The truth behind the boat in the Boston Marathon bombing manhunt

10/20/2013 10:44 AM

10/20/2013 10:44 AM

© 2013 The New York Times

WATERTOWN – After six months of film producers, book writers, and a legion of tourists trouping to his door, David Henneberry wants to set the record straight and demystify what has become a legend.

The retired technician was heralded for his bravery following a flurry of initial reports that suggested he found the Marathon bombing suspect hiding in his backyard after discovering dabs of blood on the side of his dry-docked boat. Henneberry said the truth is he would never have approached his shrink-wrapped Seabird if he had an inkling the alleged terrorist was inside.

“If I had seen blood out there, I wouldn’t have investigated it,” he said in one of the few interviews he has given in recent months.“I’m not crazy.”

Here’s what he said really happened on that Friday, four days after the attacks:

As he and more than a million others in the area waited inside their homes while police scoured Watertown for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Henneberry noticed from his back window that some padding he used to protect the hull of his 24-foot boat had fallen to the ground from beneath the shrink-wrap. It was a windy day, so it didn’t strike him as suspicious.

“But it was driving him nuts,” said Beth Henneberry, his wife, who spent the day at home with him.“He wanted to fix it.”

So when authorities lifted the lockdown on the evening of April 19, the 66-year-old ambled out his back door and went to repair the buffer. As he did that, he noticed a strap that secured the shrink-wrap to the hull had become loose.

“I said, ‘Hmmm. I’m going to check the boat,“’ he said.

He grabbed a stepladder and put it beside the boat, which he called Slip Away II. Then he lifted a piece of shrink-wrap that covered a Plexiglas door, allowing him to look inside. He immediately noticed blood splattered on the deck. When he looked near the console, he spotted a body curled in a fetal position, wearing a hoodie and dark shoes.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s in there,“’ Henneberry said.

He dropped the flap, scrambled down the ladder, and ran into the house.

He looked at his wife and said,“He’s in the boat! He’s in our boat!”

“He was shaken,” his wife said.“We were both shaken.”

He immediately called 911. The massive police response that followed played out on national television, as the younger Tsarnaev was captured after a burst of gunfire and stun grenades.

Even six months later, the Henneberrys’ home remains a stop on the local tourist circuit, attracting an unnerving number of gawkers, and the couple continue to field a steady stream of interview requests from media around the world.

The FBI has intercepted mailed packages to protect them from anyone seeking revenge; and at least one neighbor pestered them to get rid of the boat before the FBI carted it off, hoping its disappearance would dissuade sightseers.

On that April evening, the only time he became nervous, he said, was when an officer came to their neighbor’s – where the couple had taken refuge – to ask whether he had any gas inside the boat. He told them the tank had about 40 gallons.

“’I guess I’m going to lose the boat,' I thought,” he said, recalling the gunfire.“I hope we don’t lose the house, or the neighborhood.”

Returning home two days later, they found that police and FBI agents had taken over their house, a disturbing yet reassuring presence, they said.

Investigators remained at their house for nine days, and when they left, they took the couple’s beloved, now bullet-riddled boat. It will remain in government custody as evidence until the conclusion of the trial and the appeals process for Tsarnaev, who has been accused of planting bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others on Boylston Street.

The government has not offered the couple any financial compensation for their 32-year-old boat; their insurance company gave them only about $1,000.

“We generally don’t compensate people for seized items,” said Greg Comcowich, an FBI spokesman in Boston.

The Henneberrys, however, aren’t complaining.

Like other victims of the Marathon bombings, they have been the beneficiaries of an outpouring of good will.

In less than a week after Tsarnaev’s capture, a Texas man whom they had never met organized an online campaign that raised more than $50,000 to replace their boat. They have also received thousands of letters, countless calls, many handshakes, and gifts, everything from quilts to candles.

Last month, the couple used the money raised online to buy a 24-foot Rampage Sportsman, which they found on Craigslist and cruised from Marblehead to a mooring on the Charles. Henneberry named the 26-year-old boat, which will require some work, after his wife.

“It was really wonderful what they did for us,” he said.“We can’t thank them enough. We’ve come full circle.”

Still, not everything has returned to normal for the couple, who have had to adjust to their status as local celebrities.

“It just goes on and on,” Beth Henneberry said of the incessant attention.“We just want it to go away.”

Some neighbors, whose homes were also taken over by police and strafed by automatic weapons, are also coping with the lingering impact of what happened here six months ago.

Olga Ciuc, who lives two doors down on Franklin Street, refuses to sleep in her old bedroom, which overlooks their backyard, and remains too afraid to walk her dog at night.

“What happened here was crazy,” she said.

Her husband, Dumitru, said he and other neighbors are now more vigilant.

“There’s a greater sense of insecurity,” he said, showing the bullet holes in the back of their house, in their fence, and in their grill.“You just don’t know what’s going to happen; you don’t know who’s a friend and who’s an enemy.”

Other neighbors said they still get anxious when they hear helicopters or sirens nearby.

Lori, who was afraid to give her last name, said that she, her husband, and their baby moved onto the street just six weeks before it became a landmark.“At least we got to meet our neighbors,” she joked.

Robert Goodman was about 30 feet from the second bomb on Boylston Street and had to relive the trauma when all the police surrounded his street. He still flinches when he hears loud noises and said the throng of tourists feels“intrusive.”

“Everything has changed,” he said.

For the Henneberrys, they’re ready to move on from an experience they now call“the event.”

They have repaired the sod that was shredded by a robotic vehicle police used to remove the shrink-wrap from their boat, replaced many of the windows that were destroyed, and repaired parts of their stone wall.

The only remnants of what happened in their backyard are a few splintered holes in their wood fence, from the many bullets that seemed to ricochet in every direction that evening.

“We’re going to leave the fence like that for posterity,” Beth Henneberry said.

They scoff when people call them heroes.

“If anything, we’re incidental heroes,” he said.“We just did what we should have done.”

With that, Henneberry had enough of being interviewed.

“I just want this all to fade away,” he said.“I’m not like a rock star who sought publicity. I don’t want any more.”

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