Fact Check

Boston Marathon Bombing Rumors

A collection of rumors and conspiracy theories associated with the Boston Marathon bombing.

Published April 19, 2013

We investigated several rumors and conspiracy theories associated with the Boston Marathon bombing.

As is common after disasters in the Internet age (e.g., the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Sandy Hook shooting), the online word is abuzz with a variety of rumors and conspiracy theories related to that event. Below we attempt to chart some of the most prevalent items associated with the Boston Marathon bombings of 15 April 2013:

FBI Previous Investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

On 19 April 2013, the FBI confirmed that it had previously investigated the background of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, stating in a press release that:

The two individuals believed to be responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings have been positively identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, now deceased, and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, now in custody. These individuals are brothers and residents of Massachusetts. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a legal permanent resident and Dzhokar Tsarnaev is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Once the FBI learned the identities of the two brothers, the FBI reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups.

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history. The FBI also interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. The FBI did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or additional information from the foreign government.

Suspects Became Citizens on 9/11

One rumor posited the irony that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev (originally from the Russian republic of Kyrgyzstan or Chechnya) had become naturalized citizens of the U.S. on September 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. According to news accounts, Dzhokar came to America on 1 July 2002 as a tourist, asked for asylum, and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on 11 September 2012. However, his older brother Tamerlan came to the U.S. later; although Tamerlan eventually acquired permanent residency status, he did not obtain U.S. citizenship.

'Coexist' Bumper Sticker

Over the night of April 18-19, the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, reportedly fatally shot an MIT police officer in Cambridge, carjacked a Mercedes SUV, led police on a car chase into Watertown, and engaged in a firefight that ended with Tamerlan being shot dead. His younger brother Dzhokar eventually abandoned the stolen vehicle and fled on foot; he was captured that evening after being discovered hiding in a boat parked behind a house.

Rumor later claimed that the vehicle the Tsarnaev brothers carjacked bore a 'Coexist' bumper sticker, a claim based on the following screen capture from a television news report:

However, the vehicle shown in that image does not appear to match the Mercedes SUV that other news accounts described and pictured as the one carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers:

Pressure Cooker Ad

On 18 April 2013, both the print and digital versions of the Minneapolis Star Tribune inadvertently ran a Macy's advertisement for pressure cookers adjacent to a story about citizens helping victims wounded in the Boston Marathon bombings, something of a faux pas because it is believed that the Boston bombings were carried out using pressure cookers packed with explosives:

Westboro Baptist Church

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), of Topeka, Kansas, is headed by pastor Fred Phelps. WBC is widely known for its anti-homosexual stance, and members of its congregation have drawn much publicity by staging anti-gay protests and picketing at the funerals of military members and celebrities. (At such funerals, WBC members typically portray the deceased's passing as God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.)

As they did after the Sandy Hook shootings, the WBC has announced an intention to picket the funerals of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombings in the sense that they stated so in a Twitter announcement on the afternoon of the bombings:

However, although the Westboro Baptist Church had said they planned to picket the funeral of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, motorcyclists lined up at the site of the service that day to confront the WBC's protesters, and the latter never did materialize. Supporters of the Boston Marathon victims are hoping the WBC will be no-shows at the funerals of those killed in that tragedy as well.

Suspect/Backpack Photos

A pair of circulated photographs purportedly show a black backpack from the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings and a man in the crowd at the marathon (who is said to be wanted by police) wearing a blue jacket and carrying what looks like that backpack:

According to news accounts, the former picture was included in a security bulletin issued to law enforcement agencies by the FBI and shows a shredded backpack in which one of the bombs was hidden. The latter picture was not one that was distributed by police for help in locating a suspect; rather, it is the product of various individuals on the Internet scouring photos of the Boston Marathon scene for clues and circulating their speculations online. .

On Thursday, 18 April 2013, the FBI released photographs of two suspects they were seeking additional information about, neither of whom was the man pictured above. On 19 April, one of the suspects was killed in a shootout with police, and the second was apprehended later that same day in Watertown, Massachusetts.

