EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 20, 2013

A closer look at the Tsarnaev brothers

By Douglas Moser
dmosereagletribune.com

---- — CAMBRIDGE — The pair of brothers from Russia were known for their athletic talents when they went to Rindge and Latin High School here. The elder was a Golden Gloves boxer; the younger was a wrestler.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, are suspected by police to be the bombers behind the massacre at the Boston Marathon Monday, and behind a violent chase through Cambridge and Watertown early yesterday morning that left one Massachusetts Institute of Technology policeman dead, an MBTA officer seriously wounded and several other officers injured.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot and killed by police in East Watertown when police said the brothers stopped the Mercedes they were driving and threw explosives at their pursuers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped, and apparently hid in a boat behind a house a few blocks away. Yesterday he was captured alive and taken to a Boston hospital. His condition was listed as serious, as off press time.

Residents around Inman Square here, where the brothers lived and where local, state and federal police blocked off several streets to search their apartment, were shocked that young men who lived in their neighborhood and went to their schools could cause such wanton violence.

“This is just shocking,” said Kumani Ellison, 16, a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. “You grow up around here and wouldn’t expect this to happen.”

Ellison and his younger brother Kenei, 14, said they did not know Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, though their older brother Kendrick, 17, did.

“(Kenrick) went to school with him and said he was quiet,” Kenei Ellison said. “He can’t believe it.”

Alex Jonathan Brito, 20, remembered Tsarnaev from high school as having a “weird charisma” and was sarcastic. “He was kind of off in the way he dealt with people,” said Brito, now a nursing student at Bunker Hill Community College. Brito recalled getting into an altercation with Tsarnaev in high school over what he said was “something stupid.” He would not elaborate.

The owner of a garage near the Tsarnaevs’ apartment, Gilberto Junior, said he saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Tuesday when the younger suspect came into the garage to pick up a white Mercedes. Tsarnaev had dropped the Mercedes off to have minor work done on the rear end, but came to pick it up Tuesday before the work was completed.

“He came on Tuesday and said he wanted the car right now,” Junior said yesterday afternoon. “I said I need to start working on the car. I removed the bumper, I removed the tail lights from the car. He said ‘I don’t care. I don’t care. I need the car right now.’ And I noticed he was biting his nails and was very shaky. So I gave him the key and he left.”

Junior, owner of Junior’s Auto Body on Columbia Street in Somerville, said Tsarnaev brought high-end cars in often and paid in cash.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a boxer who trained at the Somerville Boxing Club, fought and won a charity fight in Lowell in 2004, and represented Team New England in the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in 2009, where he lost his fight by decision.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a wrestler, whom a former assistant coach said was dedicated. The younger Tsarnaev wrestled in 2009 and 2010 Methuen Invitational, going 1-4. He got blitzed by Methuen’s Nate Gioacchini 15-3 in first round of 2009 Methuen Invite.

Neighbors around Inman Square, at the intersection of Cambridge and Prospect streets in northern Cambridge and a couple blocks from the Tsarnaevs’ apartment on Norfolk Street, said they heard sirens all night long, and some were hustled out of their homes yesterday morning when police evacuated Norfolk Street to search the brothers’ apartment.

Chuck Mullaney, 26, lives on Norfolk Street. He and some friends were asked to leave their apartment at about 9:30 a.m. yesterday when the FBI and police banged on their door. They stood about on Cambridge Street an hour later with two small dogs trying to figure out where to go.

Others compared the situation to a war zone. Andrew, 30, who did not want to give his last name, said he has lived in Inman Square for seven years, and was in the West Bank, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, last summer. He could not believe what had happened to his city, and to neighboring Watertown.

“This is scarier because there you know everyone is on alert,” he said yesterday morning on Cambridge Street. “But here, this is your neighborhood.”

Residents watched from their apartments in triple deckers and in the residential high rise at the corner of Prospect and Cambridge streets while Cambridge Police and bomb squad, Boston Fire, FBI and National Guard troops searched the Tsarnaevs’ apartment at 410 Norfolk St. and a building on Cambridge Street.

Cambridge Street between Tremont and Elm streets was blocked off, as was Norfolk Street. The police barricades on Cambridge Street were lined with curious residents and media from around the world. Police, fire and FBI vehicles lined Cambridge Street on either end of the barricade and clustered at the intersection with Norfolk Street.

Cambridge Street reopened to traffic at about 2 p.m. But Boston, much of Cambridge and Watertown were near ghost towns all day, as officials asked people to stay inside.

During a long night of violence Thursday night and Friday morning, police said the brothers killed an MIT police officer, severely wounded an MBTA officer and hurled explosives at police in a car chase and gun battle in the residential East Watertown neighborhood.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was shown in surveillance footage from late Thursday evening in a 7-Eleven in Cambridge. Police initially believed he robbed the store, but later backed off that claim.

But police said the brothers executed an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, who was responding to a call of a disturbance on campus.

The brothers then carjacked a black Mercedes SUV, keeping the driver with them for nearly a half hour. They left the driver uninjured in another part of Cambridge.

Watertown police pursued the SUV, and a gunfight erupted that included the Tsarnaevs throwing explosives at police. Tamerlan was shot, and police reported that Dzhokhar drove over him trying to escape before fleeing on foot.

From Watertown to Cambridge, police SWAT teams, sharpshooters and FBI agents surrounded various buildings as police helicopters buzzed overhead and armored vehicles rumbled through the streets.

Authorities in Boston suspended all mass transit and warned close to 1 million people in the entire city and some of its suburbs to stay indoors as the hunt went on. Businesses were asked not to open. People waiting at bus and subway stops were told to go home. The Red Sox and Bruins postponed their games.

In an interview Friday afternoon near his home in Maryland, their uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, pleaded on live television: “Dzhokhar, if you are alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness.”

The FBI yesterday afternoon removed a computer from the New Jersey home of Ailina Tsarnaev, the brothers’ sister. Police said she was cooperating with the investigation and was “heartbroken, surprised and upset,” though she told reporters she wasn’t sure the accusations against her brothers were true, the Associated Press reported.

The woman, speaking earlier through a crack in the door, told News12 New Jersey and The Star-Ledger that she is sorry for the families that lost loved ones “the same way I lost my loved one.”

“I’m hurt for everyone that’s been hurt,” she told the TV station and newspaper.

“He was a great person,” the woman said of her dead brother. “I thought I knew him. I never would have expected that from him. He is a kind and loving man. The cops took his life away just the same way he took others’ lives away, if that’s even true. At the end of the day, no one knows the truth.”

Gov. Deval Patrick announced an end to the request to stay indoors at about 6 p.m. yesterday, and a short time later shots were fired at Franklin Street in Watertown. For more than two hours, police surrounded a boat in a back yard that Tsarnaev was hiding in before finally taking him into custody injured.

The ethnic Chechen brothers lived in Dagestan, which neighbors the Chechnya region in southern Russia. They lived near Boston and had been in the U.S. for about a decade, one of their uncles said. The Associated Press reported that there are no known ties at this point to Chechen extremist groups, quoting law enforcement officials.

The bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday killed three people and wounded more than 180 others, tearing off limbs in a spray of shrapnel and instantly raising the specter of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.