Suspect’s Reputation as Normal Kid Is Striking Contrast to Deadly Crime Spree

Family, friends and acquaintances have come forward to describe the two Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of bombing Boston’s Marathon. Ray Suarez talks to Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe and WBUR Public Radio’s David Boeri about the city’s extreme security measures, as well as what reporters know about the lives of the suspects.

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    For more from Boston about the latest and what we're learning about the suspects' lives there, we turn to two journalists who have been out and about in the Boston metro region today, Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe and once again David Boeri of WBUR Public Radio.

    Farah, just a short time ago, the shelter-in-place order was lifted and mass transit is going to start moving again. But you had to move across Boston to get to this camera to talk to us. What was it like in the city?

  • FARAH STOCKMAN, The Boston Globe:

    People were starting to move around a bit. There were a few cars on the road. But the streets are very empty.

    I happen to live a block away from the suspects. And so I was woken up this morning with people calling me, saying, hey, there's something going on, on Norfolk Street. And as I walked down there, cops waved me down and said, you have to go back inside. And so it's been — a lot of people have been staying at home.


    David, it is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. It must have been odd to see it deserted on a weekday.

  • DAVID BOERI, WBUR Public Radio:

    More than odd.

    I mean, what you're seeing here today, as harrowing as this situation is, the fact that there are people running around with bombs and shooting at police, 87 square miles of this metropolitan area were shut down, locked down today. I did the math, Boston and four towns. All mass transit was shut down. The colleges were shut down. Amtrak was shut down.

    Even the train engineers were told to leave the buildings. It is — what we're seeing is really an example, probably a prime example, of the post-9/11 security state. And when you see the vehicles downtown, armored cars, tanks, when I started in this business, when you had a bad situation, it involved state troopers with shotguns, tear gas and maybe shields.

    This is vastly different. In fact, you even see an armored car out there today with a sign on it saying, "Cape Cod SWAT Team," all this equipment bought in the post-9/11 era.


    David, has law enforcement at any level confirmed what it is they're looking for behind those barricades in Watertown? Can they talk at all about who it is, what it is they think they're going to find?


    Well, they started this morning thinking that they were going to find Dzhokhar.

    Dzhokhar was in that area, they thought. They were sure that they had him in that area. And now they have been compressing in, and yet there's some doubt now that whether — as to whether or not he's there.


    Farah, you mentioned that you live right near where the suspects did. When you were poking around and reporting today talking to people in the area, what did they tell you about the brothers Tsarnaev?


    Well, the family came in 2002. So, Dzhokhar was 9 years old. His older brother was 16 when they came.

    The father used to make money selling cars, so he was often seen outside the house fixing up old cars and selling them. Some of the neighbors thought that the mother might work in the health care industry. But a lot of the crowd that was being evacuated, all the neighbors were being evacuated — I think a woman with a baby was taken out of the apartment as well.

    As people were milling around, I got to talk to the classmates of Dzhokhar. And everybody at that time talked about a normal kid, a kid who was popular, who went to — he was a good wrestler. And it's just an amazing juxtaposition of this kid, and especially — I spent the afternoon on his Twitter account. And it's like walking around in a suspect's brain.

    And you get to read, OK, two weeks ago, he's talking about eating a cheeseburger at McDonald's. And you're like, this is the kid that — this is the kid that shut down the city of Boston? It was — it's really extraordinary. And to see the things that he was tweeting, especially on marathon day, it was just eerie.


    Farah, in a lot of immigrant families, it's often the case that people who come when they're younger have an easier time assimilating to American life, and people who come when they're a little older sometimes a tougher time, both with the language and with fitting in. Was that the case in the Tsarnaev family?


    I definitely got the clear picture that the brother was the instigator. This is going to be my hunch.

    The brother was 16 when he came. And shortly after he came, he was interviewed because he won a boxing championship. And at that time, he said, I love America — or maybe he said, I like America because there are jobs here, and there were no jobs in Russia.

    And — but over time, clearly, he developed an anti-American attitude, and you can sort of see some of that rubbing off on his brother in some of the comments that he made on his Twitter feed page. But I bet we're going to see a story of a radicalized brother that basically dragged his kid brother down.

    You think of how people hold their older brother up as a hero and follow them, follow in their footsteps. I really bet that's what we're going to find in this case.


    David, a lot of attention has been paid to that quote from Tamerlan about not having any American friends. But I think in the process of glomming onto that, people glossed over some of the other signs of a guy who liked being here, was sharply dressed and talking on a cell phone in a photo essay that was published online and in a local college magazine, of having a girlfriend who was converting to Islam for him, which he thought was great, of smiling and accepting a very prestigious boxing trophy.

    This wasn't a nobody.


    Ray, if you go onto the website of teenagers, you will see kids with thousands of friends and you will hear that complaint, I don't have any friends.

    So, that's — that's common. In fact, they were well-dressed. They seemed to be prospering in some ways. The family is described — the parents are described as observant Muslims, traditional. The women in that household wore the hijab. And Tamerlan himself had a traditional full-length beard, until he cut it several months ago.

    But there was this certain exuberance, and it was especially seen in Dzhokhar. One of his teachers said this kid had a heart of gold. And if you look at his yearbook picture, you see this — you see this smiling face that could be a poster — a poster kid of the American immigrant success story, which makes it all the more shocking to his teacher, Larry Aaronson, with whom I was speaking today, that, as Larry is thinking, geez, the IEDs are coming home, the war is coming to us, suddenly, he has this sickening realization that it's this kid that he admires so much that might be at the center of it.


    Are we clear on whether he was actively enrolled and in classes at this branch of the University of Massachusetts, David?


    We're told that he was, in fact, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, which is on the South Shore here. And people have gone out there and talked to students who knew him there. He was seen, though, and he seemed to be living there, but as late as Wednesday, one of the neighbors told me he was still in Cambridge on Norfolk Street.

    And another one who has an auto body shop said that, in fact, Dzhokhar had come to him with a car, his girlfriend's Mercedes, several weeks ago and wanted it repaired. And he came on Tuesday, and he wanted it back. And the auto body mechanic said, it's not ready. And the auto body mechanic said that Dzhokhar was nervous and insisted on having the car.

    But to think that he was there as late as Wednesday night is an interesting investigative picture as well.


    Well, I'm sure we will continue to fill in the picture of these two young men's lives.

    David Boeri of WBUR, Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe, thank you both.


    You're welcome.


    Thank you.