By HILDA MUÑOZ, JENNY WILSON and JOSH KOVNER, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
7:40 AM EDT, April 20, 2013
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —
Friends and family of the brothers who authorities say planted the bombs at the Boston Marathon struggled to explain Friday the actions of young men who lived, studied and played in the very community they are suspected of attacking.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed in a shootout with police, was a boxer and father who had created a YouTube channel called "Terrorists." A neighbor said he spoke of hating America.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, captured late Friday, was a wrestler and college student who friends say volunteered in a "Best Buddies" program for kids with learning disorders.
David Mijares said he had been friends in high school with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and had coached Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in junior varsity soccer at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, a public school near Harvard University in Cambridge.
"I just wonder who influenced them, because this wasn't of their making, they didn't just suddenly change," Mijares said.
A man who lived in the same Cambridge neighborhood as the brothers and speaks Russian said the older one told him "he was upset with America because America was in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries." The man, who declined to give his name, added, "Should I have called someone to tell them this guy doesn't like America? I'm having second thoughts."
The brothers were ethnic Chechens born in Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian republic that was part of the former Soviet Union. The family had sought refuge from fighting in Chechnya, said a Russian official. The family then moved for a short time to Makhachkala in Dagestan, next to Chechnya, a mainly Muslim Russian republic that fought a war with Russia marked by terrorist attacks in Moscow and Beslan.
The family then came to the U.S. as refugees, said a law enforcement official, and was granted asylum.
Their aunt, Maret Tsarnaev of Toronto, told Canada's CTV the two were "very normal men," but also said Tamerlan Tsarnaev "seemingly did not find himself yet in America because it's not easy," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev's YouTube channel, created in August 2012, has religious overtones, as well as links to lighter fare, such as sites for "Vasya Oblomov," a satirical music project by Russian musician Vasily Goncharov.
Seven months ago, he created channels, one of which has been removed by YouTube, called "Terrorists" and "Islam." He cached videos about Russians converting to Islam, including one who turned to Shiism, a choice he seemed to denigrate. He also included inspirational videos of scholars who spoke about Islam and how the religion inspires believers and cleanses them of their sins.
The two brothers were named by a national security official as suspects in the bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 170 on Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Although born outside the U.S., they had been in the country for several years.
The FBI in 2011 interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, acting at the request of an unidentified foreign government, a U.S. law enforcement source said on Friday.
But the FBI's dealings with Tamerlan Tsarnaev did not produce any "derogatory" information, and the matter was put "to bed," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The men's father, Anzor Tsarnaev, in a phone interview from Makhachkala, told the Times Friday his sons were innocent. "I will never believe my boys could have done such a terrible thing," he said. "I have no doubt they were set up."
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a one-time Golden Gloves boxer, was killed in a shootout with police late on Thursday. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the target of a massive manhunt on Friday, extending from the Boston suburbs to the Connecticut border, where state police lined the highways, watching for a suspect vehicle.
The first thing that came to Mijares' mind when he saw the pictures was a one-hour drive that he and Tamerlan took together to register to compete at the Golden Gloves.
"During that drive, we spoke on a personal level. He spoke to me about his background, about why he was here," said Mijares, also a boxer. "He said it was scary and a lot of people were getting killed [in Chechnya]. He said Russia was taking over Chechnya and Chechnya didn't want to be a part of Russia."
He said that he and Tamerlan met in 2005 or 2006.
From what Mijares could tell, he was Tsarnaev's closest friend. He said they developed a bond through boxing and because they were both born in foreign countries. Mijares was born in Mexico.
"I was the only person who really hung out with him in high school," he said. "He stayed away from a lot of the white kids because he didn't have any sort of connection with them."
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was very quiet and serious. Getting a conversation going with him took some work, Mijares said. He was also protective of his sister and looked out for anyone in his family. His family was important to him, Mijares said.
Judith Russell of Rhode Island told the Providence Journal that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was married to her daughter, Katherine Russell, 24. She issued a statement:
"Our daughter has lost her husband today, the father of her child. We cannot begin to comprehend how this horrible tragedy occurred. In the aftermath of the Patriot's Day horror, we know that we never really knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Our hearts are sickened by the knowledge by the horror he has inflicted. Please respect our family's privacy in this difficult time."
Mijares said that after Tamerlan graduated from high school, they occasionally bumped into each other around town or at Dzhokhar's soccer games. Tamerlan was very proud of his little brother and would say that Dzhokhar had a lot of promise, said Mijares.
Dzhokhar was more talkative than his older brother, Mijares said.
"He was really nice. He listened very well. I never heard him complain. He was very athletic," he said.
A USA boxing official said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a registered amateur boxer with a club in Somerville in 2003 and 2004 and again in 2008.