"Early Creation" Facebook Pages

As occurred after the Sandy Hook shooting, conspiracy proponents claimed that a number of the Facebook Boston Marathon bombing-related pages of the type which inevitably spring up in the aftermath of such tragedies (e.g., memorials, tributes, condolences, and donation sites for victims) bear dates indicating they were created earlier than the occurrence of the events they reference, thus exposing those tragedies as "false flag" events planned and coordinated by some sinister force (usually said to be the government) intent on deflecting blame away from the "real" perpetrators.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, one page titled "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all involved in the Boston bombings" was flagged as such because it was allegedly created several hours prior to the bombings, and another (since removed) page with the title "Thoughts go out to all involved in the Boston explosions" was similarly identified as suspicious because it bore a "Joined Facebook" date of Saturday, April 13 (two days before the bombings it references).

However, as we discuss in another article, the dates shown on Facebook pages are not reliable indicators of their dates of creation. The date indicating when the entity associated with the page was Born, Founded, Started, Created, Opened, or Launched is a user-selectable value that can be set to anything the page creator wishes to choose. (Hence our own snopes.com Facebook page bears the legend "Launched in 1994," because that's when we first began publishing material about urban legends on the web.)

Likewise, "Joined Facebook" dates by themselves do not provide reliable timelines documenting the creation dates of Facebook pages. Facebook page names can be changed, and pages which were initially created prior to particular events for other reasons and then renamed/repurposed after those events retain their original pre-tragedy dates.

So, an unused Facebook page created in March 2013 can be quickly renamed to serve as a memorial for victims who died in an April 2013 bombing, but the "Joined Facebook" date will reflect the earlier (March 2013) date.

Sandy Hook Child Killed in Bombing

One prominent rumor claimed that one of the Boston Marathon bombing victims was an 8-year-old girl who attended school at Sandy Hook and/or was running the marathon for the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. Some iterations of the rumor included a photograph of the purported victim:

This rumor is false: the child killed in the bombings was not a participant in the race, and children are not allowed on the course. As reported in the Boston Globe, the young victim was Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy who was killed as he waited near the finish line with his parents and siblings:

Grief-stricken neighbors today described Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy killed when two bombs detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon , as a child full of life who was part of a very close-knit family.“They were always together," neighbor Jane Sherman said of the Richard family, who live next door to her on Carruth Street in Dorchester. "This is the worst tragedy I have ever been through in my life. It’s a horrific situation."

The boy was killed and his mother and his younger sister gravely wounded as they waited at the Boylston Street finish line.

The picture of the girl is completely unrelated to the Boston Marathon bombings; it's a photograph taken from another race (the
3rd Annual Joe Cassella 5K) run in Virginia back in May 2012.

Martin Richard Photo

After Martin Richard was identified as the 8-year-old child who had been killed by one of the explosions, a photograph was circulated showing a boy holding up a sign decorated with hearts and a peace sign and bearing the legend "No more hurting people. Peace." This photo was said to be a picture of Martin Richard:

This is Martin, 8. He died in the Boston bombing yesterday. He was at the finish line with his family, waiting for his dad to cross. His mother and little sister were catastrophically injured. He was the student of our dear friend, Rachel Moo. His message resonates powerfully today. My prayer is that we all live by Martin's words, paying tribute to his too-brief, but immeasurably valuable life by following his example.

This is indeed a picture of Martin Richard, taken in April 2012 during a classroom lesson on the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

A photo gallery published by the New York Post includes this image along with other photographs of Martin Richard and pictures of well-wishers visiting the Richard's home to leave messages, flowers, and other tokens of support.

Woman Killed Before Boyfriend's Proposal

One circulated photograph reportedly showed a man in a posture of anguish after learning that his girlfriend, whom he planned to propose to after she completed running the Boston Marathon, had been killed in the bombings:

The man in the red shirt planned to propose to his girlfriend as she crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon, but she passed away. Most of us will never experience this amount of emotional pain. Occurrences like this remind us how fragile life is and how important each person is to so many people. My heart goes out to all of the people affected.

