Video from a Lord & Taylor store's loss-prevention camera may have caught the image of someone planting a bomb along the Boston Marathon route on Monday, The Boston Globe reported yesterday (April 17).
An unnamed official told the newspaper that the camera, located directly across Boylston Street from where one of the bombs exploded, provided clear video of the area. Another source told the BBC that the surveillance camera's video contained a clear image of an individual carrying, and apparently dropping, a backpack before the explosion. Most crucially, the footage clearly showed the person's face, according to the BBC report.
"The camera from Lord & Taylor is the best source of video so far," said Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. Investigators are now looking for the man on the video, who is described as a man wearing a white baseball cap worn backwards, a light-colored hooded sweatshirt and a black jacket, according to CNN late yesterday.
This is far from the first time retail security video has been used to help solve a crime that does not directly involve that retailer, but it might go down as one of the most significant. Although some countries (notably England) have saturated urban areas with government surveillance cameras, in the U.S. most non-private cameras are devoted to either traffic or transit safety, which makes them much less useful for anything that doesn't actually happen in the street or a mass-transit station.
That makes external retailer LP cameras—which are typically focused on sidewalks, doorways and other areas where people are standing or walking near the store—a major source of evidence for crimes that happen nearby. Merchants have an incentive for going with the best cameras they can afford rather than with the lowest bidder: The sharper the image, the better the chance to catch a thief—or a killer.
The retail video was just one of many videos law enforcement was reviewing, and some of the videos "also showed at least a handful of others whom the authorities want to question, either because of what they appear to be doing in the video or their proximity to the blasts, a senior law enforcement official said," according to a report in The New York Times.
The official said the authorities were trying to boil down the number of people of interest in the videos and would 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" the authorities want to talk to.
The Times story also confirmed that authorities are not certain the name of the person seen in the Lord & Taylor video, apparently placing the bomb. The F.B.I. is still "looking for a name to put with a face in a video," one law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, The Times said.