'I Knew This Kid': Neighbors, Family Recall Tsarnaev Brothers

12:56 PM, Apr 19, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Boston bombing suspect's friend: 'Everybody's in shock'

Video: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friend: One of 'nicest kids I know'

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, is shown in a photo from his Russian social media site account.


by Chuck Raasch, USA TODAY

STORY HIGHLIGHTS:

- Suspects in bombings lived in Cambridge, Mass.
- Chechnya a hot spot for bombings, assassinations
- Brothers had relatives in U.S.

The Tsarnaev brothers -- suspects in the bombings at Monday's Boston Marathon -- were seen as modest and athletic, the kind of kids that made neighbors feel comfortable.

"Quiet, respectful," George McMasters, the director of aquatics at Harvard University, said of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, whom he said he hired as a lifeguard 2 1/2 years ago. Nothing ever came up that raised suspicions in McMasters, an ex-Marine who says he interrogated prisoners in Guantanamo Bay for the National Guard in 2003 and 2004 and helped search for terrorists in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

"He kept to himself, was on time for work, watched the water, never had problems with other guards he was working with," McMasters, 56, told USA TODAY in a telephone interview from Watertown, Mass., a city locked down as police searched for Tsarnaev on Friday morning.

"It is surreal for me, considering that I have been dealing with these guys for 10 years," McMasters said, referring to terror suspects. "And then I come home and they are in my backyard, in my pool."

Police have identified Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, 26, as the Boston bombing suspect killed in a dramatic firefight with police in Watertown.

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A manhunt was underway Friday for Dzhokhar. Watertown, Boston and its suburbs were on lockdown while a transfixed nation watched the events play out live on television.

As the search and shootout between police and the brothers unfolded, neighbors, employers, friends and others who encountered the two young men who came from a Russian region near Chechnya described the two brothers as the last people they'd suspect of setting off the bombs that killed three people and maimed more than 170 others on Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

"It is crazy, it is not possible, I can't believe it," Ruslan Tsarni, described as the boys' uncle, told reporters who came to his suburban Maryland neighborhood outside Washington, D.C. "Myself, when I heard this on TV news I was thinking, 'Who can do this stuff?' It is crazy, it is unbelievable."

When reporters told the uncle they were sorry, Tsarni replied: "I am sorry, too."

"Somebody radicalized them, but it is not my brother," Tsarni told reporters in another exchange later. The Associated Press identified the father as Anzor Tsarnaev and said it contacted him in Russia.

Ruslan Tsarni called his nephews "losers" and said he had not seen them in more than seven years. He added, "I respect this country, I love this country."

He said the brothers "put a shame on our family" and on ethnic Chechens.

Anzor Tsarnaev spoke with the Associated Press by telephone from the Russian city of Makhachkala on Friday.

"My son is a true angel," the elder Tsarnaev said of his younger son, the subject of a intense manhunt. "Dzhokhar is a second-year medical student in the U.S. He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."

The young men were athletic. Tamerlan was a champion boxer. Dzhokhar was a wrestler at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Mass. He was named a Greater Boston League Winter All Star in 2011.

Both had pursued higher education, Tamerlan as a student for three semesters at Bunker Hill Community College from 2006-2008. Dzhokhar was studying accounting at the University of Massachusetts campus in Dartmouth.

The brothers had been living together on Norfolk Street in Cambridge, Mass. Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Md., told the Associated Press that the men lived together near Boston and have been in the United States for about a decade.

In 2010, Tamerlan received the prestigious Rocky Marciano Trophy given to the New England heavyweight champ, the Lowell Sun reported.

Larry Aaronson, who described himself as a neighbor of the younger brother, told CNN he considered Dzhokhar a "lovely kid" who was never in trouble in school. Later, on his Facebook page, Aaronson said he had photographed Dzhokhar wrestling in high school and that he lived about three doors down from the brothers on Norfolk Street.

"You know how they say to reporters when ask(ed) did you know the perpetrator?" Aaronson wrote. " 'I knew this kid. He could not possibly have done this. He could not have been... a sweeter more gracious young man.' I cannot believe he was capable of such a heinous crime and so many murders. Truth be told, he came from the war zone deep inside Chechnya like about 5 or 6 years ago... with his entire family."

James Auclair was one of the prior tenants of the Norfolk Street apartment before the Tsarnaevs moved in.

He said it was a top-floor, two-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood of mixed ethnicities, mainly Brazilians and Portuguese.

"It was the kind of place where people were coming and going all the time," said Auclair, 50, who lived in the unit from 1996 until about 1999.

In May 2011, as a high school senior, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was awarded a $2,500 City Scholarship from the city of Cambridge to pursue higher education.

Before moving to the United States, Dzhokhar 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.

His profile on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte says he lists his languages as English, Russian and Nohchiyn Mott (a Chechen language). His worldview is described as "Islam" and he says his personal goal is "career and money."

Contributing Natalie DiBlasio, Jim Michaels, Associated Press

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