According to news accounts, this photograph shows a man attempting to render aid to Sydney Corcoran, an 18-year-old high school student whose legs were shredded by shrapnel from one of the bombs. The so far unidentified man in the red shirt has been described as a "stranger" and not her boyfriend, and Sydney Corcoran was not a participant in the race (nor was she killed by the explosion that injured her):

Shrapnel from one of the bombs that exploded during the Boston Marathon shredded both of Sydney's legs, leaving her with deep arterial injuries, said her older brother, Tyler Corcoran, during an interview in the kitchen of the family's home in the city's Pawtucketville neighborhood.Sydney, with her mother, Celeste, and father Kevin, were in Boston to watch her aunt, Carmen Accabo, of Westford, finish the storied event. Celeste, too, was struck by shrapnel and overnight had both legs amputated below the knee, Tyler said. Kevin received minor injuries, but otherwise was physically okay. He was at the Boston Medical Center bedsides of both his wife and daughter Tuesday, said his brother, Tim Corcoran, of Rhode Island.

The picture [of her being aided by a stranger] in a red t-shirt was so touching that it sparked a false rumor on Twitter that he was proposing to his dying girlfriend.

Boston Globe Tweet

On the afternoon of April 15, the Twitter feed of the Boston Globe reported that officials had stated "There will be a controlled explosion opposite the library within one minute as part of bomb squad activities":

This tweet was proffered by conspiracy theorists as proof that officials planned for a "controlled explosion" to be under way at the same time as the marathon explosions, a highly suspect "coincidence" that indicated the bombings were "false flag" operation. However, this tweet was issued about an hour after the bomb blasts and referenced a controlled detonation of a suspicious device near the central branch of the Boston Public Library, which is on the stretch of Boylston Street where the initial explosions occurred.

A fire coincidentally broke out at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum at about the same time as the explosions, and as a precaution police were summoned to the scene while bomb squads swept the building for explosive devices:

A fire and possible explosion Monday afternoon at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum prompted a full-scale investigation by local, state, and federal authorities to determine whether the incidents were linked to the deadly Boston Marathon blasts.The fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m. — around the same time as the Marathon explosions several miles away — in an HVAC system in a section of the complex opened in 2011 that houses offices, a classroom, and some archival material, said Rachel Flor, a library spokeswoman. Everyone evacuated the building in Dorchester safely and no injuries were reported, she said.

Thomas Putnam, the library’s director, told reporters around 4 p.m. that a bomb squad was coming in as a precautionary measure in light of the Marathon blasts.

Shortly afterward, Boston police and State Police cars swarmed the library parking lot, along with authorities from the US Secret Service and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

They ordered all employees and visitors off the property, as they conducted a full sweep for bombs.

False Victim

As happened with the Sandy Hook shooting, conspiracy buffs have circulated images claiming that persons associated with the Boston Marathon bombing are not who they claim to be, but rather "actors" or "plants" employed to pull off a staged event. One such image stated that a news photograph showing a bombing victim who suffered a serious leg injury in one of the explosions actually pictured Nick Vogt, a U.S. Army lieutenant who lost both his legs to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in November 2011:

However, the Boston Marathon bombing victim pictured in the upper left-hand quadrant of this image was identified on Facebook as Jeff Bauman Jr., of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, by his father, Jeff Bauman Sr.:

"Can everyone pray for my son Jeff Jr.?" Jeff Bauman Sr. wrote in an emotional plea on his Facebook page hours after the bombings at the Boston Marathon.The elder Bauman, of Chelmsford, posted that message under a news photo of his critically injured son being rushed from the scene, after two explosions near the finish line killed three and injured more than 140.

Bauman, who could not be reached for comment, wrote that his son was at the finish line when he was injured by one of the blasts. His son was transported to a hospital where he was undergoing surgery on his legs.

