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Patriots Day: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan | based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent hunt for the terrorists responsible

Kevin Bacon
Born: July 8, 1958
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Special Agent Richard DesLauriers
Born: January 26, 1960
Birthplace: Massachusetts, USA
John Goodman
Born: June 20, 1952
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Commissioner Ed Davis
Born: July 31, 1956
Birthplace: Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
J.K. Simmons
Born: January 9, 1955
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese
Born: May 21, 1956
Birthplace: Watertown, Massachusetts, USA
Michael Beach
Born: October 30, 1963
Roxbury, Massachusetts, USA
Governor Deval Patrick
Born: July 31, 1956
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Christopher O'Shea
Patrick Downes
Born: abt 1983
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Rachel Brosnahan
Born: December 15, 1990
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Jessica Kensky
Born: abt 1981
Birthplace: Sacramento, California, USA
Dustin Tucker
Born: May 15, 1979
Amarillo, Texas, USA
Steve Woolfenden
Born: abt 1974
Birthplace: Massachusetts, USA
Lucas Thor Kelley
Born: August 29, 2012
Dayville, Connecticut, USA
Leo Woolfenden
Born: abt 2009
Birthplace: Salem, Massachusetts, USA
Alex Wolff
Born: November 1, 1997
New York City, New York, USA
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Born: July 22, 1993
Birthplace: Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan
Themo Melikidze
Born: February 21, 1992
Tbilisi, Georgia
Tamerlan Tsarnaev
Born: October 21, 1986
Birthplace: Elista, Kalmyk, Russia, Soviet Union
Death: April 19, 2013, Watertown, Massachusetts, USA (gunshot wounds and run over by SUV)
Melissa Benoist
Born: October 4, 1988
Littleton, Colorado, USA
Katherine Russell
Born: abt 1989
Birthplace: North Kingstown, Rhode Island, USA
Jimmy O. Yang
Born: June 11, 1987
Hong Kong
Dun "Danny" Meng
Birthplace: China
Jake Picking
Officer Sean Collier
Born: January 3, 1986
Birthplace: Massachusetts, USA
Death: April 18, 2013, MIT Campus (shot by terrorists)
Cliff Moylan
Born: August 17, 1975
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Sergeant John MacLellan
Born: abt 1965
Birthplace: Watertown, Massachusetts, USA
James Colby
Born: September 20, 1961
Arlington, Massachusetts, USA
Superintendent Billy Evans
Born: 1958
Birthplace: South Boston, Massachusetts, USA
I remember a lot of pressure on my chest, felt like someone was sitting on my chest but it was from the nurse holding me down, and I remember her screaming, 'Oh s***, he's still on fire.' -Boston Marathon Bombing Amputee Marc Fucarile, Testimony at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Trial, April 2015

Questioning the Story:

Is Mark Wahlberg's character, Tommy Saunders, based on a real person?

No. In researching the Patriots Day true story, we quickly discovered that he is a "composite" character who is largely fictional. "There were many police officers who were instrumental in different parts of the investigation," says actor Mark Wahlberg. "So Tommy Saunders is actually a composite character." Producer Scott Stuber added, "As we started to realize how many different Boston police officers were in different places of importance, the most respectful thing we could do is to say that Mark was representing law enforcement. There was no one person everywhere." This also obviously means that Tommy Saunder's wife Carol, portrayed by Michelle Monaghan in the movie, is a fictional character.

Some critics have complained that Mark Wahlberg's fictional Tommy Saunders character shifts the movie's focus away from the real heroes.

Is Patriots Day based on a book?

No. In fact-checking the Patriots Day movie, we discovered that the film was born from two screenplays, one that revolved around the manhunt (Boston Strong) and one based on a 60 Minutes episode about the bombing (Patriots Day). The first was entertaining but largely fictional and the second was factually accurate but lacked dramatic tension. They were combined to create a screenplay that fell somewhere in the middle, giving way to a story that is bountiful in procedural accuracy but built around a fictional hero, Boston Police Officer Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg).

How many people died or were injured as a result of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing?

Three people died and an estimated 264 were wounded as a direct result of the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 (view footage of the explosions). 17 people underwent amputations, with some suffering full or partial traumatic amputations during the blasts ( These individuals include newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, who are portrayed by Christopher O'Shea and Rachel Brosnahan in the movie. Both were standing near the finish line and lost their left legs below the knee in the attack (Jessica would eventually also lose her right leg as well). Like others, they also suffered shrapnel wounds and perforated eardrums. Watch the real Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky discuss the tragedy and the movie.

