Officer Releases Jarring Tsarnaev Arrest Photos to Protest Rolling Stone Cover


In response to the highly controversial Rolling Stone cover of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev revealed earlier this week, tactical photographer Sgt. Sean Murphy of the Mass. Police Department released a set of haunting images showing what Boston Magazine is calling “the real face of terror.”

The jarring images were taken during Tsarnaev’s manhunt and arrest, and have resulted in Sgt. Murphy’s being relieved of duty as he awaits a status hearing to determine his professional fate.

The photos surfaced on Thursday, when an outraged Sgt. Murphy contacted Boston Magazine to express his feelings towards the Rolling Stone cover and provide photos that show what he calls “the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”

The Rolling Stone cover that sparked controversy

The Rolling Stone cover that sparked controversy

The photographs show the entire manhunt, including several powerful images of Tsarnaev emerging from his hiding spot inside the boat, laser sights trained on his forehead.



Speaking to Boston Magazine, Sgt. Murphy expressed his outrage, and the impact he hopes his images will have:

I hope that the people who see these images will know that this was real. It was as real as it gets. This may have played out as a television show, but this was not a television show. Officer Dick Donohue almost gave his life. Officer Sean Collier did give his life. These were real people, with real lives, with real families. And to have this cover dropped into Boston was hurtful to their memories and their families […] What Rolling Stone did was wrong.

However, releasing the images didn’t come without consequences. Although he made it clear that the views he expressed in the Boston Magazine article are his own, and not his department’s, he was promptly relieved of duty none-the-less.

Two Lieutenants and a Sergeant arrived at Murphy’s home last night and relieved the Sergeant of his gun, badge, ammunition, handcuffs, baton, bulletproof vest, cameras, police ID, license to fire arms, pepper spray, cellphone and computer, according to a followup by Boston Magazine‘s John Wolfson.

His fate with the department is uncertain, but as of right now “relieved of duty” does not translate into “fired.” The Sergeant has been ordered not to speak any further to the press, or discuss the Tsarnaev arrest with anyone else, pending a status hearing sometime next week.

According to CNN, the hearing will determine whether Murphy is returned to full duty, restricted duty or suspended while the department conducts an internal police investigation.

To read all of Murphy’s comments and see the full gallery of photos he provided to Boston Magazine, head over to the magazine’s website and read the entire article by clicking here.

Image credits: Photographs by Massachusetts Police Sgt. Sean Murphy

  • Christian DeBaun

    Rolling Stone will never admit it, but they are loving every bit of notoriety from this cover.

  • Benoit Evans

    The before photo is the right photo, not the after photo taken by the police. On the cover, RS calls him a “monster” and the article tries to give the reader some insight into who he was and what he became.

    The next monster may also be a nice looking, likeable young man. He may be dating your daughter. You need to understand that and try to learn as much as you can about human behavior so that there’s a better chance that he can be stopped BEFORE it’s late.

  • Randy Marsh

    Waiting for the Edward Snowden cover with his shirt off..

  • Daniel

    I thought Rolling Stone was a magazine about the Music Industry….

  • Courtney Navey

    There’s a surprise, someone speaks out against something like what RS did and they get the smack down…Total BS. When I saw the RS cover I wanted to puke. So disrespectful to the families of the victims both killed and injured that day.

  • superduckz

    I agree. But they aren’t smart enough to realize that notoriety is not relevance and they haven’t been relevant for a very long time.

  • Wizard

    Ýou monster!

  • superduckz

    Nonsense. They knew full well what the reaction would be. There were plenty of “attractive” shots of these kids from their FAcebook accounts for us all to get that idea already. After the capture, this had nothing to do with “educating” the general public. The cover of rolling stone is a place of notoriety and showing this monster in a Jim Morrison type shot is despicable.

  • harumph

    So in your mind, what Tsarnaev did and what Snowden did are comparable?

  • Randy Marsh

    Oh god no, you fool. One is wanted by the FBI for leaking info and the other one killed a bunch of people, is it in yours?

    but if we’re talking controversial, RS is sending Playgirl photographers to Moscow as we speak.

  • Disqus is an NSA shill

    Ridiculous, both points of view are real – i don’t get the whole “one truth” paradigm some people are so hung up on. Tsarnaev is both the person on the cover of rolling stone and the one emerging from that boat… and countless other things besides. One “truth” does not necessarily detract from the other, just like one face of the coin does not make the other one any less real. And people are much more complex than pennies.