"I just can't explain what's wrong with people today to do this to people," Bauman posted. "I'm really starting to lose faith in our country."

From his hospital room, Jeff Bauman Jr. provided the FBI with a description of a man whom he saw drop a bag near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, information which may have helped law enforcement identify one of the suspects.

Sandy Hook Principal

Another image purportedly demonstrated a connection between the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting:

Whoa! Government is slipping up! This lady supposedly died in the elementary school shooting & apparently died again in the bombing at Boston. They have to be smarter than this, right?

The woman pictured above is the late Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the school principal who was killed in the Sandy Hook shootings, and the right-hand panel purportedly shows her picture being displayed on the screen during an interview with someone named Donna about the Boston Marathon bombings. Some commentators have noted that the woman who stepped in as principal at Sandy Hook after Dawn Hochsprung's death was Donna Page and theorized that the former was the "Donna" referenced during the pictured interview about the Boston Marathon bombings (in the course of which her predecessor's picture was shown on-screen). Although at least one woman named Donna who ran in the marathon that day did give media interviews about her experience, the only such reference we have seen that mentioned a surname identified the interviewee as Donna Bruce, not Donna Page.

A group of Newtown parents known as Team Newtown Strong entered the Boston Marathon and ran the 26 miles to honor the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, so it's possible Dawn Hochsprung would have been mentioned if one or more of those team members had been interviewed.

Man on the Roof

Another widely circulated image was snapped by college student Dan Lampariello, who was taking pictures along the race sidelines and coincidentally happened to capture the moment when one of the bombs exploded. The picture he took became a subject of great interest online because it showed a figure striding across the roof of a high-rise building block just as the explosion occurred on the street below, causing many to speculate (without foundation) that the person pictured in the photo had some connection to the bombings:

No evidence yet suggests there is any reason to connect the person atop a nearby building with either of the explosions, as there are plenty of innocuous reasons why someone might have been in that location at the time.

Saudi Man

Various news accounts reported that 20-year-old Saudi national named Abdul Rahman Ali Al-harbi who was injured in one of the explosions was being investigated as a "person of interest" by law enforcement authorities to ascertain whether he might have had any connection to the bombings:

Police took a 20-year-old Saudi national into custody near the scene of the horrific Boston Marathon bomb attack, law-enforcement sources said.The potential suspect was questioned by the FBI and local police at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he was under heavy guard while being treated for shrapnel injuries to his leg sustained in the blast.

In late afternoon, a large group of federal and state law enforcement agents raided an apartment in a building in the Saudi man’s hometown of Revere, Mass.

FBI agents could be seen through one window. It was not clear what, if anything, they found. But Revere fire officials said they were called out to support bomb-squad officers as part of an investigation of a "person of interest" in the marathon attack.

At the hospital, investigators seized the man's clothes to examine whether they held any evidence that he was behind the attack. The law-enforcement sources also said that the man was not free to leave the medical center.

Later news accounts reported that the young man was considered a witness, not a suspect:

He didn't do it.The Saudi national questioned in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terror blasts that killed three is considered a witness rather than a suspect, sources said.

Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, 22, remained hospitalized in Boston as investigators searched every inch of his Revere, Mass., apartment and grilled his roommate.

But it turns out the student was apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time when two bombs exploded near the finish
line of the event that draws runners from around the globe.

Alharbi's Facebook page indicated that he was in the United States on a scholarship to study at the New England School of English. He reportedly held a student visa.

A school classmate echoed Bada, describing Alharbi as a low-key guy who never showed any inkling of anti-American sentiment.

"He is a geek," said pal Abdullah Alkayid, 19. "He likes to study a lot. ... He's a quiet person, doesn't like to go out a lot."

A few days after the bombings, a rumor began to circulate that the U.S. would be deporting Alharbi back to Saudi Arabia the following week on "security and related grounds." Since then contradictory reports have claimed that he is being deported, that he is not being deported, and that the U.S. government was planning to deport him but is now reconsidering the move (or has decided against it).

Suspect Caught on CCTV

The "Help Catch the Boston Marathon Bomber" Facebook page posted a picture of a man who was supposedly captured on a CCTV security camera outside a chemical distribution warehouse in the Boston area:

This picture was taken from CCTV surveillance footage outside a chemical distributor storage warehouse (located 15 miles away from the place of explosion — closest chemical warehouse near the Boston marathon). According to the employees who are employed in the warehouse, the man had asked for a chemical present in a pentane-air mixture. This type of chemical could be bonded with other chemicals such as the nitric oxide gas, which could cause a massive combustion. Although he was denied the purchase of the chemical (alternative methods of creating explosives are available), there is a high chance that he is responsible or knows something about the bombings. If everyone could please like or share this picture and page, we may be able to find out the responsible people behind this wicked crime.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the Boston Marathon bombings. It originated with CCTV footage taken back in August 2011 and shows one of three men who were observed leaving a building where a burglary took place in Oakham, the county town of Rutland, East Midlands, England.

'Family Guy' Hoax

A clip posted on the Internet purported to show a segment from the 17 March 2013 episode of the animated Family Guy television series depicting the Boston Marathon bombings:

This clip was another hoax accomplished through digital manipulation:

One of the more tasteless hoaxes making the rounds in the wake of the bombing at the Boston Marathon revolves around a recent episode of Fox's Family Guy."Turban Cowboy," which premiered in the U.S. on March 17, culminates with a scene depicting Peter Griffin accidentally blowing up a bridge by dialing a terrorist's cell phone. But in the video making the rounds online, the cell phone scene is placed immediately after an unrelated moment in the episode when Bob Costas, voicing himself, asks Peter how he won the Boston Marathon.

Aside from the confusion prompted in people unaware that the clip is a hoax, it's drawn criticism from those involved with the show.

"The edited Family Guy clip currently circulating is abhorrent. The event was a crime and a tragedy, and my thoughts are with the victims," show creator Seth Macfarlane tweeted.


    Allen, Evan and John R. Ellement.   "Dorchester Neighbors Mourn Martin Richard."     The Boston Globe.   16 April 2013.

    Allen, Evan et al.   "Dorchester Father Mourns Son."     The Boston Globe.   16 April 2013.

    Celona, Larry.   "FBI Grills Saudi Man in Boston Bombings."     New York Post.   16 April 2013.

    Drash, Wayne.   "Boston Suspects: Immigrant Dream to American Nightmare."     CNN.com.   19 April 2013.

    Effron, Lauren.   "Mystery ‘Man on the Roof’ Sparks Boston Marathon Chatter."     ABCNews.com.   16 April 2013.

    Ford, Bev et al.   "Martin Richard, 8-Year-Old Killed in Boston Marathon Terror Attack."     [New York] Daily News.   16 April 2013.

   .Howerton, Jason .  "Saudi National Once Considered 'Person of Internet' May Be Deported."     The Blaze.   18 April 2013.

    Kime, Patricia.   "Lieutenant Journeys Back from the Dead."     Military Times.   5 November 2012.

    Marcius, Chelsia Rose et al.   "Saudi Man Questioned in Boston Marathon Bombing Is a Witness."     [New York] Daily News.   16 April 2013.

    Scott, Christopher.   "Lowell Mom, Daughter Seriously Injured in Boston Blast."     The Lowell Sun.   16 April 2013.

    Vaznis, James.   "At First, Fire at JFK Library Heightened Fears."     The Boston Globe.   15 April 2013.

    Associated Press.   "Medford Native Killed in Boston Marathon Bombings."     WBZ-TV [Boston].   16 April 2013.

    Daily Mail.   "Tragedy of Woman, 18, in Iconic Boston Blast Image."     17 April 2013.

    The Lowell Sun.   "'Pray for My Son,' Father Says of Chelmsford Man."     16 April 2013.

    WBOB Radio.   "Boston Marathon Bomb-Shredded Backpack Revealed."     17 April 2013.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.