"I have little glimpses in my memory from those first days," Jessica Kensky said in an interview. "I have stories people told me later. But the really painful stuff, it kind of fades away. It's just too much. I remember writing the words 'Patrick's foot.' I had no idea at that point that I had lost a leg. The only thing I could think about was Patrick's foot, laying on the ground. Then he wasn't there. He was taken to a different hospital." Patrick and Jessica didn't see each other for more than fifteen days, until she was stable enough to be moved to visit Patrick (their reunion happens much earlier in the movie), and it was another five weeks until they were relocated into a room together at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, after Patrick's fevers and infections subsided. Three years later, Patrick completed the 2016 Boston Marathon, running 26.2 miles as a single-leg amputee. -Boston College News

Newlyweds Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes both suffered amputations of the left leg (Jessica would later lose her right leg too). Christopher O'Shea and Rachel Brosnahan portray the couple in the Patriots Day movie (right).

Does the movie get the details of the bombing and manhunt right?

For the most part, yes. Of course, the biggest deviation from the Patriots Day true story is the presence of fictional police officer Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg).

The Attack: The attack occurred during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. More than 23,000 people participated in the marathon, with thousands more there to cheer them on. At exactly 2:49 p.m. in the afternoon, with the marathon well underway, two pressure-cooker bombs concealed in backpacks exploded approximately 12 seconds apart near the finish line at Boylston Street (see footage of the explosions). Spectators had filled the area to welcome runners and loved ones as they completed the marathon. This section of Boylston Street was meticulously reconstructed on a remote set for the film. The explosions and ensuing chaos in the movie are very accurate to what happened that day.

Identifying the Suspects: The FBI began analyzing hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and honed in on two men, Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. A citywide search began for 26-year-old Tamerlan and 19-year-old Dzhokhar. Shortly after the FBI released their images, news broke on April 18 that 27-year-old MIT police officer Sean Collier had been shot in his patrol car and pronounced dead after being transported to the hospital. After killing Collier, the Tsarnaev brothers then carjacked Dun Meng and held him hostage until he was able to escape when they stopped at a gas station. Like in the movie, Meng ran across the street to a convenience store for help. An employee called the police and the FBI was able to pinpoint the location of the vehicle by tracking the GPS signal. Watch the real Dun Meng describe the carjacking.

The Shootout: The authorities located the SUV in Watertown where the two terrorists engaged in a shootout with police. The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot eight times in the firefight and then his younger brother Dzhokhar, in an attempt to run over the police holding down Tamerlan, ran over Tamerlan instead and escaped in the stolen SUV (ABC News). Tamerlan died at the hospital a short time later. As police fired at the fleeing SUV, transit police officer Richard Donohue was hit in the groin by a ricocheting bullet and suffered severe blood loss but survived. 28-year-old Boston Police Officer Dennis 'DJ' Simmonds (not shown in the movie) was also wounded and passed away from his injuries almost a year later. The real Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and Sergeant John MacLellan describe the Watertown firefight.

The Manhunt and Capture: On April 19, an enormous manhunt involving 3,000 to 4,000 law enforcement officers ensued for Dzhokhar as they combed a 20-block area of Watertown. Residents were told to stay indoors and public transportation was shut down. At approximately 6 p.m., Watertown resident David Henneberry discovered Dzhokhar hiding in his boat in his backyard. Police used thermal imaging from a helicopter above to pinpoint his location within the boat. Officers on the ground fired on the boat and launched flashbangs and smoke grenades into it before a badly wounded Dzhokhar surrendered and was taken to the hospital. See images and video from Dzhokhar's capture.

Was there really a debate over making the images of the suspects public?

Yes. "There was a robust debate about making the images public," says former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. "At that point, there had been at least one person misidentified by a newspaper. We didn't know how many people were involved. Who were they connected to? Was there more? So, I supported making the images public, but not before the President leaves." -Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing

Did Katherine Russell, widow of terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev, know about the attack beforehand?

According to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow, Katherine Russell, she says that she did not know about the attack that her husband and brother-in-law were planning. Patriots Day producer Michael Radutzky defended the movie's stance, stating that multiple sources shared with him information gathered during Russell's interrogation (the official interrogation transcripts have not been released by the FBI). Though she has never been charged with a crime in relation to her husband's act of terror, director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) says that he questions how a woman could live in a small apartment with the bombers and not realize what they were up to. The movie concludes with updates on the investigation, stating that law enforcement continues to look for information pertaining to Katherine Russell's possible involvement, something that her lawyer says is news to him, implying that it is not true. -Daily Mail Online

A mugshot of the real Katherine Russell (left) after her 2007 arrest on shoplifting charges. Actress Melissa Benoist (right) as Russell in the movie.

Was there evidence that Tamerlan's wife, Katherine Russell, was hoping to be rewarded for being the wife of a martyr?

Yes. In the movie, the interrogator implies that they knew that Katherine Russell had been looking into this. In real life, computer expert Mark Spencer testified at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial that Katherine Russell's computer revealed that she had done searches that included phrases like "rewards for wife of mujahideen [holy warrior]" and "if your husband becomes a shahid [martyr] what are the rewards for you?" The searches were done more than a year before the bombings.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, Katherine texted a friend, "A lot more people are killed every day in Syria [and] other places. Innocent people."

