Get your Internet over to Boston magazine to see raw police photos of the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They are the work of Massachusetts State Police tactical photographer Sgt. Sean Murphy, who was on top of the action on the April night when authorities apprehended the suspect.

These are new and powerful photographs. The most stunning of the set is at the top of Boston Magazine’s presentation, showing Tsarnaev standing with a sniper’s red laser beam on his forehead. He appears to be giving himself up. Other shots depict a bloody and apparently exhausted Tsarnaev, not to mention scenes in which authorities confer in the midst of the manhunt.

The release of the photographs enhances the public’s understanding of the manhunt, though the Massachusetts State Police sees no public service in the act. Last night, Murphy was relieved of duty, according to Boston Magazine. That doesn’t mean that he was fired; the “status of his duty” will be reviewed next week, according to the magazine.

A state police spokesman said, “The department will not release the photographs to media outlets.” Legal types worry that distribution of the photos will make it harder to put together a jury in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case.

In a statement explaining why he released the photos, Murphy attacked the Rolling Stone image, which has caused a massive stir:

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. I know from first-hand conversations that this Rolling Stone cover has kept many of them up—again. It’s irritated the wounds that will never heal—again. There is nothing glamorous in bringing more pain to a grieving family.

Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

The publication of the chillin’ image of Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone, in fact, actuated Murphy to do what he did. This is how Boston Magazine described his emotions: He “is so angered by the cover — which he says is both dangerous and insulting to the victims of the bombings — that he feels the need to counter the message that it conveys.”

There’s no questioning the purity of Murphy’s motives. His statement reflects a sense of duty and a loyalty to those afflicted by the Boston bombings.

Yet his view of reality appears limited. In professing that his photos captured something “real,” he is suggesting that the image on the cover of Rolling Stone represents something less than “real” — that the Tsarnaev that looks at us from the magazine cover is somehow fake or artificial. Only it is not. That is a version of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that’s just as real as the weary, bloody version that we see in the police photos. It’s merely taken at a different point in his life. No amount of gory manhunt photography will undo the fact that Tsarnaev was once, by all accounts, a gregarious and well-adjusted part of our society. Rolling Stone set out to tell that story.

These photos show the “monster” terminus of the evolution that Rolling Stone documented in its feature-investigative piece. By pairing the story with a photo of Tsarnaev looking relaxed and inviting, the magazine, critics have argued, glamorized him and even provided incentives for others to follow his example.

One question: If you buy into the glamorization-copycat argument, don’t these police photos represent the same dangers as the Rolling Stone presentation? After all, if the goal in the mind of the terrorist madman is to gain public fame, isn’t all publicity good publicity? Doesn’t a set of gory photos enhance the mythic standing of a terrorist madman? Clicks equal status, right? Look at how many people have descended on the Boston Magazine site, according to editor John Wolfson:


The Erik Wemple Blog is waiting for the backlash against Boston Magazine.