BOSTON — The bombs that tore past the finish line of the Boston Marathon were likely made with simple kitchen pressure cookers packed with metal pellets and nails and hidden in black nylon bags, investigators said Tuesday.
FBI lead investigator Rick DesLauriers said fragments from a pressure cooker and pieces of black nylon were discovered near one of the bomb sites.
Physicians said they have extracted from the wounded large numbers of pellets and carpenters’ nails, common shrapnel components in the elementary bombs widely used in Afghanistan and Pakistan — and also discovered in at least two previous attempted terrorist attacks in the U.S.
The devices killed three bystanders and wounded more than 170 Monday, and were powerful enough that investigators are recovering debris from nearby rooftops and embedded in walls.
“That gives you an idea of the scope, of the power of the blast, and you can see why it was so devastating,” said Gene Marquez, acting special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Boston. Authorities have started tracing the source of the components to determine whether the perpetrators were foreign or domestic.
On Tuesday, the Taliban in Pakistan denied responsibility and no one else stepped forward.
President Barack Obama, who was scheduled to travel to Boston Thursday for an interfaith service for the victims, vowed to identify those responsible for what he called “an act of terrorism.
“Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror,” Obama said. “What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual.”
Call logs from cellphone towers along the marathon route, surveillance footage collected by city cameras, local businesses and spectators — more than 10 terabytes of data, the equivalent of 6,000 movies — is being methodically reviewed.
“This is the most complex crime scene that we’ve dealt with in the history of our department,” said Boston police commissioner Edward Davis.
There has been little chatter either before or after the attack, said a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigation. “Everything’s gone quiet,” the official said.
Boston remained tense Tuesday, with 12 blocks near Copley Square cordoned off. Many tried to return to work, soak up sunshine in sidewalk cafes, and resume routines — in a city that was anything but normal.
“It’s really hard to find the motivation to work,” said Jesse Meyer, 46, an investment accountant at Liberty Mutual, whose office is a few blocks from the marathon finish line.
“We’re just trying to continue on with our daily lives. Everyone has to go back to work or school,” said Deanna Lewis, 21, a junior at Boston University. On the other hand, she said, “there is still fear.”
Families confirmed two of those who died in the explosions: 8-year-old Martin Richard, of Dorchester, Mass., whose mother and sister were also badly injured; Krystle Campbell, 29, a restaurant worker from the Boston suburb of Arlington.
Also killed was a graduate student at Boston University, identified by the Chinese consulate as a Chinese national, whose name was not released.
A picture of Martin Richard, displaying a gap-toothed smile and holding a sign that said, “No more hurting people. Peace,” quickly became one of the enduring images of the tragedy. So did Campbell’s mother, Patty Campbell, whose broken voice at a brief news conference could barely say she was “heartbroken.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” she choked, before friends and family helped her back into the house.
At a candlelight vigil Tuesday night hundreds of residents in tight-knit Dorchester gathered at a local park and reflected on the randomness of the deaths and injuries.
“It could be anyone,” said Diane Lescinskas, whose daughters attended Catholic classes with Martin.
At hospitals throughout the day, families of survivors and physicians recounted the scenes that continued to haunt them: A zipper was found embedded in one woman’s ankle; another woman’s clothing was melted into her skin; a husband noticed his wife’s legs were hanging on only by skin, and asked someone for a belt.
Surgeons told of wheeling badly injured patients directly into the operating room after they had lost so much blood that their organs were in danger of failing and amputating what was left of their legs on the spot.
“We just finished the job that the bomb did — their limbs were completely mangled, some hanging by a shred,” said George Velmahos, chief trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Some patients had large numbers of “nails or sharp objects” embedded in them that surgeons worked painstakingly to excise. “There are people that have 10, 20, 30, 40 in their body or more,” Velmahos said.
Investigators emphasized that their inquiry could be lengthy.
“This is going to be going on for weeks,” said one official familiar with the investigation. “We’re waiting to see, waiting to hear, where the new details will lead us. We’re getting more guys on the ground … and they will start analyzing the fragments left from the devices.”
The fact that parts of a pressure cooker were found does not necessarily point to Islamic terrorists, many analysts said. Al-Qaida members based in Yemen encouraged would-be terrorists in the United States to use a pressure cooker and other household items to build a bomb — “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom” was the headline in a 2010 issue of the group’s English-language publication.
But the relatively unsophisticated design could be adopted by almost anyone.
One of the three devices used in the May 2010 Times Square attempted bombing was a pressure cooker, according to an FBI report quoted by The Associated Press. The FBI also said that Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, serving a life term for a plot to bomb a restaurant at Fort Hood, had bomb-making materials in his hotel that included a pressure cooker.
The Pakistani Taliban’s denial made it clear it was discounting responsibility, not ambition.
“Certainly, America is our target, and we will attack the U.S. and its allies whenever the (Pakistani Taliban) finds the opportunity, but we are not involved in this attack,” spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a statement.
Davis rejected suggestions that lapses in security opened the door to the attack. He said a large number of officers were patrolling the area near the finish line, and explosives teams patrolled it twice.
“When you have an event, you can’t lock it down like it’s a military operation,” he said. “It’s a public event … it requires that we don’t turn these events into a police state. We struck what we determined to be an appropriate balance.”