BY ALAN BURKE
---- — BOSTON — If your vision of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev involves a beaten, bloodied fugitive cowering in a boat while the red dots of laser sights pinpoint his forehead, you can thank retired state police Sgt. Sean Murphy.
Lisa Beloff, of Marblehead by way of Salem, was one of those who wanted to thank Murphy, who jeopardized his job this summer by releasing photos he’d taken at Tsarnaev’s dramatic capture in Watertown in April. Beloff, like Murphy, viewed the photo release as an antidote to Rolling Stone magazine’s glamorized cover image of the man accused of killing two women, a man and an 8-year-old boy.
So,she started a Facebook page, “Save Sgt. Sean Murphy.” Her efforts drew nearly 70,000 people to her site, almost all offering praise for the trooper.
“What she did really made a difference,” Murphy said.
Murphy and Beloff had never met — until yesterday, that is, when they were united before television cameras in the office of his lawyer, Lenny Kestens. This took place on Boylston Street in Boston, a site literally overlooking the marathon finish line, the location of the bombing.
“Thank you,” said Murphy as the pair embraced on first sight. “What you did for me was amazing. I can’t thank you enough.”
“So many people want to thank you,” Beloff replied.
Her interest in the case, she said, stemmed partly from the fact that her late grandfather, Paul Beloff, was also a state police sergeant. She had never been involved in anything like this before, she said. Thinking the site would mainly be of interest to friends and family members, she made the effort so that “At least I could put my head on the pillow at night and know I tried.”
But the site took off as people signed on from as far away as New Zealand.
“You deserve this,” she told Murphy yesterday. “You were out there by yourself.”
Before TV cameras, a grateful Murphy offered her gifts, including a poster of a famous Norman Rockwell illustration showing a police officer treating a “runaway” boy to a meal at a soda fountain. It was signed by a retired trooper who worked with Rockwell in creating the work.
“A lot of people would be proud to have you as their head of social media,” Murphy told her.
Until now, said Beloff, she kept her name and involvement a secret. Married with two kids, she works at a country club. She worried that releasing her name might backfire on her 9-year-old son. There was some reason to worry.
“I got a lot of negative comments,” she said, describing the people responsible as “crazies.” Their words were promptly removed from the site. Inspired in part, perhaps, by Rolling Stone-type photos, Tsarnaev has attracted sympathizers.
“It’s amazing that there are people who believe that what happened right outside this window was a conspiracy,” Murphy said.
The bulk of people logging on were supportive, even urging Murphy to run for office, she said. “They were proud of him.”
One purpose of her effort, she said, was to try to prevent any sanctions being taken against the trooper, who violated department rules by posting the photos without authorization. Murphy served a brief suspension, was transferred to another assignment and lost vacation days. Then he retired.
Beloff expressed disappointment that he no longer has his job. “That’s a shame,” she said.
On the other hand, Murphy said he has no regrets. He described the night of Tsarnaev’s capture as “as real as it gets — everyone came together.” He added that he bears the state police no ill will.
“I retired after 25 years with a full pension,” he said, adding that, at age 48, it was entirely his decision. He loved his job taking photos, however, and after he made the decision to release the Tsarnaev images, “I knew the state police would never allow me to use a camera again.”
“I did the right thing,” Murphy told reporters yesterday. “The way I see it there was no way I couldn’t have done it. Anyone in my circumstances would have done the same thing.” The photo he’d taken simply wouldn’t keep. “I had the real image of the face of terror.”
Asked by Channel 5’s Kelley Tuthill about recent remarks by HBO television comic Bill Maher downplaying the impact of the bombing, Murphy reacted sharply, noting that Maher mentioned three fatalities, (apparently referring to Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Martin Richard), forgetting the subsequent murder of MIT officer Sean Collier. Moreover, Maher said they died.
“The people at the marathon didn’t die,” Murphy said. “They were killed.”
Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.