BOSTON -- In the first major break in the hunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, FBI personnel found security video clips Wednesday that showed a man who they believe may have played a role in planting the explosives that killed three people and injured more than 170 Monday.
The videos also showed at least a handful of others whom authorities want to question, either because of what they appear to be doing in the video or their proximity to the blasts, according to a senior law enforcement official. The official said authorities were trying to boil down the number of people of interest in the videos and will then decide whether to ask the public's help in locating them.
"It's a crowd, there are a lot of different angles -- it is not like some television-produced video -- there's a lot that isn't clear," said the official. "But most interpretations support the notion that one man is seen dropping a bag."
The official added: "There are several videos with people in them, and we're looking to talk to more than one guy. It's still very squishy, but there are a lot of interesting people" authorities want to talk to.
As news spread of the video Wednesday afternoon, officials emphatically denied a flurry of news media reports that they had made an arrest. The FBI was still "looking for a name to put with a face in a video," one law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Those denials did not deter hundreds of office workers and reporters from gathering outside Boston's federal courthouse, where they anticipated that a suspect would be arraigned. A midday bomb scare caused the courthouse to be evacuated and created confusion, as the crowds were moved far away from the building and it was ringed by police vehicles. By nightfall, no arrest had occurred.
At Copley Square, the crime scene, which is several blocks long, remained barricaded Wednesday as investigators in white hazmat suits scoured the buildings and roofs for pieces of evidence from the two explosions, which happened at 2:50 Monday afternoon near the marathon's finish line.
Teams of investigators, including more than 1,000 FBI agents, were tracking possible leads developed Tuesday after they had discovered remnants from the two bombs. Those remnants included parts of one or two kitchen pressure cookers that had evidently been packed with nails, ball bearings and black powder and used as explosive devices; the torn remains of a dark nylon backpack or duffel bag in which one of the bombs had been hidden; and a circuit board, wires and other parts from timing devices. Investigators hoped to track the items back to where they were sold and compile a list of names or descriptions of the buyers.
A piece of the lid of one of the pressure cookers was found on a rooftop near the blast, a law enforcement official said Wednesday -- giving a sense of the explosion's tremendous force.
The possible break in the case came as investigators scrutinized scores of videos and photographs from surveillance cameras from nearby businesses, as well as from smartphone-wielding marathon spectators and television crews covering the marathon when the deadly blasts went off. So far, no one has taken responsibility for the carnage.
As the investigation went into a third day, there were signs of jitters around the nation, which was on high alert. In Oklahoma City, scene of a devastating 1995 bombing, City Hall was briefly evacuated Wednesday morning as authorities examined a stolen rental truck parked outside. (There was no bomb, officials there said.)
In New York City, the Police Department received 143 reports of suspicious packages between Monday afternoon, just after the Boston explosions, and midnight Tuesday. That was an increase of more than 300 percent over a similar time period last year, police commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
And in Boston, the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Court House was evacuated in the afternoon, as officials called out "code red" and bomb-sniffing dogs were sent inside. The courthouse was swarming with scores of journalists from around the world because of rumors, reported early Wednesday afternoon by several news organizations but forcefully denied by the FBI and Boston police, that an arrest had been made or was imminent. Court employees were allowed back into the courthouse at 4:15 p.m. No bomb was found there.
Boston prepared to mourn the victims at an interfaith church service this morning at the Cathedral of Holy Cross. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were scheduled to attend.
The three people killed in the blasts represented a cross-section of Boston, brought together seemingly at random to watch one of the city's proud traditions, the 117th marathon. There was Lingzi Lu, a Chinese woman in her early 20s, a Boston University graduate student and one of the thousands of international students drawn to the area's universities. There was Martin Richard, a vivacious 8-year-old third-grader from a well-loved family in the tight-knit Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. And there was Krystle Campbell, 29, of Arlington, Mass., a hard-working woman known for her sense of humor who had started working as a waitress in high school and had become a restaurant manager.
If investigators in Boston can find a facial image of sufficient quality from the security video, it could provide a powerful lead. The FBI has been working for several years to create a facial recognition program, and the video of a suspect or suspects could be matched against the bureau's database of mug shots of about 12 million people who have been arrested, officials said.
First Published April 18, 2013 4:00 AM