In 2009 and 2010, he fought with the South Boston Boxing Club. He fought for the national Golden Gloves heavyweight championship in Salt Lake City in 2009.
Tsarnaev advanced to the Golden Gloves national championship tournament in 2009 by outfighting Connecticut heavyweight Darnell Humphreys of Waterbury.
Humphreys' coach, F. Mac Buckley, remembers Tsarnaev as a handsome young man who was enrolled in college at the time.
Tsarnaev was fighting for the Lowell team and Buckley said there were many watching the fight, which took place at a Lowell venue, who believed that Humphreys beat Tamerlan but lost the fight on a bad decision by the judges.
Afterward, Buckley said that Tamerlan commiserated with Humphreys outside the hotel where the fight took place.
"I talked to him," Buckley said. "He was a nice kid. He had the accent and stuff, but he spoke fine. He was a good-looking kid."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, graduated from Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in 2011. He received a $2,500 scholarship from the city of Cambridge to be used toward higher education.
He was a wrestler and was honored as the student athlete of the month in February 2011.
Three high school friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wearing shirts and jackets from the wrestling team, showed up at a throng of media members outside a Tsarnaev family apartment on Cambridge Street on Friday afternoon.
John Casanova, Sanjaya Lamichhane and Peter Tenzin wanted to talk about a side of their friend that's different from what appears in news reports. The apartment and entire neighborhood had been sealed-off by police.
Casanova remembered Tsarnaev as someone who was "outgoing and talked to everybody." He was a "good athlete, good student." He said that once, when asked about his life back in Russia, Tsarnaev said, "I don't want to talk about the past. I just want to live my life and go to school here."
Lamichhane, who graduated in 2010, was Tsarnaev's wrestling partner.
"We used to wrestle together. He would motivate me,'' said Lamichhanne, who also attended the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. When he last talked to him, about a year ago, Lamichhane said that Tsarnaev told him, "I am not doing as well as I expected."
Tsarnaev graduated in 2011 from Rindge & Latin, and was both a team captain and an all-star wrestler. His coach told the Boston Globe that he was "just one of us."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is currently enrolled as a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a university spokesman said.
The three young friends said they only remembered Dzhokhar Tsarnaev mentioning his father once.
Peter Tenzin said he was also involved in a program called "Best Buddies" with Tsarnaev that helped kids with learning disorders
"It's a program where kids would meet up and we would take time and we would really do arts and crafts, eat, play," said Tenzin. "He was really involved into it."
UMass Dartmouth was evacuated Friday, and dozens of students stood in small clusters on the grassy shoulders of the entrance way to campus, waiting in many cases for family or friends to take them back home.
Student Alyse Peak said that "it came as a shock" to learn that the campus was linked to one of worst crimes in Boston history. She was waiting to go from the evacuated campus back to Boston, which is locked down. She said that she was hoping to "get through and get home."
Patric Yaghoobian, 20, of Millbury, Mass., a sophomore electrical engineering major, said he lived in the dorm room next to Tsarnaev this year. He said that he had a casual relationship with suspect, who was also a sophomore.
"I'd see him coming and out of his room and around campus," he said. "He seemed like a normal, calm kid. He didn't seem to be angry and he never had an angry expression on his face."
Yaghoobian said he would glance into Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's room now and then if the door was open. He called it an "average college room, like mine even. Nothing on the walls that really stuck out."
Yaghoobian said that he knew Tsarnaev when both were freshmen and that "nothing changed from last year to this year. He did not have a high profile on campus."
Student Corinna Caraballo, 19, a freshman marketing major, said: "I'm scared. It's a scary thought that he was under the same roof as us ... going to school with us, nonchalantly. And he's still hiding somewhere."
Freshman Nicole Larriu, 19, said that she, too, would be "concerned for my safety" until Tsarnaev was caught.
The FBI conducted interviews with relatives of the two brothers Friday morning at a home in the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., according to Richard Wolf, an FBI spokesman.
The Tsarnaev brothers and their two sisters moved to the Dagestan region of Russia in October 2001 from the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan as refugees, and left for the U.S in March 2002, said Emirmagomed Davudov, director of Gimnasium Number 1 in Dagestan, where Tamerlan went to the seventh grade and Dzhokhar to the first grade.
Ruslan Tsarni, their uncle in Gaithersburg, said that his brother's children immigrated to the U.S. in 2003, arriving in Cambridge. Asked for a possible motive for the attacks, Tsarni called them "losers not being able to settle themselves and thereby just hating everybody who did."
Courant staff writers Edmund H. Mahony and Denise Buffa contributed to this story. Los Angeles Times and wire reports are also included.
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant