Gut Check: Making simple sense out of life
By Lenore Skomal Erie Times-News staff blogger
Lenore Skomal is an award-winning author and veteran journalist in all forms of media. She is a weekly columnist and daily blogger for the Erie Times-News. She’s authored 17 published books, including an anthology of her columns, Burnt Toast available on her website   Read more about this blog.
Posted: April 22nd, 2013
How did law enforcement identify the Boston Bombers?

It’s been a question on my mind since last week, since the photos of the two brothers, one in white cap, the other in black, were posted on every form of media. I kept wondering, “How do they know it’s those two?”

Ask and you shall receive. According to an original article in the Washington Post , the process to identify the two men was painstaking and mind-numbingly tedious. Here are a few highlights, courtesy of

1) Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told the newspaper that the department’s facial recognition system “did not identify” the two bombing suspects, even though both Tsarnaevs’ images existed in official databases. The video surveillance photos were apparently too grainy and the technology in place not sophisticated enough.

2) It took old fashioned detective work and “eyeballing” to isolate the suspects. “One agent watched the same segment of video 400 times,” the Post added. “The goal was to construct a timeline of images, following possible suspects as they moved along the sidewalks, building a narrative out of a random jumble of pictures from thousands of different phones and cameras. It took a couple of days, but analysts began to focus on two men in baseball caps who had brought heavy black bags into the crowd near the marathon’s finish line but left without those bags.”

3) Making the images public immediately after that was in effect to stop the witch-hunting that was already rampant on social media. “In addition to being almost universally wrong, the theories developed via social media complicated the official investigation, according to law enforcement officials,” the Post reported.

Another interesting note in the article: Boston medical researchers called for a special autopsy test to look for the presence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a boxing-related brain disease. It’s well-documented that the older brother had been an amateur boxer and could have been suffering from the brain condition, which could have led him towards erratic behavior and violence. But even the researchers say that it’s a bit of a stretch, even if he is found with the disease. There is a huge gap between violence and calculated mass murder and destruction.

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