BOSTON • Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an amateur boxer with muscular arms and enough brio to arrive at a sparring session without protective gear. His younger brother Dzhokhar was popular in high school, won a city scholarship for college and liked to hang out with Russian friends off-campus.
Details of two lives, suddenly infamous, came to light Friday. Overnight, two men previously seen only in grainy camera images were revealed to be ethnic Chechen brothers suspected in a horrific act of terrorism. Tamerlan was dead; his 19-year-old brother would be captured after a furious manhunt that shut down much of Boston.
Boxing trainer knew bomb suspect, slain officer
The dead Boston Marathon bombing suspect and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer allegedly killed by the suspect and his brother have links to the same boxing trainer.
Bob Covino co-founded the Somerville Boxing Club in the late 1970s. He says 26-year-old bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev trained at that gym several years ago. Covino says the MIT officer slain by the bombing suspects, Sean Collier, began volunteering with him at a gym in a different location in Somerville seven or eight months ago.
Covino says it’s very unlikely that the two men crossed paths, because he hasn’t seen Tsarnaev for several years and Collier only came over recently.
Covino says Collier had been helping teach younger boxers. The officer also set up a website for the gym.
But the details of their lives shed precious little light on the most vexing question: Why would two brothers who came to America a decade ago turn on their adopted home with an attack on a cherished tradition, the Boston Marathon?
The Tsarnaev family arrived in the United States, seeking refuge from strife in their homeland. "Why people go to America? You know why," the father, Anzor Tsarnaev, said in an interview from Russia, where he lives now. "Our political system in Russia . Chechens were persecuted in Kyrgyzstan, they were problems." The family had moved from Kyrgyzstan to Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus that has become an epicenter of the Islamic insurgency that spilled over from Chechnya.
The father set up as an auto mechanic, and the two boys (there were two sisters, too) went to school. Dzhokhar, at least, attended the Cambridge Rindge and Latin school, a prestigious public school just blocks from Harvard Yard.
From there, the boys’ paths diverged somewhat — at least for a while.
Tamerlan, who was 26 when he was killed overnight 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 that appeared 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.
As a boxer, he was known for his nerve. "He’s a real cocky guy," said one trainer who worked with him, Kendrick Ball. He said the young man came to his first sparring session with no protective gear. "That’s unheard of with boxing," Ball said. But he added: "In this sport, you’ve got to be sure of yourself, you know what I mean?"
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.
In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan at the behest of a foreign government, a federal law enforcement official said, speaking anonymously. The officials would not say what country made the request or why, but said that nothing derogatory was found.
Albrecht Ammon, 18, lived directly below the apartment of the two suspects. He said he recently saw Tamerlan in a pizzeria, where they argued about religion and U.S. foreign policy. He quoted Tsarnaev as saying that many U.S. wars are based on the Bible, which is used as "an excuse for invading other countries."
During the argument, Ammon said, Tsarnaev told him he had nothing against the American people, but he had something against the American government. "The Bible was a cheap copy of the Koran," Ammon quoted Tsarnaev as saying.
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. His father told The New York Times that the case thwarted Tamerlan’s hopes for U.S. citizenship.
Meanwhile, the mother of the suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, was heard from only in an audio interview broadcast on CNN, defending her sons and calling the accusations against them a setup. She said she had never heard a word from her older son about any thinking that would have led to such an attack. "He never told me he would be on the side of jihad," she said.
Her younger son was described by friends as well-adjusted and well-liked in both high school and college, though at some point in college, his academic work reportedly suffered greatly.
"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 was on the school’s wrestling team. And in May 2011, his senior year, he was awarded a $2,500 scholarship from the city to pursue higher education, according to a news release at the time. That scholarship was celebrated with a reception at city hall.Next Page >
Aunt says suspect recently became devout Muslim
An aunt of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects said Friday the older brother recently became a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day, and she doesn’t believe the brothers could have been involved in Monday’s attack.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev had married and had a 3-year-old daughter in the U.S., Maret Tsarnaeva told reporters in Toronto.
“He has a wife in Boston and from a Christian family, so you can’t tie it to religion,” she said. “At that age all they want is love, so he found his love, he married, he had a daughter, and he was very happy about his daughter.”
But she said the 26-year-old Tamerlan “seemingly did not find himself yet in America, because it’s not easy.”
Tsarnaeva said she wants proof the brothers are involved in the bombing.
“We’re talking about three dead people, 100-something injured, and I do not believe, I just do not believe our boys would do that ... I don’t know them in the way that they could be capable of this,” Tsarnaeva said.
She said her brother Anzor Tsarnaev had high expecations for his sons, especially Tamerlan.
She said her brother was desperate when he found out Tamerlan had dropped out of his university. She said he always demanded more of his children and said Tamerlan was his favorite.
Tamerlan wasn’t a devout practicing Muslim, “but just recently, maybe two years ago, he started praying five times a day,” she said.
Tsarnaeva called both boys smart and athletic.
“Within the family, everything was perfect because Anzor is a very loving, soft-hearted father. I don’t know what will happen to him,” she said.
She said her first reaction was anger because she could not understand why the brothers would be involved and what possible cause they would have. She said she called the FBI and asked for evidence and suggested they were set up.
Tsarnaeva said her brother’s family came to the United States in 2002 after she helped them apply for refugee status. She said the family also has two sisters who live in Boston.ple who are hurt.”
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