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When I was just out of the University of Arizona law school back in the late ‘60s, and awaiting the bar exam results, I took a few days to drive north from Tucson to western Colorado.  Interstate 10 to Phoenix in those days was still hit or miss between the previous four-lane US highway and the new divided freeway.  I had driven roughly 40 miles in my Nader-disapproved Corvair when I encountered a police activity scene in a construction zone between Marana and Picacho Peak.  The highway patrol had shut things down and we were forced to wait.  After about half an hour we were released, but I could see sheriff’s and emergency vehicles several hundred yards out on the desert to the east.  It clearly was not a highway accident or something involving the road project.  I couldn’t easily figure it out.

As I continued north through Phoenix and then the Black Canyon Highway, the radio news reported that a highway patrolman had shot and killed a man who had threatened him and other officers with a gun.  The strange part, the report said, was that the man’s gun hadn’t been fired because it was not loaded.  This was when I first learned of the concept “suicide by cop.”  It was not a well understood phenomenon at the time, but the evidence was pretty clear

Since then, of course, suicide by cop is a notion which has become well-known to both law enforcement and the media.  It doesn’t happen often but in the forty-five years since that incident illuminated the idea in my brain , I’d bet such incidents occur several times a year throughout the nation.  There are websites dealing with it, it has found its way into fiction and TV and is always treated as something bizarre.  The police support groups have even offered advice to protect officers from charges that the deaths resulted from law enforcement overzealousness.

And, we are all familiar with the murder-suicides which are reported almost daily.  Often these are domestic situations where a spouse murders the other spouse and then takes his or her own life.  Frequently other family members are murdered in the process, children, siblings, in-laws and others.

And, just to make sure we are all on the same page here, “suicide by cop” is a suicide where the decedent is unable or unwilling to take his own life, but wants to die so badly, he will provoke a police officer into shooting him.  To get a police officer to do that takes a great deal of effort and resourcefulness.  Most are very reluctant to even draw their sidearm.  

So, if you are suicide-bound, you want to be sure that the police will use enough firepower to kill yourself.  Being wounded and living is not what you want.  You must commit an act so heinous that you can be certain you will die.

With those concepts in mind, analyzing what the Tsarnaev brothers were doing may be more understandable.  From the beginning their motive has been a mystery.  Terrorists, as we generally understand them, make sure their violence is accompanied by a message in support of their cause.  These brothers never issued such a message and even now the “experts” are simply speculating, based on their heritage and shaky connection to Islam.  The older boy seems to have found Islam, though the level of extremism, if any, is unknown.  The younger one had not.  He was a more typical teen, preferring an ordinary social life over any sort of zealotry.  As a result, the speculation about a religious motive is unsatisfactory and not very persuasive.

We do know that the older brother, Tamerlan, was disaffected.  He was an isolated  loner unhappy with his life in the U.S.  He is quoted as saying he had no American friends.  This is the opposite of what the younger brother Dzhokhar was saying and doing as a college student.  So why do these two brothers manufacture home-made bombs, explode them in a crowd of innocents and two days later assassinate an unsuspecting police officer—while not offering any message about their purpose?  Indeed, they didn’t have any viable escape plan except perhaps hoping they wouldn’t get identified.  Once the videos and pictures were shown, they knew they would quickly be identified.  Instead of staying to ground or trying to disappear, they choose to kill officer Collier, an act they know will inflame law enforcement.   Then they carjack a Mercedes-Benz and release the driver unharmed.  I think it can be posited that they wanted that victim to identify them as the bombing suspects.

I suggest that this adds up to planning a confrontation to the death.  Tamerlan, at the very least, is a candidate for suicide by cop.  He’s been a failure in the face of opportunity.  He cannot see a positive outlook for his life.  Indeed, what seems to have been a short exposure to Islam has not helped him get a better outlook, either.  So, embittered by his failings, he decides to end his life and take a few Americans with him.  As long as he isn’t caught, he can continue to murder innocents.  But once they were IDed, they fell back on the suicide by cop plan.  To guarantee that he will lose his life, he kills officer Collier, in the near-certain belief that other officers will take their revenge, satisfying his death wish.  

As for Dzhokhar, I think he was simply in his older brother’s thrall.  Clearly Tamerlan had little regard for him.  My feeling is that Dzhokhar would do anything for his beloved older brother, though why he would go along with the bombings in the first place is unclear.  Perhaps his own failings as a student would explain some of it.  Did he see himself on the same downward trajectory as Tamerlan?

