The alleged suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing have been caught or killed and forensic techniques played a significant role in bringing the men to justice within 102 hours of the deadly attack.
It all began at the scene of the crime, which is likely impossible to fully imagine through the eyes of a forensic investigator. The twin detonations that left three people dead and more than 170 people injured created a cauldron of chaos that at first must have seemed filled with more questions than answers.
But, within hours state and local forensic experts were combing through evidence that included video and photo images, bloody clothing and other artifacts from the area of the explosion. Authorities commandeered a warehouse in Boston’s Seaport district to establish a base for forensic operations where they could sort through the growing collection of hundreds of items.
Information gleaned from these materials combined with the cooperation of the Boston citizenry and good old-fashioned forensic work would lead to the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture of his younger brother, Dzhokhar, in less than five days.
The crime scene encapsulated 12 city blocks and was described by many local forensics specialists as one of the most complex ever seen. While many had hoped the bombers’ DNA could be collected from bomb fragments, veterans were concerned that it may take too much time to find a fragment with a helpful sample.
Alternatively, it was also thought that bomb residue may lead to identifying the compounds used to make the explosives, which in turn could lead to a bill of sale. Sometimes bombs are made of more exotic materials that can narrow a search to a few suppliers.
In the end, though, it was a matter of identifying the suspects using images recorded at the race combined with a plan to limit transportation options and keep people out of harm’s way that eventually led authorities to the Tsarnaev brothers. And, although experts may have assembled the where, what and how, the rest of the country must now wait to find out why.