The two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings are reported to be brothers who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, is now in police custody following a massive manhunt in the Boston area.
Descriptions of a “lovely” kid and “outstanding athlete” peppered the media Friday, as friends, neighbours and a former teacher recounted their shock at learning they knew the police-described “armed and dangerous” suspect of one of the most intense manhunts in U.S. history.
Dzhokar was at large for much of Friday following an unprecedented lockdown in the greater Boston area. His older brother, Tamerlan, 26, is reported to have died after a police shootout overnight. He had been taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the same hospital that is still treating victims of Monday’s twin bombings.
The brothers reportedly moved from Russia to the U.S. in 2002. They are ethnic Chechens—Dzhokar born in Kyrgystan, and Tamerlan in Russia, according to MSNBC. A statement from a school in Makhachkala, Russia, said the boy studied there from 2001 to 2002 before moving to the U.S. The official claimed the brothers had two sisters.
A man who identified himself as an uncle to the Tsarnaev brothers told CNN that the men grew up in Kyrgyzstan. He said they had been in the United States for about seven or eight years. “This is crazy,” he told CNN. “It’s not possible. I can’t believe it.”
Neighbours milling around the brothers’ Cambridge address described a full household, with adults and even a young child living in the house at 410 Norfolk St.
Dzhokhar attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. In comments to Boston radio station WBUR, one friend described him as laid back, the kind of guy you’d hang out with to de-stress. He was a star wrestler in high school. Speaking to the Associated Press on the phone from Makhachkala, the mens’ father said Dzhokhar is a second-year medical student. “My son is a true angel,” he told AP.
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“There is nothing in his character… in his demeanour that would suggest anything remotely capable of any of these things he is now suspected of doing,” Larry Aaronson, a neighbour and former teacher at Dzhokhar’s high school, told CNN. “He was an outstanding athlete. He was never a troublemaker in the school.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was reportedly a student at an area community college and hoped to become an engineer.
He was a talented boxer, who aspired to box at the Olympics for the United States. He competed in the Golden Gloves competition, an amateur boxing championship. A photo gallery on the website for photographer Johannes Hirn showed pictures of a man identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev under the headline “Will Box for Passport.” At least some of the photos were taken at Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts Center in Boston. In one image, Tamerlan stands in a ring wearing boxing gloves. “I don’t have a single American friend,” reads the caption. “I don’t understand them.”
Other captions say Tamerlan was attending Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Mass., but had taken a year off to focus on boxing. His family fled Chechnya during the conflict in early ’90s, the captions read, and lived in Kazakhstan before coming to the United States as a refugee.
Tamerlan “could be selected for the U.S. Olympic team and be naturalized American,” photographer Hirn reported. “Unless his native Chechnya becomes independent, Tamerlan says he would rather compete for the United States than for Russia.”
He tells the photographer he is a devout Muslim. “God said no alcohol,” he is quoted saying. “There are no values anymore … people can’t control themselves.”
The next photo shows Tamerlan with a smiling, blond woman who is also wearing boxing gear. “Tamerlan says his girlfriend is half-Portuguese, half-Italian girlfriend and converted to Islam,” reads the caption. “‘She’s beautiful, man!'”
All of the photos, and the accompanying captions, were published in a photo essay in Boston University’s graduate student magazine in 2010.
Maret Tsarnaev, a woman from Toronto who says she’s the brothers’ aunt, told NPR news that Tamerlan had a wife and daughter. She said the family spent little time in Chechnya. “This is a huge tragedy for the family,” she said.
The Telegraph reported Tamerlan was arrested for assault in 2009.
A man named Tamerlan Tsarnaev also had a YouTube channel account, which opened on Aug. 17, 2012. Some of the videos posted to that account celebrate Islam. Others also celebrate terrorism.
Both brothers bear historically significant names: Dzhokar was the name of Chechnya’s self-described president, Dzhokar Dudayev, who proclaimed Chechnya’s independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian troops quashed that independence movement in a 20-month war; Tamerlan references Tamerlane, another name for the Muslim Turkic conqueror Timur, whose empire in the 1400s spread to Tibet from Turkey.