How Did Boston Marathon Bombing Co-Conspirator, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Die?

The Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, was the site of a horrific bombing that harmed hundreds of people (via Britannica). Two bombs exploded near the finish line of a race that featured around 26,000 runners. Three people were killed in the tragic event, including an 8-year-old boy, and hundreds more were injured in the attack, reports NPR.

According to CNN, police quickly gathered eyewitness statements and surveillance footage and identified two suspects. Their images appeared around the world on television and the internet as the manhunt for the two men — eventually identified as brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — intensified. The two seemed to go about their normal lives in the hours after the attack, even meeting and having dinner with friends, but with their faces plastered everywhere, they decided to start taking evasive actions. Using weapons they had stockpiled leading up to the attack, they murdered an MIT police officer and took his gun, then proceeded to steal a car which would later become a major part of their downfall.

In the coming days, the search for the bombers led to an intense gunfight between police and the suspects, which ended with Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped and later hid inside a boat on a residential property as sirens blared and terrified residents who were sheltering inside their homes. Though he was captured by police, he was only one-half of the Boston Marathon bombers — so how did his older brother and criminal accomplice, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, die?

Dzhokar's shocking decision

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Tsarnaev brothers were still on the loose (via Reuters). As The Boston Globe reports, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan had stolen an SUV, which police eventually spotted. Four days after the Boston Marathon bombing, the cops finally found their suspects and pursued them. The Tsarnaevs stepped out of the car and opened fire on the police, who then returned fire.

The Tsarnaev siblings fired back (via The Boston Globe). Police officers ducked behind a tree while the brothers hurled another pressure-cooker bomb at them; the explosives shook up the officers so badly that they could hardly see. But one officer was able to notice Tamerlan racing away, cutting through the backyards of local Bostonians. An officer kept firing and missing until Tamerlan was out of ammo in his gun. As a last-ditch effort, Tamerlan threw the empty gun at the police officer, who then tackled the suspect. Two other police officers joined in.

But then, Dzhokhar made a three-point turn in the SUV, turning it to face the police and his brother. He tried to run over the police — but they leaped out of the way in the nick of time. Dzhokhar, who was 19, instead ran over his own older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, reports The New York Times. Dzhokhar drove away, leaving Tamerlan severely wounded. Dzhokhar's decision to run over his brother with the SUV would eventually become part of the prosecution's opening statement when he appeared in court, while one of his legal team's arguments was that Tamerlan alone was responsible for radicalizing the brothers (via The Boston Globe).

Official cause of death

The Boston Globe reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev sustained a huge slash to the torso and burns on one shoulder alongside the bullet wounds. Twelve police officers guarded Tamerlan — who was handcuffed and unconscious — while he received medical attention for his injuries, which reportedly included gunshot wounds, burns, and a large laceration across his abdomen.

Nurses tested Tamerlan for radiation that could've resulted from the explosion, but none was detected. Then, the medical team inserted a breathing tube into his lungs. A doctor cut open his chest, expecting to see damage to his heart. He was right — the patient had gone into both cardiac arrest and respiratory arrest. Combined with his immense blood loss, Tsarnaev survived just 15 minutes in the hospital before dying from his injuries. 

According to The New York Times, Tsarnaev's official cause of death was listed as gunshot wounds and blunt trauma on his official death certificate. But as The Boston Globe later reported, the true cause of death wasn't the gunshots — it was when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ran over his brother with an SUV. Per The New York Times, Dzhokhar was captured by police the very next day. He was given the death penalty on six counts of terrorism at the Boston Marathon (it was later commuted and then reinstated after going all the way to the United States Supreme Court) and was also sentenced for the 30 other terrorism charges; he was found guilty on all charges.