In part I, we reported significant discrepancies in the story of the key witness in the Boston Marathon bombing-MIT police officer killing. These discrepancies cast doubt on his credibility—and therefore on the entire public narrative around those events.
We have been told that the witness was carjacked by the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and that Tamerlan confessed to him their guilt in both crimes.
Here, in Part II, we take a closer look at that witness, who has publicly remained anonymous, known only by the pseudonym “Danny.”
Why “Danny” Matters
The carjacking victim is an important figure in this singular national drama—and presumably could be a key witness if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case comes to trial.
With Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to seek the death penalty, it is a good bet that the government is looking for the younger Tsarnaev to settle for a guilty plea in return for avoiding execution. If that comes to pass, we may never hear his testimony on what took place and why. Even if he does end up testifying, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may find it prudent not to tell the whole truth, since he will surely be intent on engineering a sentencing deal. Under the more likely plea-bargain scenario, the mysterious carjacking victim, known to the public only as Danny, may never have to testify either. With one brother dead, the other presumably trying to avoid execution, and another potential person of interest, a friend of the Tsarnaevs named Ibragim Todashev, shot dead while in FBI custody, the prosecution may have no need to put Danny on the witness stand. In that event, the story he has already told—or, rather, the dominant narrative of several he has provided—will remain the final word on who committed the bombing and the MIT homicide.
Clearly, this witness’s unique role makes him worth scrutinizing.
Why Is Danny Still Anonymous?
On April 25, 2013, the Boston Globe published what became the most complete account of Danny’s involvement in the events of April 18. The article recounted how the Chinese national, a male, age 26, with an engineering Masters from Northeastern, returned to China after getting his degree, then came back in early 2013 and co-founded a tech startup. He lived in an apartment near MIT with a roommate, had a new Mercedes SUV, and liked to go for nighttime drives in and around Boston to unwind.
In an exclusive interview, Danny told the Boston Globe’s Eric Moskowitz that he had been working late on April 18, and then went for a drive, which was for him a customary way of blowing off steam. He was in his leased SUV, which he’d had for just two months since returning from China, and which had only 2500 miles on it. After driving for about 20 minutes, he saw police heading toward MIT. He said that his housemate, a female, texted him in Chinese that something was going on at MIT. But he ignored the text. He finally stopped to check the text, in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston at 60 Brighton Avenue, across the river from Cambridge.
At that moment, a car pulled in behind him, and a young man wielding a pistol approached. Danny was forced to let the assailant (and soon, a second young man) into his car. He drove them around the greater Boston area, provided cash from his bank account, and then, while one brother was paying for gas, managed to escape and tell his story to police.
In a situation like this, one might think that Danny would welcome a chance to tell his story. At a minimum, many people would admire him for his bravery in escaping from armed carjackers. It also seems like it would have been a priceless promotional opportunity for Danny’s new startup. It’s hard to think of someone with a budding business who wouldn’t embrace an opportunity to get his brand out everywhere. Furthermore, the downside seemed minimal. One of his carjackers was dead, and the other badly wounded and in custody.
So why not be identified?
In his first interview, with ABC affiliate reporter Nick Spinetto, Danny indicates that personal safety is the rationale for his wanting anonymity:
Today, he and I spoke at length. For safety reasons, he asked us not to reveal his name, but he did describe in vivid detail his capture by the wanted terrorists, those brutal minutes he thought he would die and, ultimately, his brave escape.
In a subsequent interview with the Boston Globe, on the other hand, Danny indicates that modesty was the rationale for his anonymity:
Danny, who offered his account only on the condition that the Globe not reveal his Chinese name, said he does not want attention. But he suspects his full name may come out if and when he testifies against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“I don’t want to be a famous person talking on the TV,” Danny said, kneading his hands, uncomfortable with the praise he has received from the few friends he has shared the story with, some of whom encouraged him to go public. “I don’t feel like a hero…I was trying to save myself.”
However, when I later had a chance to interview Eric Moskowitz, the Globe reporter who produced the most detailed account to date of the carjacking, he provided me with yet another reason why Danny wanted to remain anonymous: that he didn’t want his mother to be worried about him. Danny’s father, he had explained to Moskowitz, knew about the carjacking, but his mother didn’t—and he hoped to keep her from finding out by masking his identity in news stories.
It’s not clear how his mother and others close to him back in China would not at least wonder given press reports that identified the carjacking victim as Chinese, aged 26, recently returned from China, with an engineering Masters from Northeastern, a new Mercedes SUV, and a tech startup. They are also the very details, after all, which made it possible for Moskowitz to locate Danny in the first place.
A few days later on the Today Show, Matt Lauer summarized Danny’s reasons for wanting to remain anonymous:
“Well, even now that he knows that…uh…you know, that they’re both, one is dead and one is in custody—as you can see, he didn’t want his identity revealed, he has said he will testify in the trial—gladly—and he knows he’ll be identified at that time, but for now he wants to stay under the radar.”
Danny’s desire for anonymity became even muddier when he offered an entirely different explanation in a CBS News interview. In that exchange, Danny’s face was obscured and his voice altered. CBS Senior Correspondent John Miller addressed the identity issue in a post-interview chat with a program host:
“I asked him about why he wanted to be disguised, and he said, you know, I don’t know if there is anyone else out there from this plot, if these guys have friends, if I’m going to be a witness at some trial, but at this point I’d rather keep my identity concealed.”
Miller, himself a former FBI spokesman who practically coached Danny through his interview, must have realized how silly this sounded and pointed out that he knew of no witness who had been targeted by terrorists.
“And that’s certainly understandable, although in the history of terrorism, I can’t think of a case where the terrorist organization has targeted a witness.”
This in itself was something of a red herring since, according to the official account, the Tsarnaev brothers were “lone wolves” without any confederates on the loose.