The hunt for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev gripped the nation on April 19 as authorities shut virtually the entire city down in their hunt for the deadly fugitive.
Somewhat sidelined by the manhunt was the fatal encounter that touched off the massive search, the shocking alleged murder by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev of a university police officer the night before. Around 10:30pm on April 18, police received a call about a convenience store robbery near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge (the robbery later turned out to be unconnected). Shortly thereafter, 26-year-old MIT police officer Sean Collier, reportedly encountered the two brothers, who shot him multiple times while he was still in his cruiser, mortally wounding him.
The brothers allegedly carjacked a Mercedes shortly thereafter. Police located the stolen vehicle in Watertown, but when the first officer approached the car, the brothers allegedly jumped out and opened fire. As additional officers arrived, the suspects allegedly threw explosive devices at the officers. MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard Donahue, Jr., 33, received critical gunshot injuries during this chase, though he is now in stable condition receiving hospital care. Fifteen other officers were injured during the shootout. Tarmerlan Tsamaev died in this second encounter after receiving multiple injuries, including being run over by his own brother driving a vehicle.
The tragic death of Officer Collier and the near fatal shooting of Officer Donahue highlight the extent to which police officers risk their own lives and welfare to protect Americans from dangerous extremists. However, most Americans are not aware how often the nation’s police officers must place themselves in the line of fire to oppose dangerous extremists.
According to ADL records, Officer Collier was actually the 30th police officer to die in the United States at the hands of domestic extremists (of all varieties) since 2001. In a number of those instances, the officers, like Collier, were killed while encountering a desperate extremist fugitive trying to evade capture for a previous act.
Just since 2009, 33 shootouts (including the Watertown event) have taken place between law enforcement officers and domestic extremists—including right-wing anti-government extremists, white supremacists, domestic Muslim extremists and others. In those violent encounters, extremists have shot 34 police officers, 11 fatally. In at least four of those incidents, it was probably only body armor that saved the officers’ lives. Almost 25% of these shootouts involved extremists who were fugitives or otherwise resisting arrest.