  • Ian

    Wow, what a different group of commenters on this post. Glad to see other Petapixel readers aren’t all a bunch of RS fanboys.

  • Helo

    I’d like to preface my reply by explcitly stating that I don’t condone Tsarnaev’s actions at all, and as someone who was raised in Boston, the incident hit very close to home.

    However, I do believe the purpose of the photo chosen by RS was to drive home the point that he really was just another kid, another kid who in many regards is not too different from the many who read RS. I don’t believe the intent was to pardon him or glamourize him, I believe the intent is to make people think and discuss.

    There’s an honest attempt to have a discussion about how someone who could be in your local high school, no different than your average high schooler (and no more or less ethnic than countless other regions in the US), could commit such heinous acts. It’s easy enough to point to a fundamentalist bent at work here and pigeonhole his rationale into a quick phrase, but I believe it goes deeper than that.

    I grant you that this is very likely a calculated gambit by RS to boost sales, but I don’t believe that the rationale behind it lessens the impact and importance of having this discussion. If it’s not a magazine’s job to that, so be it, but I’ll gladly take this as a jumping off point. If that means that a magazine’s sales tactic gets people talking, it’s not altogether a loss.

    I don’t expect to convince you of anything that runs contrary to your beliefs, but I do hope that you will consider that my own belief on this matter does NOT come from a place of naivité, but rather to seek answers to questions that don’t come easy.

    Have a great day.

  • Lauren

    That shows just how little you know about Rolling Stone magazine.

  • Spongebob Nopants

    Wow is that a sniper dot on that toe rag’s head? Feel good pics of the year and I’m NOT being sarcastic.

    I’m glad these pics were released and I hope a lot of people see them. The little douche looks thuroughly miserable and beaten.

    Home grown jihadi wannabes might want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone but they don’t want to look like this and actually have a sniper dot on their head – be someone elses tiny muscle spasm away from complete obliteration.

    The guy who released these may have broken the rules and they aren’t “nice” but it was unquestionably the morally right thing to do. It contributes directly to the security of this country by showing jiahdi wannabes exactly how squalid and miserable they will end up.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Love the way a bunch of people condemn RS for what the enquirer and countless other rags do daily. Suddenly RS should be boycotted, for doing what they have historically done (report controversy). People who condemn but never read the article seem a bit stupid. And reacting emotionally only to RS magazine and not the others also seems stupid. This has been spun up needlessly…but it does distract the public from other horrors going on in our country so it does serve a purpose I guess.

  • Itsarelativegig

    Are they non-relevant because you disagree with the cover, the subject, the writing, or just print media in general?

  • Jake

    RS is not relevant because they’ve left behind their rock n’ roll counter-culture roots that made them stand out as a bastion of journalism for the young Americans who were too hip for mainstream media and seeking a source of positive progressivism, and instead became basically teeneybopper trash like People or Entertainment Magazine with some politics thrown in. Readers have been complaining about this for well over a decade now.

  • Thomas Lawn

    You hit the nail right on the head. I grew up in an affluent American suburb, and despite being their main demographic, I have never read a Rolling Stone. None of my friends or acquaintances, or even their parents, ever had them lying around.

    If I recall correctly, the only one I’ve ever opened on the newsstand had Britney Spears on the cover…but I was 13.

  • CelticBrewer

    Thumbs up to Jake. I received the magazine as a trial a couple years ago expecting topics such as, gasp, MUSIC and its culture. Instead, all I got was political propaganda and corporate entertainment brainwashing. Pure garbage of a magazine!

  • CelticBrewer

    Giving him any notoriety glamorizes him- if not to the masses, then to those sick people who want to emulate him. He’s a celebrity and a lot of people would, literally, kill for that status. Young people, especially, feel no purpose in or meaning to life. This is one avenue they can choose to immortalize their name.

  • CelticBrewer

    The difference being the Enquirer is a known rag with no redeeming qualities. It touts who’s knocked up, who’s cheating, who got plastic surgery or gained 30 pounds. RS, albeit wrong, is considered by some to be somewhat legitimate.

  • superduckz

    I had a response in mind but Jake hit all the main points better than I would have.. Their legitimacy as a legitimate counterculture mag has been usurped by massive corporate lifestyle adverting dollars. In a nutshell, they sold out a looong time ago.

