casey, and Officer Brian Abdallah.

Were you calm, or were you thinking your life was in danger?

It was scary, no doubt about it. I think everybody out there was very concerned. We knew we had a job to do. We had to do it correctly. You’re afraid for your safety and your fellow officers’ safety, but you had to put that fear aside for the urgency of being able to locate this dangerous person.

Were there times when police had their guns drawn?

We had the Boston and state police SWAT teams with us. They have rifles; obviously, they were out. There were some instances where our guns had to be drawn—if you’re checking a backyard and all that. You were at the ready, obeying proper police procedures. But we felt he had just killed a police officer. This was a very highly dangerous situation.

What happened at 5:30 Friday morning?

At that point, there was more organization in effect, with more gridded searches. So although we had many officers back here protecting our campus, we had to make the decision to pull out. We had to return to campus; there were some people who were working all night. We did a small debrief at the police station. Then, some people had to go home, others stayed, and we just kept a strong police presence at Boston University’s campus. We maintained that presence through the next 48 hours.

There’s an ensuing investigation. As the days go by, I’m sure they’ll be speaking to our officers in putting these pieces together.

You wanted to take Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive to ask him questions. On the other hand, this is a dangerous situation. In a battle, are you shooting to kill?

If there’s a threat of serious bodily injury or to life, we’re trained to stop that person—not to kill him, not to maim him, not to shoot a gun out of his hand. Wherever the center of mass of that person is, you’re trained on stopping him. It could be a lethal shot. Any way you can, if he’s coming at you or shooting a firearm at you, you’re trained to stop him by center-of-mass.

Did you know Officer Collier?

No. I have a patrolman who knew him. He’s very upset.

What would you say to Tsarnaev if you were in his hospital room?

I just am so sad that he’s destroyed so many lives. He’s destroyed families, he’s killed people. I just—I don’t know what I would say to him. It’s been a terrible week.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

8 Comments on BUPD’s Role in the Marathon Bomber Manhunt

  • Megan Sullivan on 05.01.2013 at 7:32 am

    Thanks to BU officers.

  • John C. Verret on 05.01.2013 at 7:56 am

    Thank God for our well trained BU police force. They have to patrol a campus that is 500 yards wide by two miles long and populated by more than 20,000 people. And all of it on very busy streets. I think they do a great job.
    I know some of us just take it for granted but I find their day to day work to be quite amazing and am grateful that they make this as safe an environment as humanly possible.
    Well done officers.

  • Meg White on 05.01.2013 at 9:59 am

    Thank you for all that you do for our campus community. Glad you are all safe!

  • john on 05.01.2013 at 10:03 am

    cop worship

  • student who is thankful but over it on 05.01.2013 at 10:15 am

    Id like to start off by saying thank you to BPD and BUPD they did a great job.

    BU today…as a students we’ve been bombarded w news broadcasting non stop since this has happened Id hope that our own schools news site could understand that as students we’re trying to get over this traumatic ordeal. Its triggering for some to open they’re email and have the first word on the subject be Boston bombings….I understand you all have a job to do but I thought Id mention this anyways…I don’t want to forget but I want to move on

    • wow on 05.01.2013 at 2:38 pm

      Wow, You were accepted to BU with that grammar?

      • wow on 05.02.2013 at 12:32 pm

        grammer is obsolete FYI ask any english major.

        • anon on 05.02.2013 at 12:44 pm

          What an asinine comment. Obviously grammar is not obsolete. This is a comment section, not a cover letter. Get over it.

          ANYWAY, great job BUPD! I am glad your hard work and dedication had not gone unnoticed.

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