EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 20, 2013

Classmates: Bomb suspect was on college campus this week

Staff and Wire Reports
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — DARTMOUTH — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth this week after the explosions killed three people and wounded more than 180 others, his classmates said yesterday.

The university evacuated its campus yesterday morning after confirming that Tsarnaev, the at-large suspect in the bombings, is a registered student there.

Robert Lamontagne, a university spokesman, declined to comment beyond confirming that Tsarnaev was registered there. He would not immediately say when Tsarnaev enrolled, what he was studying or whether he lived on campus.

Tsarnaev’s father told The Associated Press that his 19-year-old son was studying medicine.

Students said Tsarnaev lived on the third floor of the Pine Dale dormitory. Harry Danso, who lives on the same floor, said he saw him in a dorm hallway this week.

“He was regular, he was calm,” said Danso, who described Tsarnaev as a quiet kid who would sometimes ask him for a homework assignment.

Sonia Ribeiro, 19, of Boston, was in a philosophy class with Tsarnaev. She also said he was on campus this week, although not in class.

“He was laid back. I would never expect this at all from him,” she said.

Law enforcement officials and family members identified the suspects as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan. They were ethnic Chechen brothers who had lived in Dagestan, which neighbors Chechnya in southern Russia. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police Thursday night while Dzhokhar escaped, only to be captured last night.

Florida Addy, 19, of Lynn, lived on the same dormitory floor as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev last year. She called him “drug” — the Russian word for friend, pronounced “droog” — and said they would sometimes hang out together in his room.

She said he spent a lot of his time with other kids from Russia and that a few times she accompanied with him to the apartment of some Russian students he knew in New Bedford, not far from campus. She said he would always speak Russian in the apartment, although he usually didn’t speak it around her.

He was quiet, friendly and a little mysterious, but in a charming way, she said. He usually wore a hoodie or a white T-shirt and sweatpants, she said.

Addy said she just learned he had a girlfriend who did not attend UMass Dartmouth. The last time she saw him was last week when she bummed a cigarette off him, she said.

“He was nice. He was cool. I’m just in shock,” she said.

For local UMass Dartmouth students who didn’t know Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, yesterday’s developments — the evacuation from the campus and the realization that the bomber suspect lived and studied among them — created a day full of shock, stress and fear.

“When I found out, I was scared,” said Amy Polanco, 20, of Lawrence, a junior at the university.

“How did I know I didn’t have classes with this kid? How did I know he wasn’t going to bomb the school? I’m pretty sure that my friends are as scared as I am,” she said.

Polanco, who has an off-campus job, said she was baffled by the mass show of police force on the UMass campus yesterday morning. Students received a text message at about 8:30 a.m. that the campus was closed for the day, but weren’t immediately informed what it was about.

“As I’m leaving to go to work, there’s a line of traffic. All you saw were cops and a lot of people. The entrance to come back in was all blocked off,” she recalled.

It wasn’t until later that Polanco learned why she couldn’t get back on campus.

“I wasn’t thinking that the bomber was going to my school — that was the last thing on my mind,” she said.

“The scariest part is that it happened and that it is somebody we went to school with. This is something that was unexpected. He could have been a partner for a project,” she said.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture last night still doesn’t allay the fears that makes Polanco apprehensive about returning to class on Monday. She said she doesn’t feel safe walking on campus.

“How do I know they found everything? Supposedly, they haven’t found anything in his dorm room. But what if they missed something?,” she asked.

Polanco said her return to her parents home in Lawrence yesterday was an emotional one.

“My mom almost started crying. All of us being home is a relief for everyone,” she said.

Her mother couldn’t get in touch with Polanco when news broke yesterday morning about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“She called me five minutes after I got the text message from the school saying it was closed,” recalled Polanco’s cousin, Edwin Rodriguez, 19, at freshman student at UMass Dartmouth.

“My aunt called me in a panic — ‘oh pack your stuff and go over to your cousin’s room. The suspect at the Boston Marathon is registered at your school.’ She was very upset,. My aunt told me to go to my cousin’s dorm and stay there. That’s what i did, and then they told us to evacuate,” Rodriguez said.

The day’s events were “pretty scary,” he admitted.

“I didn’t know him (the bomber suspect). But I live in the freshman dorm and he lives next to us in the sophomore dorm. It’s not even a 30 seconds walk from my dorm. It’s just right there,” he said.

The scene of police cars mobilizing on the campus as he left for Lawrence reinforced the fear he felt, he said.

“It was something I had never been through before. There were a lot of cop cars all over the place. I would never have thought this happening here,” he said.

The school said in a statement that it evacuated campus “out of an abundance of caution,” amid a manhunt for Tsarnaev.

FBI agents, SWAT teams, a Massachusetts State Police armored truck and two helicopters were seen on the campus.

Two years ago, Brian Glyn Williams, a UMass Dartmouth professor of Islamic studies, helped Tsarnaev with a high school project about Chechnya. Williams was put in contact with the student through a friend who’s a teacher at Cambridge Rindge & Latin, Tsarnaev’s high school. The two only communicated via email and telephone and never met face to face, even when Tsarnaev started attending the school.

The project was about Chechen history and the origins of its wars with Russia, and Williams got the impression that Tsarnaev was trying to reconnect with his ethnic identity and homeland.

Williams remembers Tsarnaev as polite and unremarkable. He doesn’t recall any sort of political or religious discussions.

“It’s sort of sickening,” Williams said of the bombings.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.