BOSTON — As family members called on him to surrender, a 19-year-old college student remained on the run Friday as thousands of police armed with rifles and driving armored vehicles combed the nearly deserted streets of a region on virtual lockdown.
Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of a pair of ethnic Chechen brothers who came to the United States a decade ago, has been in flight since a shootout with police in the early hours of Friday. His brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed in the confrontation.
The FBI initially said that it believed Dzhokar Tsarnaev may be driving a green four-door Honda Civic, but canceled the alert it had issued for the car. They then issued an alert for a gray Honda.
Still, Tsarnaev “should be considered armed and extremely dangerous,” the FBI bulletin said.
Authorities have shut down the region’s mass transit, banned much civilian aircraft from the skies, and ordered residents in Boston and nearby suburbs to stay indoors and remain vigilant.
“I was awoken at 12:50 this morning because I heard multiple explosions. I wasn’t sure what it was,” Shelly Levy, 52, of Watertown, director of support services at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. “It frankly sounded like explosions and gunshots. I heard a lot of sirens … it was just literally down the street. I couldn’t see from my window but it was a few blocks away. There were hundreds of police and FBI.”
A little before 9 a.m., officers in body armor were going door-to-door checking if families were safe. They looked in Levy’s basement and the basements of her neighbors.
“Sometimes you hear sirens in the night, you don’t think anything of it,” she said. “Because of what happened at the Boston Marathon, I knew it wasn’t something good.”
On Monday, twin bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 170. On Thursday evening, investigators released images of the two suspects and asked the public for help in tracking them down in what they said is the most complex investigation in the city’s history.
At the latest briefing in the suburb of Watertown, Gov. Deval Patrick again urged residents to remain indoors. He said they should not allow anyone into their homes who is not a uniformed officer, fearing that the fleeing suspect would take hostages.
“The stay-indoors request remains in effect,” Patrick told reporters. “That is unchanged.... It is important that people remain indoors and not open the door. Keep the doors locked. Do not open unless there is a uniformed law enforcement officer on the other side requesting to come inside.”
Officials carried out a controlled explosion at the suspect’s home in Cambridge, a prelude to conducting a safe search of the building.
About a dozen people in FBI jackets entered the building on Norfolk Street, followed by a team in white protective suits. As a precaution, a blue tarpaulin was strung across the street in front of the building.
Superintendent and Colonel of the Massachusetts State Police Timothy P. Alben told reporters that officers had covered perhaps three-quarters of the Watertown area in a house-to house search.
“Be patient,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said. “We’re gonna get through this, we’ll be a stronger city as we move forward.”
During the long night of violence, the brothers are believed to have killed an MIT police officer, severely wounded another lawman and hurled explosives at police cars.
After the confrontation at MIT, where the officer was shot several times, police said the pair fled in a Honda. They arrived at a gas station on Memorial Drive, where one brother got into a Mercedes, carjacking the occupied vehicle. The Honda circled the block and when it returned the driver joined his brother in the Mercedes and they threw out the driver, State Police spokesman David Procopio said.
The driver is not being identified but he gave statements that were “very helpful” to the investigation, Procopio said.
“He's probably the luckiest guy in Boston today,” he said.
The suspects then headed to Watertown and a confrontation with authorities. Police followed in a caravan of official vehicles.
Watertown resident Jan Morris, who lives in a third-floor apartment at the intersection of Laurel and Dexter streets, said she heard several gunshots at 12:40 a.m.
She turned off her lights as the shots continued for the next 10 or 15 minutes, she said. There were also several louder explosions.
“I heard three explosions and hundreds of shots,” she said.
Armored SWAT teams stormed the neighborhood, running through backyards and shouting orders to residents to stay inside.
Morris said one of her neighbors went outside to find his truck riddled with bullet holes. He was quickly forced to the ground by authorities and ordered back inside.
The neighborhood remained cordoned off Friday afternoon. From her window, Morris said, she could see hundreds of bullet casings on the street.
A federal law enforcement official said authorities now believe the older brother was killed in a “hail of bullets” rather than an explosion from bombs on his person or in the car. After the older brother was shot, the younger brother ran over his body with the car and escaped.
Still unknown is what could have been the motive for the bombings. But relatives of the suspects were scathing in condemning the action.
“Yes, we're ashamed,” the suspect’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said in a news conference in Maryland.
“Dzhokhar, if you are alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness,” he said.
Times staff writers Tanfani reported from Boston; Kelly and Muskal reported from Los Angeles.