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5 shocking revelations from the Netflix docuseries American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombings

The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world. It’s a time when the entire city and surrounding areas come together to cheer on and celebrate those who train for months (sometimes even longer) to run through the streets of Boston and enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment once they cross the finish line. But the Boston Marathon will now forever be associated with one fateful day in April 2013 when two bombs went off near the finish line. The bombs killed several individuals, injured many others, and caused mass mayhem.

Just before the 10-year anniversary of the events, the harrowing story is chronicled in the three-part series American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombings, one of the latest additions to Netflix in April 2023. American Manhunt is as much a love letter to Boston and the residents who rallied together in a time of crisis as it is the retelling of the hunt and capture of two extremely dangerous, radical young men.

Anyone who followed the story closely knows the key facts and timeline moments leading up to the capture of the bombers. But a few revelations in the series, provided through firsthand accounts from law enforcement, victims, and journalists, will stir up intense emotions; some might even be surprising.

A citizen’s photo helped ID one of the bombers

A crowd watching the Boston Marathon in 2013, the two bombers circled in a photo within the crowd.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While the police combed through hundreds of thousands of photos and videos supplied by people who were watching the marathon from the sidelines, along with CCTV footage from local businesses nearby, they could not pinpoint anything suspicious in any of them. It was a citizen who said they had photos from across the street, taken right before the bomb went off, that delivered the first big break in the case.

In their photo, there was a black bag clearly on the ground right where the second bomb went off. Police called up restaurant CCTV video footage at the same time and were able to see the young man, who they named “white hat,” walk up and drop the bag. When the first bomb went off and everyone looked toward it, he looked the other way and quickly walked in the opposite direction. From there, they were able to track his movements in reverse using footage from other businesses, eventually discovering the second bomber, who they named “black hat.”

Danny Meng’s harrowing story

Danny Meng with his head down, looking upset as he's being interviewed for American Manhunt.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Fans have heard and seen interviews with Danny Meng, the man who was carjacked by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the night police closed in on them. However, the recollection of events 10 years later shows how emotional Meng still is about it. Called one of the most important people in the case by a law enforcement officer featured in the series, Meng and his courageous efforts are what helped them track the two men down.

Interestingly, it’s also Meng’s love of cars that played a major role. When Meng made the decision to run from his car, hide, and call 911, he saved himself. The Tsarnaevs were already long gone by the time police arrived. But Meng knew the code for his vehicle’s GPS tracking system by heart, which meant police were able to track down the car, and the two men in it, almost immediately. Most chilling, however, is Meng’s understanding that he likely wouldn’t be alive today had he not made that decision to run.

The bombers could have been identified earlier

A reenactment of a scene from American Manhunt, an actor with their face pixilated standing in a grocery store.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are a few reasons the bombers could have been identified earlier than they were. The FBI had previously received reports from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian intelligence service, that indicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev had expressed sentiments they reportedly believed could relate to potential terrorist behavior. The FBI looked into it. but didn’t believe there was any evidence suggesting Tamerlan would follow through with something.

Additionally, when the grainy photos were released to the public, one of Dzhokhar’s high school friends, Youssef Eddafali, said he received a call from another mutual friend who noticed a resemblance and suspected that Dzhokhar could be the “white hat” man. Eddafali did not want to believe it could possibly be the friend he knew.

Later, it was revealed that Dzhokhar’s college roommates noticed the resemblance between the “white hat” bomber and Dzhokhar as well. They then discarded bomb-making paraphernalia found at the apartment so police would not find it. While they weren’t suspected to be involved with bombings, the men were charged with obstruction of justice.

Dzhokhar showed no signs of being a radical

Youssef Eddafali in a high school gym being interviewed for American Manhunt.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

In situations like this, people often ask how others didn’t know. Many close to Tamerlan said they knew about his passionate, radicalized beliefs (though they never suspected him of being a terrorist). It was the complete opposite with Dzhokhar.

He was described as a charming, kind, athletic kid who had tons of friends in school. He was passionate about wrestling, was on the basketball team, and even worked as a lifeguard. A former high school teacher said he had even tried to engage Dzhokhar in conversations about social justice issues when he was a student there, but Dzhokhar showed no interest in politics. “He gave no indication that he was the least bit political,” recalls the teacher, reiterating that he never saw the young man as being ideological or militant.

Eddafali adds that until he saw Dzhokhar at the mosque on the weekend after they met, he didn’t even know he was Muslim. “I [initially] thought he was just a white kid from Boston,” he said.

It was incredibly difficult to find Dzhokhar

Police in full gear with guns patrolling Boston and surrounding areas in an image from the Boston Marathon bombing in American Manhunt.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Those who watched the news coverage and followed the story know about the ongoing hunt to find Dzhokhar following Tamerlan’s death. They also know how long it took and where the young man was eventually found: inside a boat parked at the owner’s home in the neighborhood. But American Manhunt presents interesting footage and a timeline of events that has some questioning why it took so long, especially with police officers participating from all over, to locate a single man. This is especially so given that the streets were bare; everyone was initially ordered to remain locked in their homes.

What makes it even more puzzling is that the home with the boat where Dzhokhar was presumably hiding for 18 hours was just a single block away from where he abandoned his car. Yet no one found him, nor noticed the boat or the blood on the exterior of it. It’s shocking that, with so much police presence, empty streets, and officers investigating backyards and garages, that no one found him earlier.

Stream American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombings on Netflix starting April 12.

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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