MIT shooters, Boston Marathon bombers: one dead, one in custody

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I was up late last night anyway, but when my wife told about reports of a shooting at MIT, I tuned in to Twitter and the live streaming coverage of WCVB in Boston as they took phone calls from frightened residents of a neighborhood in Watertown where shots were being fired and explosions were being heard.

MIT campus police Officer Sean Collier, 26, was fatally shot at around 10:48 PM EDT. The shooting occurred near Building 32, the Stata Center, the relatively new electrical engineering and computer science building designed by Frank Gehry. It's in the more industrial backside of campus, along Vassar Street, and not near any dorms, but MIT being what it is, there were undoubtedly some students working in the labs.

After the shooting there was a carjacking a short distance away, the carjack victim was released about a mile or so west of MIT on Memorial Drive (a boulevard that follows the north bank of the Charles River), and then shots fired and explosions in a neighborhood in the eastern part of Watertown, near its border with Cambridge. In the end, they found the second perp in a boat, under the boat cover, in someone's backyard in that same neighborhood.

A geographical note: Massachusetts is divided into 351 municipalities, with no unincorporated area, and in the Boston area you can go from one city or town to another every few miles without noticing. The Watertown neighborhood where the shootout with police occurred and where the second suspect was apprehended is about 3.5 miles by car from MIT's Building 32. Each town and city has its own police department, and there's also the state police and the MBTA transit police -- several different law enforcement agencies were involved in the pursuit.

It's now believed that the two involved in the shooting of Officer Collier were also the perpetrators of Monday's Boston Marathon bombing. One wonders why they were at the MIT campus. Were they there to plant more bombs? Was the shooting of an officer itself the intended act of terror? Or was Officer Collier shot because he was in the way of a more deadly plot? Or was it because he recognized them as persons of interest in the Marathon bombing?

The suspected perps are Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two brothers, originally from the region of Chechnya in the Russian Federation. Tamerlan could have been deported four years ago because of a criminal domestic violence arrest, but the Federal government allowed him to stay.

When the Soviet Union broke apart, the Chechens sought their own independence from Russia. In 2004, Chechen terrorists captured a school at Beslan and 334 hostages were killed. The Chechen insurgency was ultimately crushed by Russia. Were the Tsarnaevs motivated by Chechen nationalist resentment -- and if so, why take it out on America, which wasn't involved in that dispute? -- or by Islamic radicalism more generally?

Thinking back to my own time at MIT, I can't recall ever feeling afraid on campus (or in most parts of Boston, for that matter). It was a safe place, even late at night, despite some less than salubrious housing projects nearby. Campus Police played an important role in maintaining that sense of security, and security measures have only increased in the quarter-century since my graduation.

Our thoughts and prayers go with Officer Collier's family and friends, and I hope that the campus soon returns to its usual sense of security.

MORE: The Boston Herald has a timeline and map of the MIT shooting and the subsequent manhunt.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 19, 2013 11:13 PM.

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