An immigrant entrepreneur from China came out of the shadows on Friday with his harrowing tale of being carjacked at gunpoint by the Tsarnaev brothers after the Boston Marathon attacks.
Identified only as Danny (26), his story — worthy of a Hollywood thriller — filled in some of the details between the killing of an MIT campus police officer and a nocturnal shootout in which Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed.
In an exclusive interview, Danny told the Boston Globe newspaper how the elder Tsarnaev, brandishing a handgun, knocked on the window of his Mercedes ML 350 luxury SUV late on the night of 18 April.
"Don't be stupid," said Tsarnaev, also 26, who then asked Danny if he was keeping up with developments in the double bomb attack at the marathon finish line in which three people were killed and 264 injured.
"I did that," Tsarnaev told his captive behind the wheel, "and I just killed a policeman in Cambridge."
Fearing for his life, Danny drove Tsarnaev through the suburban Boston night, twisting and turning through the dark streets, followed by a sedan driven by younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (19).
Danny first came to the United States in 2009 as a graduate student in engineering at Northeastern University, and returned to the Boston area two months ago from China to launch a startup.
"Oh, that's why your English is not very good," Tsarnaev, who appeared to have trouble comprehending Danny's accent, told him in the Mercedes. "OK, You're Chinese... I'm Muslim."
"Chinese are very friendly to Muslims, we are so friend to Muslims," replied Danny, his heart pounding with fear as he tried to win a bit of sympathy from one of America's most wanted men.
In a side street, the two cars stopped. The elder Tsarnaev ordered Danny onto the passenger side. The two brothers then shifted what appeared to Danny to be luggage into the back of the Mercedes.
Off went the brothers and their captive, together in the leased $50 000 SUV, with Tamerlan Tsarnaev now driving and Danny thinking up an escape plan.
Danny overheard the brothers speaking a foreign language, with "Manhattan" the only word he could make out. Then they asked him in English if the Mercedes could be driven out of state.
"What do you mean? Danny asked.
"Like New York," one of the brothers replied.
With the gas tank nearly empty, they returned to the abandoned sedan, from which the brothers took a few more things.
Shortly after, Danny's iPhone received first a text, then a phone call — a friend asking where he was.
"If you say a single word in Chinese, I will kill you right now," the older Tsarnaev said.
Danny complied, telling his Mandarin-speaking friend in English: "I'm sleeping at my friend's home tonight. I have to go."
Danny's chance for escape came at a Shell petrol station which, at that late hour of night, took cash only.
When the younger Tsarnaev went inside to pay with a $50 bank note, and the older one shoved his handgun in a door pocket to fiddle with a GPS device, Danny seized the moment.
"I was thinking I must do two things: unfasten my seat belt and open the door and jump out as quick as I can. If I didn't make it, he would kill me right out, he would kill me right away," he told the Globe.
"I just did it. I did it very fast, using my left hand and right hand simultaneously to open the door, unfasten my seat belt, jump out... and go," sprinting to an adjacent Mobil gas station, never looking back.
"I didn't know if it was open or not," Danny said. But it was, and there he begged the clerk to call police, then hid in a back room.
The brothers fled in the Mercedes with Danny's iPhone still inside the vehicle — emitting signals that enabled police to track their whereabouts until the fateful shootout in the early hours of Friday.
Danny asked that his full Chinese name not be published, although he expects it to come out when the younger Tsarnaev goes on trial. "I don't feel like a hero," he told the Globe. "I was trying to save myself."