The main shortcoming of my analysis is the weaponry.  If they possessed military grade weapons for the shootout, it would suggest that they had outside help and were part of a larger conspiracy and not a suicide plot.  If their weapons were defensive without extensive firepower, then the probability of provocation, leading to suicide-murder by cop, can be seen as more likely than any other scenario.  Indeed, this morning’s revelation that Dzhokhar’s neck wound was probably self-inflicted tends to support that conclusion, though there remains room for another explanation.

As far as I know, from public reports now available, the nature of the Tsarnaevs’  weapons has not been released.  So I’ll change my mind if they were using military weapons.  So long as no religious message has been sent, I think the public and the security agencies should recognize that this is probably not an Islamic conspiracy, but an elaborate suicide—still horrific—but not a religious or political attack on the U.S.  Disaffected youth are capable of awful things without any political or religious motive.  Think Columbine; Virginia Tech, Texas Tower and perhaps the DC Snipers.

Mon Apr 22, 2013 at  8:59 PM PT: The plot seems to be thickening a bit, mildly in favor of my hypothesis.  The Christian Science Monitor has a story which says that the two bothers were armed with handguns (quantity and nature not mentioned) and an M-4 rifle.  Although they are certainly deadly, they are not the level of military weapon you would expect from an extremist.  But they fill the bill for a battle to the death—i.e., suicide by cop.

And for those commenters who think this is all speculation, you should look again.  I cited nothing in support of my (tentative) conclusion that was not supported by credible source.  I didn’t think I would need to since all of the facts we are pretty sure about are consistent with the theory.  

Most importantly is the lack of any terroristic message, something we’ve known all along.

Moreover, we knew that MIT officer Collier was ambushed in his car.  

Among other things, Time  has a story about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s sojourn in Dagestan, where he seems to have spent most of his time helping his father remodel the family house.  While it does not definitively demonstrate that he was not undergoing training, it certainly diminishes that theory.

We also knew that Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the first shooting location exposed himself to fire by walking straight at the police line, emptying his handgun.  That’s the act of someone bent on suicide.  That he got run over by Dzhokhar does not change that.  That Tamerlan was not killed by gunfire is irrelevant to the analysis.  (The officers didn't kill either brother.  Why not?  Those officers are trained marksmen.  Answer: they were told to take them alive, hence the wounds.  But the brothers would not have known that.  They would have still tried to be shot down by exposing themselves to gunfire.)

And those who are pointing out that these killers still had remaining ordnance to fire so suicide is unlikely, are missing the point.  Yes, it seems that they would have continued their murderous ways until stopped.  But that only means that their murderous path was a pathway to their own deaths.  They wanted to die in a blaze of what? – their perception of glory?  Publicity? Notoriety?  They needed no message for those things.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Actually, we don't know shite (15+ / 0-)

    and as a lawyer, you should know that conclusions should not be pronounced until all the evidence is in.  

    We have circumstantial evidence at best right now.  And zero due process of law.

    I despise speculation in print -- it is fine among friends and/or colleagues via oral blather.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 06:03:04 PM PDT

  •  Gag me! (10+ / 0-)

    Another flight of fancy masquerading as "analysis."

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 06:07:35 PM PDT

  •  gunfire while in the boat (4+ / 0-)

    resulted in police returning gunfire.  When asked about it this afternoon/evening, Boston Police Commissioner said that until they completed a ballistics analysis they would not know when and how younger brother got his wounds.

    If he was about to shoot himself and either could not hold up the gun or simply flinched, he could have serious wound in his neck such as has been reported.

    That part I can buy.

    I am not so sure of suicide by cop by the older brother.  That implies a level of forethought of which he might not have been capable in his anger.

    I don't know.

    I do think it should be on the table as far as the events of Thursday Night / Friday Morning.

    But that still does not get to the rationale/reasoning for the bombing, nor the fact of the additional explosive they had.

    Were they planning to attack MIT, saw the cop, and lost it?

    Was releasing the hostage to draw attention to themselves?

    According to the Boston top cop, the officer following them had not put on his flasher or siren, because he had been instructed only to follow and await backup from SWAT, but that they stopped the car and initiated the gunfire exchange.

    At that point, with only one cop, it really does not sound like suicide by cop, does it?

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 06:11:25 PM PDT

    •  Update to the original reports (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      yesterday - I can't figure out where. They did not release the hostage. He escaped while they were out of his car. That makes more sense to me.

      I think the same article reported the cops saw the murder of the MIT cop as provocation. That the whole evening was intended to draw out the cops, probably hoping to kill a lot more. Younger brother's running over brother and possible suicide attempt suggested a suicide pact to investigators.

