“F—-!” he heard Tamerlan say, feeling the rush of a near-miss grab at his back, but the man did not follow. Danny reached the haven of a Mobil station across the street, seeking cover in the supply room, shouting for the clerk to call 911.
His quick-thinking escape, authorities say, allowed police to swiftly track down the Mercedes, abating a possible attack by the brothers on New York City and precipitating a wild shootout in Watertown that would seriously wound one officer, kill Tamerlan, and leave a severely injured Dzhokhar hiding in the neighborhood.
Danny, who offered his account only on the condition that the Globe not reveal his Chinese name, said he does not want attention. But he suspects his full name may come out if and when he testifies against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“I don’t want to be a famous person talking on the TV,” Danny said. “I don’t feel like a hero. … I was trying to save myself.”
Danny, trained as an engineer, made scrupulous mental notes of street signs and passing details, even as he abided the older Tsarnaev’s command not to study his face.
“Don’t look at me!” Tamerlan shouted at one point. “Do you remember my face?”
“No, no, I don’t remember anything,” he said.
Danny had come to the United States in 2009 for a master’s degree, graduated in January 2012, and returned to China to await a work visa. He came back two months ago, leasing a Mercedes and moving into a high-rise with two Chinese friends while diving into a startup.
When the ordeal had started, Danny prayed it would be a quick robbery. Tamerlan demanded money, but Danny had just $45 in cash — kept in the armrest — and a wallet full of plastic. Evidently disappointed to get so little out of holding up a $50,000 car, he told Danny to drive. The old sedan followed.
“Relax,” Tamerlan said, when Danny’s nerves made it hard for him to stay in the lane. Danny, recalling the moment, said, “My heart is pounding so fast.”
Looking through Danny’s wallet, Tamerlan asked for his ATM code — a friend’s birthdate.
Danny pulled up as instructed on an unfamiliar side street. The sedan stopped behind him. A man approached — the skinnier, floppy-haired “Suspect No. 2” in the photos and videos released by investigators earlier that evening — and Tamerlan got out, ordering Danny into the passenger seat, making it clear that if he tried anything he would shoot him. For several minutes, the brothers transferred heavy objects from the smaller car into Danny’s SUV.
With Tamerlan driving now, Danny in the passenger seat, and Dzhokhar behind Danny, they stopped so Dzhokhar could withdraw money from the Bank of America ATM using Danny’s card. Danny, shivering from fear but claiming to be cold, asked for his jacket.
Tamerlan agreed to retrieve Danny’s jacket from the back seat. Danny unbuckled, put on the jacket, then tried to buckle the seat belt behind him to make an escape easier. “Don't do that,” Tamerlan said, studying him. “Don’t be stupid.”
Danny thought about a girl he secretly liked in New York. “I think, ‘Oh my god, I have no chance to meet you again,’ ” he recalled.