  • superduckz

    Or in other words, hey kids, have no real talent? Heck we don’t even care if you can hum a tune! We don’t really care about music anymore. So! Feeling insignificant? Well you too can be “on the cover of the Rolling Stone” just like the classic song says! Be sure to “buy 10 copies for your Mother”! All you have to do is have the right “look”, a conflicted past and become an idealistic mass murdered and you to can be immortal!

    Go get you own place on the newstands NOW! Be sure to mail us your manifesto so we can have the exclusive!

  • Ralph Hightower

    Rolling Stone is to rock music as MTV is to music videos, which is to say that they are irrelevant. They’ve jumped the shark.
    RS is trying to glamourize terrorism to boost their single copy sales.

  • superduckz

    Well let’s be honest, Nobody of any numbers in any significant demographic really reads them unless they are looking for the corporate advertising ideal of what’s cool.

  • Helo

    Thanks for the reply, you actually touched on a point I was originally going to include in my own reply but felt it was steering the conversation in another direction, but since we’re there already…

    You’re 100% right about the power that a photo CAN have in glamorizing it’s subject. I’ve read a few times that RS did something similar when Charles Manson was news for his own acts of terror, and his notoriety has endured while many other murderers have never even had a chance to have their name remembered, let alone forgotten.

    To that end, I’m left wondering about our own cultural appreciation of what a photo means and why fame matters so much.

    Most people say this cover photo is needlessly and tastelessly giving Tsarnaev further fame (or infamy). I’m left thinking that the default assumption by the public at large is that exposure is tantamount to fame and celebrity, rather than RELEVANCE. That’s pretty sad to me, since I can’t think of anything socially relevant about, say, a celebrity DUI mugshot, or a Kardashian’s secret to fighting cellulite, or Honey Boo Boo’s sartorial choices. But I digress…

    I don’t think Tsarnaev should be famous. But I do find it relevant to discuss what he is famous for, why someone would do what he and his brother did, and how they lived unremarkable lives like any other member of the public until they didn’t anymore.

    There was a social dynamic at play in the Tsarnaev’s “logic”, and I do honestly believe that if we as a society have a better understanding of that, we as a society can play a part in making sure that it doesn’t happen again.

    Maybe that means being quicker to profile an outsider and preparing accordingly, maybe that means reaching out, maybe that means being more receptive to an immigrant and not dismiss them merely as “ragheads” or assume that Chechnya and Russia are one in the same.

    I’m not exonerating Tsarnaev of ANY blame, but I’m a firm believer that no one is born into this world with hatred in their heart. If someone has been taught to hate and act upon that hatred, there’s room for us as a society and culture to affect that somehow, I truly believe that.

    I keep using a particular analogy on this subject, if you’ll indulge the cognitive reach for a brief moment…

    Teen pregnancy doesn’t go away by not discussing it (hence, sex ed). In this day and age, I wonder if we can really afford to ignore the impulses that lead to acts like Tsarnaev’s just to feel better about ourselves.

    Finally, just to be consistent with my own words and not stray too much further, this officer’s photos are just as important to the pursuit of meaningful discussion on the subject. Harrowing images, I can’t imagine being the photographer tasked with being right in the line of fire along with the brave law enforcement officials. Paired with the controversial selfie RS chose, it’s a powerful dichotomy and I’m glad they were released.

    Thanks for reading this far.

  • Helo

    Pardon me if it’s not readily apparent, but I don’t see how anything I respectfully replied can be construed as an approval of any kind for what Tsarnaev did to the people in the community I was raised in. You have my sincerest apologies if that’s what was interpreted.

    RS touched a nerve and started a discussion. By and large, it’s been about wether the chosen photo is appropriate. I’m more concerned by the debate for what it says about us than what it says about RS or Tsarnaev himself.

    Do you feel that this concern of mine is unfounded and out of place? If so, my apologies for inadvertently hijacking your train of thought. Good luck to you, hopefully there are other subjects that we can discuss under calmer circumstances (i.e. Canon vs. Nikon, portrait lighting, etc.).

  • Vin Weathermon

    So is the story that the cover was attempting to drive people towards legitimate or not?

  • Theranthrope

    It’s good to see where the Boston Police Departments lie; in bringing the hammer down hard and fast on an officer who leaked photographs, rather than on their officers’ repeated incidents of real misconduct and brutality.

    “To Protect and Serve” …themselves.