      There are many possibilities for the investigators to sift through and look for answers. Since they have the younger one alive, maybe he will also talk to some psychiatrists. Tamerlan's widow is also a person of interest.

      Had a bat shit crazy guy on worker's comp case management 20 years ago. I seriously suspected he might go for suicide by security guard at the company he had worked for. Called and gave my contact a heads up. He didn't do that, did spend years going after just about every doctor who tried to help him.

      The ugly part was that his pain and spinal degeneration had started as a chopper pilot in Viet Nam.

      War and violence. Same shit, different date. Will we ever learn?

      "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

      by Ginny in CO on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 04:33:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is true: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, jan4insight, Avila, gramofsam1
    Tamerlan, at the very least, is a candidate for suicide by cop.
    But also, he is a candidate for not suicide by cop.

    This about his brother is also true:

    Perhaps his own failings as a student would explain some of it.
    But also, perhaps his own failings as a student would not explain some of it.

    Hope this helps!

    Proud to be a Truth Vigilante

    by Calvino Partigiani on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 06:13:02 PM PDT

  •  Not how Tamerlan died (10+ / 0-)


    Deveau said the Tsarnaev brothers hurled something at the officers – apparently a pressure cooker bomb -- and there was a tremendous explosion. Police later found the lid to a pressure cooker. “We believe it was an exact duplicate of the Boston Marathon bombs,” he said. The suspects also threw five “crude grenades” at officers; three of which exploded, he said.

    One of his officers put his cruiser into gear and jumped out of it, letting it roll at the suspects to draw fire, he said. The suspects peppered the car with bullets.

    After several minutes, the elder brother, Tamerlan, walked toward the officers, firing his gun until he appeared to run out of bullets, Deveau said. Officers tackled him and were trying to get handcuffs on him, when the stolen SUV came roaring at them, the younger brother at the wheel. The officers scattered and the SUV plowed over Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was dragged briefly under the car, he said.

    Dzhokar Tsarnaev abandoned the SUV almost immediately on a nearby street and fled on foot, triggering an all-day manhunt.

    •  Late today it's being reported ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NYFM, indie17

      that the younger bomber, while still in the boat, put the muzzle of his gun in his mouth and fired ... but the bullet exited through his neck rather than his skull.  At this hour, he's being questioned by investigators, and is responding in writing.

      "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

      by Neuroptimalian on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 08:19:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What you say makes sense (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        as police responded by firing en masse at the boat when they heard (or thought they heard) a gun shot.  If the cops didn't hit Dzhokhar then I'd be quite surprised.  In any case, I heard he cannot speak currently with a hole in his throat.

  •  Whether Tamerlin expected homicide by brother (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is an open question.

    I don't much care about their motives. To coin a phrase, at this point, what difference does it make?

    The medium is the message:

    Terrorists...make sure their violence is accompanied by a message in support of their cause.
  •  Everyone who knows Dzhokhar says (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    he's a sweet kid. But when push came to shove he became a cold-blooded murderer, just like Tamerlan. They have different personalities but the exact same instinct to kill.

    I think there's probably a lot of truth in your theory, especially regarding Tamerlan. I can believe he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory to make up for his failure in life.

    But, I'm not clear which brother actually killed the cop.

  •  they were planning more attacks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gramofsam1, Radiowalla

    Boston Police Commissioner (earlier diary by Christian Dem In NC).

    so your speculation, though well-written, is what we are told in L1 and throughout school.  never assume facts not in evidence, and never ascribe motives without basis.

  •  All we really know is what we've read on the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, FG

    interwebs or seen on the TV.  I'm waiting for more facts to come out before I draw any conclusions.

    Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    by thestructureguy on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 07:09:32 PM PDT

  •  I support (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    your right to tell us what you are thinking.

    I found it interesting.

  •  About that "sleeper cell". . . (0+ / 0-)

    Motives are most certainly being assigned. There is an expectation of group involvement in some way, especially if it involves "Mooslims", of course. I'd prefer to believe the simplest explanation, that the older brother nutted out and the younger one was going along with him out of loyalty more than anything else.

    Courtesy is owed. Respect is earned. Love is given. (Unknown author, found in Guide to Texas Etiquette by Kinky Friedman)

    by marykmusic on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 05:51:52 AM PDT

  •  The whole thing is a joke. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Now, these fellas are no better than mad dog killers, but some "businessmen" build a giant fertilizer plant that has the explosive power of tons of TNT, have schools and apartment buildings, run it without safety inspections and without safety compliance, dozens end up dead and injured. What's the difference here?

    "You can die for Freedom, you just can't exercise it"

    by shmuelman on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 08:34:31 AM PDT

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