Technology Helped Find the Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects—Even as the smoke cleared after the Boston Marathon bombings and law enforcement conducted one of the biggest manhunts in the city’s history, it was ultimately technology that was a critical factor in finding and apprehending the suspects.  We show chronologically how different technology was used and how its applications made all the difference.


The bombings left law enforcement with little more than a crime scene. The day after the bombings, FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers asked the public to provide any images or video taken by Marathon spectators. A website for tip submissions was quickly set up to receive the data. Within two days the FBI received gigabytes of digital evidence from Copley Square spectators. Investigators were able to arrange them in a timeline and use facial recognition software to locate the suspects from other still and video frames to track where they had come from and gone to after dropping the backpacks. Once police revealed images of the suspects, better images and videos from different angles came in, along with personal information about the suspected terrorists.

Bombing Robot

Image Credit WikiCommons

Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation told NBC News, “It’s not the first use of private video from stores or other places have helped to help solve a crime. That is a common investigative technique…But it is without a doubt the largest-scale use of crowd-sleuthing that I’ve seen.”


After the suspects were identified, they carjacked a Mercedes-Benz SUV. When the owner of the vehicle reported the theft to law enforcement, he revealed that he had left his cell phone in the car. Police contacted Mercedes-Benz USA LLC to use the car’s GPS “Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance” function to help find the vehicle.

Searching with iRobot’s PackBot
The Tsarnaev brothers attempted to flee in the carjacked vehicle and a police chase ensued. The Tsarnaevs tossed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the vehicle as they eluded the police. When the stolen vehicle was found abandoned, an iRobot PackBot was deployed to inspect the car, according to Mashable.

Airborne-Mounted FLIR Video
Soon after a report came in that a suspicious man was hiding inside a boat in a private residence. The Massachusetts State Police sent in a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) equipped helicopter to get a good look under a tarp that was covering the boat.

Once a human body was identified inside the covered boat, law enforcement used an armored robot with an arm to remove the tarp and expose Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Police then used flash-bang grenades to stun him before approaching and bringing him into custody.


Yet the most credit goes to smartphones that snapped photographs and helped law enforcement identify the suspects, said Bueermann. “The explosion of smartphones has aided (the Boston bombing investigation) probably more than any other single, technological advancement,” Bueermann said in NBC news. “Smartphones aren’t phones, they’re digital Swiss Army knives that have Internet access, GPS, cameras—all these things that allow for people to capture information in ways we never saw 20 years ago. It adds to the witness potential of people in communities.”

Chandler Harris is a freelance business and technology writer located in Silicon Valley. He has written for numerous publications including Entrepreneur, InformationWeek, San Jose Magazine, Government Technology, Public CIO,, U.S. Banker, Digital Communities Magazine, Converge Magazine, Surfer’s Journal, Adventure Sports Magazine,, and the San Jose Business Journal.

Chandler Harris
Chandler Harris is a freelance business and technology writer based in Silicon Valley and contributor at He has written for Entrepreneur, InformationWeek, San Jose Magazine, Government Technology, Public CIO,, U.S. Banker and the San Jose Business Journal.
Chandler Harris
Tags: Government,IT Security,Technology