Boston bombing probe: Three suspects told stories that don't match
In broad terms, the three suspects arrested and charged with obstructing justice in the Boston bombing investigation told the same story. But the accounts varied on some important details.
Jane Flavell Collins/AP
On the evening of April 18, college student Dias Kadyrbayev sent an out-of-the-ordinary text message to a classmate, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Mr. Kadyrbayev told his friend that he looked like one of the bomb suspects whose faces has been publicized by the FBI a few hours earlier.
Over the next few minutes, between 8:43 and 8:48 p.m., the exchange continued, with Mr. Tsarnaev sending messages including “lol,” “you better not text me,” and “come to my room and take whatever you want.”
Those details are included in a criminal complaint against Kadyrbayev by the FBI, released Wednesday. But the complaint against Kadyrbayev and two other friends of Tsarnaev, who are all facing criminal charges of obstructing justice, in some ways raises as many questions as it answers about the events of April 18.
The FBI alleges that the three friends, acting together that night, recognized Tsarnaev as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings and agreed to remove a backpack and other items from his college dorm room in Dartmouth, Mass. All three of their accounts align around the claim that Kadyrbayev was the one who threw the backpack away.
Yet there are also glaring inconsistencies in their stories. The three 19-year-olds gave the FBI differing accounts about when they went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room that evening, when they came to the conclusion that Tsarnaev was likely involved in the Boston bombings, and when the backpack – which contained fireworks that had been emptied of explosive powder – was thrown away.
Kadyrbayev’s defense attorney denies that his client believed that Tsarnaev was one of the marathon bombers or that he understood that he was potentially destroying evidence that night.
So, what did these individuals understand about what they were doing?
It provides a glimpse – though murky – of events taking place at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth on April 18 immediately before and then during the time that the two bombing suspects allegedly killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus police officer, hijacked a car, and had a gun fight with police in which Tsarnaev’s older brother, known then only as Suspect No. 1, died. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now under arrest and charged with carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured more than 260.
In 2011, the four start attending the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, meet, and eventually become close friends. Tsarnaev and Mr. Phillipos are both US citizens and graduates of the same Cambridge, Mass., high school. The other two young men are Kazakhstani nationals who came to study in the US.
Around February 2013, Mr. Tazhayakov sees Tsarnaev with fireworks, which they and others set off along the banks of Boston’s Charles River.
In March, over a meal, Tsarnaev tells Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev that he knows how to make a bomb, Tazhayakov says.
On April 15, the marathon bombings occur, with two blasts near the race finish line in Boston.
On April 17, Kadyrbayev sees Tsarnaev on campus, and notices that he seems to have given himself a short haircut.
On April 18, at around 5 p.m., the FBI released photos of two bombing suspects and asked for help locating them.
At this juncture, the accounts begin to diverge on important points.
Kadyrbayev is driving home from Boston at an unspecified time on April 18 when Phillipos calls him and says to put on the news when he gets home, because one of the suspects in the Boston bombings looks familiar.
Kadyrbayev gets home to the apartment he shares with Tazhayakov, and sees on TV that bombing Suspect No. 2 looks like Tsarnaev.
This is when Kadyrbayev and Tsarnaev begin the text message exchange mentioned at the beginning of this article. Evidence from Kadyrbayev’s cellphone pinpoints the texts between 8:43 and 8:48 p.m. It’s unclear if the exact wording of the messages, as reported by the FBI, has been verified using evidence from the phone. It’s also unclear if the message "come to my room and take whatever you want" represents a veiled invitation by Tsarnaev to his friends to find and conceal evidence – or whether the friends ever inferred that meaning from the text.
But Kadyrbayev offers a different timing of events. According to his account: The three friends meet on campus after the texting – between 6 and 7 p.m. – and go to Tsarnaev’s dorm room, where a roommate lets them in and says Tsarnaev left a couple of hours earlier.
The three watch a movie for a while and notice "a backpack containing fireworks" (as the complaint obliquely puts it) and see that the fireworks have been emptied of powder. Kadyrbayev “knew when he saw the empty fireworks that Tsarnaev was involved in the Marathon bombing,” the FBI describes Kadyrbayev as saying. He decides to remove the backpack “to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble.” He takes Tsarnaev’s laptop “because he did not want Tsarnaev’s roommate to think he was stealing or behaving suspiciously by just taking the backpack.” The three head to the nearby apartment where the two Kazakhstani nationals live.
At about 10 p.m., Kadyrbayev places the backpack in a black garbage bag and throws it in a dumpster.
An important note from outside the FBI's complaint: Kadyrbayev's defense attorney, Robert Stahl, says his client denies the allegation that he instantly recognized Tsarnaev’s photo or realized that the items in the backpack were “of any interest” in the bombing investigation.
Tazhayakov is shopping when he gets a text from Kadyrbayev at about 9 p.m.: "Have you seen the news?" He learns that a man looking like Tsarnaev is an FBI suspect, and returns to meet Kadyrbayev at their apartment. Kadyrbayev texts Phillipos to go to Tsarnaev’s dorm room.
The roommate lets the three in. Kadyrbayev shows Tazhayakov a text from Tsarnaev saying “I’m about to leave if you need something in my room take it.” Tazhayakov at that point thinks he will never see Tsarnaev alive again.
Tazhayakov is frightened when Kadyrbayev finds a backpack with fireworks emptied of powder. Kadyrbayev also finds a jar of Vaseline and says he believes Tsarnaev used that in making bombs. Tazhayakov concludes Tsarnaev was involved in planting the marathon bombs.
The three take the backpack, Vaseline, and laptop back to the Kazakh friends’ nearby apartment.
At about 6 a.m., the three see TV reports identifying the Tsarnaev brothers by name and learn that Dhzokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan, has been killed in a gun fight with police. Kadyrbayev decides to throw away the backpack, and does so with Tazhayakov in agreement.
The main point of difference in the Phillipos account is his version what happened to the backpack. According to his account: The three discuss throwing away the bag around 11 p.m., then Phillipos takes a two-hour nap, and when he wakes up the backpack is gone.
(The FBI notes that Phillipos told varying stories, including denying any visit to the suspect’s dorm room, before giving this account in a fourth interview.)
So, at least according to the FBI criminal complaint, there’s general agreement that the three removed the backpack and laptop – and that Kadyrbayev dropped the bag in the trash.
Investigators have recovered the backpack from a nearby landfill, and CNN reports they have also recovered the laptop. Dhzokhar Tsarnaev is in custody awaiting trial.
It’s important to underscore: The timeline of information regarding the three friends comes from one side, that of prosecutors. Defense attorneys will offer other evidence or interpretations if cases against these three go to trial.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov could face up to five years in prison for knowingly impeding the investigation, while a charge of lying to investigators could mean up to eight years in prison for Phillipos.