I spent the next several minutes freely explaining Docks to the officer, who tried desperately to find inconsistencies in my account. Not surprisingly, the narration contributed little to my cause. The problem was that this officer had already made up his mind, if only subconsciously, that I was the bomber-the man they were looking for. This was, by far, the eeriest aspect of the entire experience. Many of the policemen surrounding my squad car had the same accusatory, angry-like expression shared by both this portly officer and the man who first stopped me. These men and women were regarding me as if I was the bomber. The resentment I sensed was so strong that there were times when I actually felt like a criminal.
The next man to approach the car wore a vest that said FBI in bold yellow letters across the front. He carried a notepad and pen, revealing his role of detective. He was stoic and more reasonable than many of the policemen who had questioned me earlier. After asking the usual questions, he asked me if I owned any government-issued identification. Hopeful that this could finally be my ticket to freedom, I told him that I should have an Illinois driver’s license on file. The detective motioned to a nearby officer, signaling him to search the database. Without skipping a beat, the investigator continued my interrogation. He asked me if I knew the phone number of anyone who could vouch for my identity. Unfortunately for me, this was the age of the smart phone where phones memorize contact information so their owners do not have to. The only number that I still had memorized was my parents’ home phone number from back in Chicago. I knew the chance of someone answering at that hour was slim. Still, it was worth a try. The detective dialed the number and held his phone up to my ear. Just as I had guessed, there was no answer. I left what could be considered one of the strangest voicemails in voicemail history and sighed. There would be no easy way out of this.
The detective then proceeded to ask me questions about who I was living with. I did not know any of my roommates’ phone numbers off-hand, but I knew their names, history, and current affiliations. I informed the detective that I presently lived with two friends-one I knew from living in Chicago and the other I met in college. I told them where they worked and what schools they had attended. Before mentioning my third roommate, I paused. Although none of us had anything to hide, including our good friend Mahmood, I worried that revealing such a close association with someone who was attending Divinity School for Islam would not work in my favor. There were already allegations out there that the bombing suspects were radical Muslims. Much to my relief, I was able to name all three roommates and provide each of their associations without raising any red flags to the authorities. The detective was more concerned with locating someone who could confirm my identity.
After he had all the information he needed, the detective walked away, leaving me with another opportunity to interact with the portly officer. He looked at me curiously, “Why do you have an Illinois license if you live in Boston?” The aggressive edge was gone from his voice, but he still sounded irritated.
“I lived in Chicago before I moved to Boston for college.”
“And you never bothered to get a Massachusetts driver’s license?”
“Nope. Biking is my main form of transportation. I rarely drive.”
“That’s dumb. You should get a Massachusetts license.”
I did not argue. Clearly this officer was not on my side and, so, I figured it was in my best interest to avoid unnecessary conflict. Just then, another officer walked over to the squad car and reported that they could not find any record of my driver’s license. Shocked, I assured them that I did, in fact, have a license.
“Look here and tell me if any of this information is misspelled,” the officer suggested. I carefully read over my full name, previous address, and date of birth. Strangely enough, all of the info was accurate.
As I spell-checked their information, a younger man carrying a notepad walked over to my position. Right from the start, it was clear that he was playing the role of friendly cop. Leaning over the car’s doorway, he looked me in the eye and proclaimed that he thought I was innocent. “Look, I don’t believe you did anything wrong,” he stated. “I’m just trying to get you out of here as quickly as possible.” The tone of his voice was genuine. This approach, of course, was in stark contrast to that of every other official who had questioned me up to that point. Having an advocate, even a fake one, amidst such animosity was actually quite emotional. Involuntarily, my lower lip started to quiver. A few tears trickled down my cheek. Suddenly, I felt undeserving of this ordeal and began to wish that it would all soon end.
The young detective was either a designated good guy or he held the personal belief that I was innocent. My intuition told me that both notions were true. Eventually, he asked me if I had ever traveled outside of the United States. Not entirely sure where he was going with this question, I started to worry that my positive answer would just give these guys all the more reason to believe that I was a terrorist. “Yes, I have,” I replied rather bleakly. “In the summer of 2005, I went to Kenya on a mission trip with a local church.” I told them the truth even though I knew claiming to be a devout Christian would not win me any sympathy.
“Ah, so you must have a passport,” the detective said. Realizing where his logic was headed, I, once again, became hopeful.
“Yes, I do have a passport. It’s pretty old, but I have one!” I saw some of the nearby officers walk away to report this new information to the higher-ups. The questioning continued.
