BOSTON – Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an amateur boxer who had hoped to fight on the U.S. Olympic team, a man who said he had no American friends. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrestled at a prestigious high school, won a scholarship from his city and went on to university.
Two brothers, one dead, one alive. In the hours after grainy video of two men in baseball caps was released by police Thursday, a portrait gradually emerged of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.
They had come to the United States about 10 years ago from a Russian region near Chechnya, according to an uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md. They had two sisters. As kids they rode bikes and skateboards on quiet Norfolk Street in Cambridge, Mass.
But their lives appeared to take different turns — at least until this week, when a video caught them together on Boylston Street, moments before two bombs unleashed terror at the finish line of America’s most famous race.
Tamerlan, believed to be 26 when he was killed overnight Friday in a shootout, dropped out after studying accounting at Bunker Hill Community College for just three semesters.
“I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.” he was quoted as saying in a photo package in a Boston University student magazine in 2010.
He identified himself then as a Muslim and said he did not drink or smoke: “God said no alcohol.” He said he hoped to fight for the U.S. Olympic team and become a naturalized American. He said he was studying to become an engineer.
More recently, Tamerlan — married, with a young daughter — became a more devout Muslim, according to his aunt, Maret Tsarnaeva. She told reporters outside her Toronto home Friday that the older brother had taken to praying five times a day.
Tamerlan traveled to Russia last year and returned to the U.S. six months later, government officials told The Associated Press. More wasn’t known about his travels.
According to law enforcement records he was arrested, in 2009, for assault and battery on a girlfriend; the charges were dismissed.
On a YouTube channel, he recently shared videos of lectures from a radical Islamic cleric; in one, voices can be heard singing in Arabic as bombs explode.
“My son, Tamerlan, got involved in religious politics five years ago,” his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, told Russia Today television in an interview from Dagestan, the Russian republic bordering Chechnya where she and her husband are living. “He started following his own religious aspects. He never, never told me he would be on the side of jihad.”
His younger brother, who was widely known as “Jahar,” may have followed in his footsteps. “He talked about his brother in good ways,” said Pamala Rolon, who was the residential adviser in the dorm where Dzhokhar lived at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. “I could tell he looked up to his brother.”
Dzhokhar was described by friends as well-adjusted and well-liked in both high school and college.
“I’m in complete shock,” said Rose Schutzberg, 19, who graduated high school with Dzhokhar and now attends Barnard College in New York. “He was a very studious person. He was really popular. He wrestled. People loved him.”
In fact, Schutzberg said, she had “a little crush” on him in high school. “He’s a great guy,” she said. “He’s smart, funny. He’s definitely a really sweet person, very kind-hearted, kind soul.”
Dzhokhar, 19, attended the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin school, participating on the wrestling team.
He was currently attending the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Mass., university officials said Friday. He lived on the third floor of the Pine Dale dormitory. Harry Danso, who lives on the same floor, told the AP he saw him in a dorm hallway this week. “He was regular, he was calm,” said Danso.
The school would not say what he was studying. The father of the suspects, Anzor Tsarnaev, told the AP his younger son was “a second-year medical student,” though he graduated high school in 2011. “My son is a true angel … ,” he said by telephone from the Russian city of Makhachkala. “He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here.”
Dzhokhar’s page on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says that before moving to the United States, he attended School No. 1 in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus that has become an epicenter of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from Chechnya. On the site, he describes himself as speaking Chechen as well as English and Russian. His world view is described as “Islam” and he says his personal goal is “career and money.”
Deana Beaulieu, 20, lives two blocks away from the suspects’ home on Norfolk Street, went to high school with Dzhokhar and was friendly with his sister.
Beaulieu says she didn’t recall Dzhokhar expressing any political views.
Florida Addy, 19, of Lynn, Mass., said she lives in the same college dorm with Dzhokhar this year and was on the same floor last year. She called him “drug” (pronounced droog), the Russian word for friend, a word he taught her.
Addy said she saw Dzhokhar last week, when she bummed a cigarette from him. They would occasionally hang out in his room or at the New Bedford apartment of Russian students he knew. He generally wore a hoodie or a white T-shirt and sweatpants, and spent a lot of his time with other kids from Russia.
She described him as down to earth and friendly, even a little mysterious, but in a charming way. She had just learned that he had a girlfriend, although she did not attend the university.
“He was nice. He was cool. I’m just in shock,” she said.
Tamerlan was more defined by athletics, and clearly proud of his boxing prowess. USA Boxing spokeswoman Julie Goldsticker said Tamerlan registered with the group as an amateur boxer from 2003 to 2004, and again from 2008 to 2010. He competed as a heavyweight in the National Golden Gloves competition in Salt Lake City on May 4, 2009, losing his only bout.
Portland Boxing Club owner Bob Russo, who coached the team that Tamerlan was a part of, said on Friday that he barely remembered him, other than he seemed somewhat distant and kept to himself.
The Washington Post contributed to this story.