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Among those at the Boston Marathon last year, watching the first runners cross the finish line, was a young Chinese-American entrepreneur who goes by the American nickname "Danny." He wouldn't know until three days later what a pivotal role he would play in the surreal days following the marathon bombings.
One year ago, Danny, 26, was carjacked, allegedly by the Tsarnaev brothers, who he says told him they had carried out the marathon bombings and just killed a MIT cop.
"I was watching the marathon close to the first bombing spot but I left earlier," Danny said in an interview with WBUR. "I thought I was very lucky. I didn't get hurt. I didn't know I would ever meet up with them."
The "them" Danny is referring to are the alleged marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
On April 18, 2013, Danny left his job at around 10 p.m., drove around aimlessly for a bit and pulled over in Brighton to send a text. Suddenly, a car pulled up behind him and a man forced his way into his Mercedes SUV.
"He had a gun and he pointed it at me," Danny recalled, adding that the man asked for cash. Danny handed over the $45 in his wallet. He doesn't remember what the man looked like or if the guy had blood on him, but he remembers being told that the man was responsible for the marathon bombings and killing a MIT police officer. After that, Danny was told to drive.
"I was hoping he would release me after I gave him the cash, so he asked me to make a few turns. But he didn't tell me where to go," he recalled.
About half an hour later, they stopped on a side street in Watertown. Danny didn't know where he was, but he had seen a nearby sign for Fairfield Street. Dzhokhar Tzarnaev had pulled up behind them, and Tamerlan took the keys out of the ignition and helped load bags from the car Dzhokhar was driving into Danny's SUV. In the meantime, Danny thought about escaping. But it was dark, deserted and he didn't think he could get away.
After loading the bags into the car, Tamerlan ordered Danny to get into the passenger seat. Dzhokhar got in the back. They told Danny to relax and that they weren't going to hurt him. They drove to an ATM where they withdrew $800 from Danny's account. They then drove into Waltham and started looking for gas stations, but headed back towards Watertown near Fairfield Street. The brothers were speaking in another language, Danny said, but he recalls hearing "Manhattan."
Running low on gas, they headed to Cambridge and stopped at a Shell on Memorial Drive that accepted cash only. Dzhokhar went inside to pay, while Tamerlan was configuring the GPS and Danny realized this would be has chance.
"I was thinking this would be my last opportunity, my best opportunity to run," he said. He calculated what he had to do: unlock his seatbelt, open the door and run.
"It's now or never, so I decided," he explained. "I bolted out of the car and I ran across the street."
Across the street Danny ran into another gas station where he pleaded with the attendant to call 911. Within minutes, police were there. Authorities were able to track the Tzarnaev's to Watertown by using a tracking device already on Danny's SUV. Less than 24 hours later, after a shootout with police, Dzhokhar's drive over his older brother in Danny's car, Tamerlan's death and a shelter-in-place in order, Dzhokhar was in custody, discovered hiding in a wrapped boat in Watertown. Danny was grateful.
He feels safe now, but still takes precautions. "I don't stop for text anymore, actually. Pull over to a curb to respond to a text, I don't do that anymore. But I feel safe. I feel I'm good. I just enjoy my life."
Danny said he plans to be at this year's Boston Marathon finish line.