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How Oregon company helped in capture of Boston bomb suspect

Posted: Updated: April 22, 2013 03:32 PM
WILSONVILLE, OR (KPTV) -

Law enforcement in Boston searched house by house, car by car and street by street in the hunt for a Boston Marathon bombing suspect, but it turned out a boat happened to be the hiding place of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Wounded and bleeding, Tsarnaev was out of sight last Friday, but the thick layers of shrink wrap covering the boat couldn't shield him from FLIR's thermal technology.

Massachusetts state police used FLIR's thermal cameras to spot the suspect.

"Energy is coming off his head," said Kevin Tucker, FLIR's general manager of surveillance, while looking at the video. "It's coming through his pants where they contact the skin."

FLIR's thermal cameras are used by police departments from Portland to Boston and by the U.S. government.

Andrew Teich, president of the commercial division of FLIR Systems in Wilsonville, OR, said the ability to do air surveillance is one of law enforcement's most powerful tools.

"It was a real win that they could look through the cover and see him lying inside the boat," Teich said.

The intensity of the light in thermal imaging can tell a story invisible to the human eye; for instance, whether a cup holds hot coffee, whether a car's engine is still hot from running, whether a weapon has recently been fired or whether a soldier on the battlefield may be dead or alive.

"If two people were standing next to each other and one of them had just been running, exerting energy, they're going to be warmer, and you can see it," Tucker said.

Though the technology has been around for decades, it keeps getting better. Thermal images used to look somewhat blob-like, but they can now be shown high-definition on a monitor.

But while the technology may be impressive, it does have limits.

If the 20-foot boat had been covered by canvas instead of plastic, Tsarnaev would have been invisible.

"Actually, they can't see you in your house. Thermal imaging does not see through walls. It does not see through glass," Teich said.

Tsarnaev remains hospitalized, but will face a charge of conspiring to use weapon of mass destruction against persons and property in U.S. resulting in death. 

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