Widow of Ibragim Todashev seeks ‘justice’ for husband who was shot and killed during FBI interview in Florida
A few hours into her morning shift as an assistant housekeeping manager at Georgia hotel, Reni Manukyan looked down at her phone and saw a series of text messages from a close friend.
“Are you watching the news?” the texts asked. “The FBI shot a man in Orlando named Ibragim? What’s your husband’s last name? Is it him?”
Immediately, Manukyan said, she knew her husband had been killed. Ducking into one of the hotel’s staff rooms, she broke into heavy tears.
In an interview with the Globe Thursday, Manukyan described how she has struggled to wrap her head around the narrative pushed by the authorities since May 22 when Ibragim Todashev was shot to death in Orlando.
At the time, the 27-year-old Todashev was being questioned by an FBI agent and two Massachusetts State Police troopers about his friendship with accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and a 2011 triple murder in Waltham.
Manukyan said that on the day her husband was killed, her cellphone was bombarded with a flurry of text messages from friends who were seeing news reports that her husband had been killed. Finally, she called his mother in Russia who happily answered, unaware of the shooting.
Twenty minutes later, the FBI called and told her to stay at work, they were on the way.
When agents arrived, they brought her into a room to tell her that her husband was dead.
“We wanted to be the first to tell you this,” she recalls the agent saying, to which she responded: “You all are the last to tell me.”
Moments after telling her that her husband had been killed, Manukyan says the FBI agents in Georgia interrogated her, threatening that now was her chance to come clean if she knew anything about the Waltham murders.
Manukyan, who emigrated to the United States from Russia in 2006, met Todashev through his roommate in Boston, another Chechen man, in May 2010. Two months later, the two were wed at a Boston area mosque.
The couple then moved to Georgia, but Todashev returned to Boston in the summer of 2011. In September 2011, she said, her husband rejoined her back in Atlanta and the two then moved to Orlando.
Manukyan, who separated from her husband in November and lives in Atlanta, had been previously questioned in her Georgia home at the same time as her husband was being interviewed in his Orlando apartment. The questions, she said, revolved solely around her knowledge of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the Marathon bombings and did not include any about the Waltham murders.
When she finished the two-hour interview, she called her husband, who did not answer.
“That gave me a weird feeling,” Manukyan said, adding that in the past Todashev had answered her phone calls or, at least, responded with a text message even when he was in FBI interviews.
She checked her phone again when she woke up around 5 a.m. the next morning. Still no word from Todashev.
Unknown to Manukyan at the time was that her husband’s five-hour interview had turned deadly.
After the first few hours, Todashev’s best friend Khusen Taramov was asked to leave. What exactly happened during the hours after Taramov left remains clouded in confusion.
A Boston FBI agent, accompanied by two Massachusetts State Police troopers, was interviewing Todashev on the ground level of his two-story town house. The open floor plan contained a kitchen area – which sat behind a bar-style set of seats – as well as a living room area with a king sized mattress and small coffee table, Manukyan said.
FBI officials have said that Todashev was in the process of implicating himself and Tsarnaev in an unsolved triple murder when he attacked the agent conducting the interview and was shot and killed.
Some media outlets, including the Globe, have reported that Todashev attacked the officers with a “blade” – with reports differing on whether it was a knife or a sword. Others, including The New York Times, have reported that Todashev’s weapon was a “pole” that could have been a broomstick. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have reported that Todashev was unarmed when he was killed.
Manukyan said there was a fake, decorative sword hanging on the wall in the living room. The handle, however, was broken and the blade was not sharp, she said.
She and Taramov have also noted that Todashev was recovering from a knee injury incurred in a mixed martial arts fight, which they believe would have made him incapable of charging the agent.
Officials in the FBI’s Boston, Tampa, and Washington, D.C., offices are refusing to comment on or refute any of the media reports, all of which cite unnamed “law enforcement officials.”
State Police officials have refused to confirm whether or not the two state police officers were in the room at the time of the shooting.
Photos of Todashev’s body taken by Taramov, who is helping facilitate his burial in Russia, and provided to the Globe, show the man was shot at least seven times. Wounds that appear to be caused by bullets are visible at the top of his head, in his shoulder, stomach, and chest. Family members have said that the Florida medical examiner told them that Todashev was shot seven times.
Seizing on the media reports claiming Todashev was unarmed, the Council of American-Islamic Relations as well as family members in Russia have called for an independent investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
Federal officials have not committed to conducting a separate investigation, but have noted that the Depoartment of Justice is involved in the current investigation into the shooting.
“The Civil Rights Division is currently monitoring the FBI Inspection Division’s inquiry into this matter while it progresses, coordinating with the FBI and reviewing evidence as it is obtained,” said Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, in a statement on Friday. “As it does with all such matters, the Civil Rights Division will make an independent determination whether a civil rights investigation is warranted. If further investigation is warranted, the Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida will direct that investigation and make an independent decision.”
But Manukyan said that her husband’s death needs an independent investigation, questioning whether the FBI can fairly access a shooting by one of their own.
“Even if he was signing a confession, it still doesn’t make sense why they would shoot and kill him,” she said. “I want justice.”Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.