A few minutes later, the young detective finished his interrogation and closed the car door to leave me alone with my thoughts. I used the downtime to survey my surroundings. To my right, through the window of the car door that was constantly being opened, I saw policemen standing in groups talking. Occasionally, an officer would turn to study me, trying to determine for himself whether or not I was guilty. Not far away, the first detective was speaking to someone over the phone, his head was toward the ground and he was pacing back and forth. My buddy, the portly officer, was chatting with a small group of fellow policemen. I wondered if they were still puzzled by my running sweatless story. Directly to my rear, numerous officers crowded around the door of a police van. The van was decorated with several antennas of varying lengths, hinting that it had an important role in telecommunications. This must be where they were looking for my files. Continuing to sweep my surroundings, I looked out the window to my left and saw a few soldiers guarding the parking lot’s main entrance. Behind them was a small crowd of civilians. “Wonderful,” I thought. “If these people flood Twitter with false claims of ‘We got him,’ then news teams will soon come running to the scene.” I was already mildly surprised that the media was not present and, quite frankly, I wanted it to stay that way. Just then, the car door opened. The young detective stood in the doorway.
“You’re all set. We found your passport on file,” he said.
My eyes lit up. “Really? That’s awesome.” It was a relief to know that I would not spend the rest of the day stuck in handcuffs. “Does this mean that I can go now?”
“Yeah, you’re free to go,” he said. “Step on out for us.”
As I stepped out of the police car, I saw the original policeman-the officer who first spotted me-standing next to the detective. He motioned for me to turn around and then he removed the handcuffs from around my wrists. I must say that no amount of watching Cops can quite prepare someone for the true discomfort of handcuffs. The relief of having them removed was as much physical as it was mental. Now able to view my watch, I switched the settings from stop-watch to time-of-day and quickly calculated that it had been about 45 minutes since I was first stopped.
The officer returned my shoes and I knelt down to put them on. With running shoes now securely fastened to my feet, I hopped up, ready to finish what I had started. Before taking off, I reasoned it would be best to ask the policemen how I should ease my way back into freedom. “Which way would you recommend I run home,” I asked. “I can run home, right?”
“Uh. Well, you can do anything you want, but we’d recommend having one of us drive you home,” one officer said.
“Sure, that’ll work.” The last thing I wanted was to have this whole experience repeated 15 minutes later.
“Follow these guys, they’ll drive you back,” the officer said, gesturing toward a pair of policemen standing nearby.
I followed the two officers out of the parking lot and toward their truck parked on Atlantic Avenue. As we approached the vehicle, they offered me a bottle of water, which I happily accepted. I took a seat in the back of the truck, this time without handcuffs. The ride into Somerville was surprisingly relaxing. No longer under the constant pressure of interrogation, I spoke freely with the officers as I provided them with directions to my apartment. The three of us reflected upon the events of earlier that week, sharing our own thoughts and personal experiences. I noticed that whenever we reached a red traffic light, the driving officer would flip on the emergency lights and we would travel through the intersection unchallenged. The result was arriving at my Somerville apartment in record time. I saw this as a nice consolation for my lengthy detainment.
Before leaving the truck, I told the officers that I was, in fact, going to finish my run and asked them if they had any tactical suggestions. They recommended continuing the run with some form of government-issued identification on hand. Pleasantly surprised that they seemed okay with my decision to continue running, I jumped out of the truck with a sigh of relief before thanking them for the escort home. I ran into the apartment to grab my driver’s license where I found two of my roommates up and about with worried expressions on their faces.
“What happened?” one of them asked. “The police were here and they were looking for you.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me,” I said, running to my room to snatch my license. “The police stopped me during my run because they thought I looked like the marathon bomber.” I grabbed my license and jogged back toward the front door. “I gave them all my information including our address, but it’s all good now. I’ll explain the rest later-gotta finish my run. Be back in 55 minutes.” My roommates looked thoroughly shocked. I felt guilty leaving them there in such confusion, but this run was long overdue and I was not going to be out for that long. Both friends had known me for a while and so I knew they would understand.
With the license grasped tightly in my left hand, I jogged over to a small soccer field located in a park about a quarter-mile from my apartment. I would run countless laps around that field until I reached a total run time of eighty minutes. Time went by exceptionally quickly as I recalled the morning’s sequence of events, still not quite sure that it all had happened. While it was true that my run had been interrupted, I was careful to focus on the positives. For one, it was apparent that the police in this city were not going to let a potential suspect slip through any cracks. Although a minor inconvenience for me, their vigilance ultimately proved invaluable in their hunt for the bomber. Later that day, the dedicated men and women of the Boston police force would capture the lone surviving fugitive and bring closure to the city’s inhabitants. Justice would be served and for this I am eternally grateful.I also thought about the episode as a whole. That morning during my run I had wandered into the middle of one of the most intense manhunts in recent American history. In a way, I had even become part of it. There is no doubt: that early Friday morning consisted of one run that this runner will never forget! Even as I continue to train with the Boston Athletic Association, I know I will never experience a more memorable distance run. Of this I am certain.
Note: We contacted the Boston Police Department looking for comment on this, and we were immediately referred to the US Attorney’s office. As of the publishing of this article, the US Attorney’s office has not responded to our requests.
Didn’t want to cram too much into one post so here is an editorial with our thoughts on it.