Who were brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

The Tsarnaev brothers were born in the Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and moved to America in 2002 when their parents applied for political asylum in the U.S. The younger brother, Dzhokhar, was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts' Dartmouth campus. The older Tamerlan married Katherine Russell in 2010 and they had a young daughter. After his promising boxing career had taken a turn, Tamerlan was left unemployed and his radical Muslim ideologies had taken an increasingly militant tone.

At the same time, Dzhokhar seemed to be living the life of a normal college student, going to parties and tweeting about his penchant for alcohol, girls and weed, which are not exactly the typical interests of a Muslim extremist. It is relatively clear that the onset of much of Dzhokhar's radical anti-American views were largely due to the growing influence of his older brother. Like their mother, both believed that 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. government to create mass hatred for Muslims (they tell this to carjacking victim Dun Meng in the movie). In the weeks before the bombings, Dzhokhar's tweets to his followers reflected the brothers' looming intentions. "If you have the knowledge and the inspiration all that's left is to take action." Those actions, which unfolded on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon, led to Dzhokhar being sentenced to death.

Did slain MIT police officer Sean Collier really have a budding romance with an MIT student?

No. Director Peter Berg said that he added the romance to the movie to help convey Collier's appeal. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer was shot and killed in his cruiser by the bombers when they tried to steal his gun.

Did carjacking victim Dun Meng really have the GPS tracking number of his SUV memorized?

Yes. As hard as it is to believe, the real Dun Meng, an app developer, had actually memorized the tracking number of the GPS in his Mercedes SUV. If he hadn't given the number to police, they may never have been able to track down the stolen SUV before the bombers reached Times Square, their next intended target. Like in Patriots Day, Dun Meng was carjacked in the first place because, in an effort to be responsible, he had pulled off the road to type a text message. He says that his time with the bombers is accurately depicted in the film, right down to Dzhokhar asking if there was a jack in the car so he could play his music.

The real Dun Meng had memorized his car's GPS tracking number.

Does the movie use actual surveillance footage?

Yes. In many instances the movie utilizes actual surveillance footage. It complements director Peter Berg's affinity for handheld camerawork, and it is often blended so well into the film that it's hard to tell if we're watching real or recreated surveillance footage.

Did Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, portrayed by J.K. Simmons, really tackle terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev?

Yes. Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese of the Watertown Police Department indeed played a major role in the real firefight. He had just finished a 16-hour shift and decided to be an extra set of eyes on the carjacking, not knowing he would be arriving to a gunfight. The FBI had located the carjacked SUV by tracking its GPS signal. Like in the Patriots Day movie, Pugliese arrived on the scene and flanked terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev. They moved quickly toward each other shooting, and when Tamerlan's gun would no longer fire, he threw it at Pugliese and turned to flee. Pugliese ran after him and tackled him to the pavement. As other officers helped to subdue Tamerlan, the terrorist's younger brother Dzhokhar got in the stolen SUV and attempted to run down the officers but ran over his brother instead, adding to Tamerlan's fatal injuries. Pugliese worked closely with the filmmakers to get his role in the shootout right.

"We shot the home scenes at their house," says actor J.K. Simmons, noting details right down to the inclusion of "Jeff's Sauce," Pugliese's own homemade pasta sauce. "The director and producers went above and beyond making sure they got it right," says Pugliese. "When I was on set, many times [Peter Berg] would stop the action, in the middle of shooting, and ask me, 'Jeff, is that how it went down?' "

The real Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese shot terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev and tackled him to the ground after being fired at. The terrorist's brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, then tried to run the officers over but ran over his brother.

Did officers really fire at a police vehicle as it left the scene of the Watertown shootout?

Yes. There was a mistaken police radio report that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had fled the Watertown scene in a state police SUV that he stole. Like in the movie, police fired multiple rounds at the SUV as it left the scene of the shootout. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Were the real people involved in the making of the movie?

Yes. While fact-checking the Patriots Day movie, we learned that the filmmakers interviewed first responders and many eyewitnesses. They worked with Watertown Sgt. Jeff Pugliese (portrayed by J.K. Simmons), Police Commissioner Ed Davis (played by John Goodman), and Dun Meng, the man that bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev carjacked and held hostage. They came to the set and worked with the actors who portray them. Commissioner Davis commented on the accuracy of John Goodman's portrayal. "Right down to the scarf I was wearing and the jacket I had on. He practiced my accent and sounded just like me" ( They shot scenes at real-life locations, including the former home of Sean Collier, the MIT patrol officer who was killed by the terrorists. The home's pink interior walls were left untouched for the film.

Some of the survivors who were initially against the film changed their minds after seeing it. This included Marc Fucarile (not represented in the movie), who lost his leg in the bombing. "Surprisingly it was really good," he said in an interview on Kirk & Callahan.

Boston Marathon Bombing Footage & Related Interviews

The videos below offer a firsthand look at the tragic events that unfolded at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, including footage of the two explosions and their aftermath. Further deepen your knowledge of the Patriots Day true story by watching survivor interviews.

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