BOSTON – The FBI released video and photos Thursday of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings who were seen carrying backpacks and walking casually among spectators shortly before the blasts.
Officials hope that publicizing the images, culled from a trove of digital information, will help them identify and apprehend the two men, who were described by Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division, as “armed and extremely dangerous.”
DesLauriers told a Boston news conference that had investigators first identified one person of interest in the last 24 hours and that breakthrough led to a second. He appealed for the public’s help in identifying the men.
The photos put faces on suspected perpetrators whose identify and whereabouts have been the subject of endless, often erroneous speculation since the remotely detonated bombs killed three and injured 176 near the race finish line Monday.
But the imagery released by the FBI, while it seemed to rule out a lone wolf, did not answer the question as to whether the bombing was a terrorist attack associated with a foreign or domestic extremist group or if there was another, unknown, agenda.
The man identified by the FBI as “suspect No. 1″ was not captured on video dropping his backpack. He wore dark glasses, a black baseball cap pulled low, chino pants, a white T-shirt and a dark jacket.
The second suspect, wearing a white baseball cap backward and dark clothing and carrying a light-colored backpack, was taped setting down what the FBI believes was the bomb that caused the second blast outside the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street, near the finish line. The man then proceeded west on Boylston.
The well-known restaurant was hosting a race-watching party at the time, and DesLauriers appealed to people who were present and have not yet come forward to contact the FBI.
Both suspects looked like any other visitor to the city on the day of the marathon. In the snippets of released video, they appeared unhurried as they moved along the street. The video showed both men walking in single file in close proximity on Boylston Street shortly before the explosions, and DesLauriers said they appeared to investigators to be associated with each other.
“Somebody out there knows these individuals,” said DesLauriers. He said the video and photos have been posted on the FBI website, at www.fbi.gov .
DesLauriers said that locating the suspects was the “highest priority” of investigators, but he cautioned the public not to attempt to confront or apprehend them, and to instead immediately call the FBI or local police. “Do not take any action on your own,” he cautioned.
Law enforcement officials hope the photos will be seen worldwide. In the three days since the bombing, the suspects may have left the Boston area and could well have left the country, according to a law enforcement official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The official said the FBI is also concerned about the possibility of another bombing while the two men remain at large.
Word of a break in the story caused about 120 reporters and photographers to hurry to a Sheraton hotel — not far from the marathon finish line — for the 5 p.m. FBI briefing. Bomb-sniffing dogs outside a third-floor ballroom checked everyone’s bags. Journalist and officials barely fitted in the ballroom, along with two dozen TV cameras.
Still images were displayed on two large black easels. One poster showed four shots of the suspect with the black cap while the other displayed four of the man in the white cap.
While the still and video images were slightly blurred, experts said they will help investigators determine the height, weight and body types of the suspects.
Michael Bouchard, a former assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators probably weighed the consequences of releasing the images. On the one hand, the disclosure could force the suspects to try to change their appearances and disappear, he said. On the other hand, distributing the images worldwide could lead to their identification and swift capture.
“They had to weigh the risk,” said Bouchard, who led the investigation into the District of Columbia sniper case in 2002 and is president of Security Dynamics, a consulting firm. “Someone has seen them in their neighborhood. They have a higher likelihood of solving this quickly based on these images.”
He also said investigators are probably hoping that the pictures will jar the memories of people who might have encountered the suspects along the race course.
Earlier Thursday, President Barack Obama eulogized the three young victims of the bombings and offered encouragement to the scores of people injured in the attacks, telling a packed cathedral in the city’s South End that “Boston’s your hometown, but we claim it a little bit, too.”
“Every third Monday in April, you welcome people from all around the world to the Hub — for friendship and fellowship and healthy competition,” Obama said during an interfaith service of healing held at the soaring Cathedral of the Holy Cross. “A gathering of men and women of every race and every religion, every shape and every size, a multitude represented by all those flags that flew over the finish line.”
Bringing the crowd to its feet, the president said that the marathon held in Boston every year for well over a century exemplified the very best of the city and the nation, a resilience and determination he characterized as the ability to “finish the race.”
“Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had. We finish the race,” Obama said. “And this time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this city and run harder than ever, and cheer louder than ever, for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it.”
Obama mourned the three people killed in the bombings: Martin Richard, an 8-year-old from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston; Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old graduate student from China attending Boston University; and Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager from Medford, Massachusetts.
Following the service, Obama went to nearby Cathedral High School, where he addressed hundreds of marathon volunteers and officials of the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the marathon. The main message, Obama said, was “to say how proud the whole country is of you.”
He next went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he met with medical staff and patients injured in the bombings.
Obama’s words to the patients in their hospital beds were private, but he gave a sense when he addressed their absence at the church: “Know this: As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again.”