The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 6, 2013

His hero crown is uneasily worn


The Mankato Free Press

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When is a hero not a hero? When you inadvertently save lives by simply saving yourself.

That¹s the "plight," if you will, a young Chinese immigrant in Boston findshimself in. Of all the Boston Marathon post-bombing tales of heroism — police,bystanders, medical personnel — the tale of "Danny" has to be the mostcompelling.Danny — he wants to remain anonymous — kept his cool after being carjackedby the fleeing, explosive-laden Tsarnaev brothers who, it¹s been surmised,wanted to be driven to New York to cause more carnage.Danny has told media that he knew early on in the carjacking that thebrothers likely were the bombers because the older brother, Tamerlan,boasted about it.He also reasoned that the end game of his journey with them wouldn¹t endwell for him. And that¹s when Danny, who became locked in a very human,nonheroic quest for mere survival, laid the groundwork for heroismnonetheless.In a scene straight out of some Quentin Tarantino movie, the 26-year-oldseemingly doomed victim blithely chatted with his 26-year-old captor aboutgirls, credit limits for students, the iPhone 5, the Mercedes ML 350 he wasdriving, and whether people still listened to CDs.And throughout all that mundane chat, Danny said, he kept searching forclues about how and where they might kill him.They rode around Boston streets like this for 90 minutes, finally stoppingat a gas station to refuel. Danny, sensing this might be his only chance to save his life, unbuckledhis seat belt and bolted out the door, Tamerlan grabbing for him and barelymissing. Sprinting at an angle in fear of a bullet in the back, Danny ran across thestreet to another station. The cops were called and Danny informed them thecar could be tracked by his iPhone still in the vehicle and the Mercedes'own satellite system.That was done, and awhile later one brother lay dead and the other seriouslywounded. Danny's car bore 32 bullet holes. He was a month-and-a-half into his lease.If not for his decision to bolt from the car, the brothers might haveproceeded to New York and killed anew with the cache of explosives they had.People crave heroes in these types of tragedies, but Danny knows thedifference between who real ones are and what he did at that gas station ashe literally shook with fear.It would have been easy to brandish the hero card that was foisted on him,but he refused to take the bait.On TV the other night, his face in shadows, he cut short any and all suchtalk: He emphasized that he's not a hero; he's just human."What I was doing was trying to save myself."

Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or emailbojanpa@mankatofreepress.com.