The climax came shortly after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick gave a green light for the city’s mass transit system to reopen, returning at least a touch of normalcy to a metropolis that’s been stricken since the Monday bombings and that went into full-scale lockdown Friday. Boston officials had halted the city’s mass transit system and urged residents to “shelter in place” before finally giving workers the go-ahead to leave for home in the early afternoon. While mass transit resumed about 6 p.m., the Boston Bruins and the Red Sox canceled their night games.
Even the downtown streets in Boston were deserted, with few people out and most stores closed. An Au Bon Pain restaurant that posted it was closing at 4 p.m. was quickly mobbed, as if a hurricane were approaching. Patrons grabbed bottles of waters and cleaned out the case of ready-made sandwiches.
The chilling emptiness of a major city’s streets was unprecedented, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a transportation security expert at the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University. Jenkins noted that though parts of cities were shut down during hostage situations and gang standoffs, not even the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought New York City to a complete standstill.
“We’re in absolutely new territory,” Jenkins said in an interview. “It’s extraordinary.”
Officials also locked down and later evacuated the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a campus about 60 miles from Boston where the younger Tsarnaev is a student. By midafternoon, National Guard helicopters were landing at the campus and off-loading what appeared to be SWAT teams.
While Boston’s streets were empty, electronic airwaves and the Internet were jammed as television crews swarmed Tsarnaev family members for interviews from Maryland to Canada, and as far away as Russia. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up with news, rumors and commentary.
The number of people following Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Twitter feeds skyrocketed to more than 35,000 in just a few hours. The FBI used the Twitter messaging system to alert citizens that the surviving brother might be driving a “1999 four-door, green Honda Civic with Massachusetts license plates,” only to cancel the alert an hour later.
Meanwhile, his former classmates at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School posted online expressions of sorrow.
“He’s a smart guy,” his aunt, Maret Tsarnaev, told reporters in Canada. “Studied well.”
Investigators identified the two brothers as suspects in the Monday bombings, which happened around 2:50 p.m. near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three people, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, and wounded nearly 200. Physicians have performed multiple amputations on victims, whose ages range from as young as 2 to as old as 78.
The unanswered questions include, beyond the location of the suspected bomber, any idea of motive or explanation for how the two brothers came to be possible murderers.
“Somebody radicalized them,” the brothers’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told reporters outside his suburban Maryland home late Friday morning.
In one hint of potential radical interests, a profile published under Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s name on Vkonta, a Russian-language social media site that resembles Facebook, had links to news videos about terrorist attacks on the subways in Moscow and in the Belarus capital of Minsk.